May 25, 2020

Giving a remote talk? Check out these tips.

Posted by Laura Guertin

This post compiles advice and experiences from those that have been teaching or giving one-off presentations via online technology. These experiences are valuable to share and can only assist all of us as we continue to move forward exploring our teaching, research, and outreach in an online world. This blog post does not address tips for having an online meeting, workshop or conference (these items to be discussed in a future blog post). And although there are several sites with lists of suggestions for successful online talks, these are ones I have found most relevant and helpful.

If you are contacted by an organization to be a guest speaker, the first step I suggest is to ensure there is clarity on the topic, level of detail they are looking for, and presentation style. This ties back to knowing the audience you will be connecting with. It is much harder to “read a Zoom room” with your eyes while you are presenting (versus standing in a room of people all facing you), so adjustments on the fly with your content will most likely not be possible.

Be aware that some community groups may not have experience in running a virtual presentation with a guest speaker – this month, I was a presenter for a public garden and Rotary Club that said they were “trying this Zoom thing” for the first time. Have patience, and provide some links that may help them. I offered links to where their members could download Zoom and instructions for how to use the Zoom interface. I also reviewed the Zoom interface at the beginning of each presentation so that the audience knew what features I was going to use.

Don’t let the technology on your end impact the quality of the experience for your audience – learn from the best, like Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, who has been giving low-carbon video talks. Click on this tweet to follow her advice for improving your video, audio, and lighting at home, or check out the information on Dr. Hayhoe’s website:

I won’t repeat here her suggestions on sound-absorbing panels (or a pillow), earbuds, looking at the camera and not at the screen, etc. – there are lots of great suggestions on her blog and in her Twitter thread, and I encourage you to take a quick read through her posts.

You may have your space set up and ready to go, but how about the online technology during your session? Will you have a facilitator to troubleshoot technology issues of your participants? Someone to monitor the chat and read the questions to you so that you can respond? Will the participants be able to have their video on (perhaps only while asking a question), or will people be able to be unmuted to ask a question? If you are using their Zoom, can you set up polls ahead of time to create engagement? Be sure to work out with the organization you are connecting with how you want them to engage with you during the talk, or to wait until the end for a formal Q&A session.

Will the session be recorded? Where will the recording be available afterwards, and for how long? Something to be mindful of is if you have any youth visible in your Zoom room. For example, I recently gave a talk via a Zoom Meeting for an organization. I wanted to take some screenshots of the session, but there was a 5th grade class that joined in for the talk (I wasn’t “Zoom bombed” –  I knew about them ahead of time). It was incredible to have them participate in this talk I was giving for a general audience – they offered such great contributions in the chat! But I couldn’t record the talk or take photos, as I didn’t have parental permission to use images of these minors, and the same goes for making a recording.

Beyond getting set up with the technology, here are some other things to think about:

  • Ask the host of the meeting if they will have an online registration form for their audience. If so, see if they will add a question to the registration form where questions about your topic can be submitted ahead of time. This allows you to tailor your content to the interest of the audience and to allow them to engage. If there is no registration form, perhaps someone with the organization can suggest some specific questions their audience may have that aligns with the mission of their organization, interest of their members, etc. There is probably a specific reason or reasons they reached out to you to connect in the first place, so that is a good place to start to think about your focus.
  • If the organization you are connecting with really wants a Q&A with you and not a formal presentation, consider sending links to relevant sources they can review on the content ahead of time, or record a quick presentation that can be viewed so you know there is a baseline for your participants before the Q&A session.
  • Have a list of possibly relevant links ready to go so you can drop them in the chat if a topic comes up. Think about links to recent/relevant articles appropriate for the audience of your talk, links to NASA/NOAA research centers and visualizations, YouTube videos or documentaries, etc.
  • Think about providing your contact information on a final slide that stays up during a Q&A session, in case there are questions people are not able to ask and may want to connect with you. You would do this during a live talk at a conference, and it is important to do the same online.
  • Address accessibility when it comes to audio. Will closed captioning be available with the online platform you use? There are options in Zoom (Using closed captioning) and Google Meet (Use captions in a video meeting).
  • Keep an eye on the time. You won’t be able to check your watch as the time will go by quickly. Have a way to set up an iPad with a timer or place a clock above your webcam that you are looking into so you can easily do a check on time – especially if you don’t have a facilitator to remind you how many minutes you have remaining.

This is just a tip of the iceberg of remote meeting tips. I will add to this list as I see more, but please add any suggestions you want to share in the comments section.