Web Conferencing :: Five Steps to a Successful Session

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Planning and preparation is everything when it comes to running a successful online meeting. Review the suggested steps below and try to incorporate them into your own planning and meeting management processes. It's worth the investment, and will soon become second nature.

Step 1: The Week Before the Session

  • Anticipate likely questions from participants and prepare answers ahead of time.
  • Make sure that participants, including students, are provided with an agenda and/or a clear understanding of the session’s purpose at least a few days in advance.
  • Ask participants and students to come prepared with questions or their own talking points if they will be expected to contribute.
  • Ensure that your session invitation includes instructions on preparing their system and a link to the Blackboard Collaborate Orientation. This will enable them to run a system check and introduce them to the user interface.
  • If you expect your participants to use microphones, inform them that headsets with a built-in microphone are preferable to external speakers and a stand-alone microphone because the external setup will create echo feedback. Check out this list of recommended equipment.
  • If this will be the first time this group is meeting, consider incorporating these ideas to get the session off on the right foot, along with a slide summarizing "housekeeping" items.
  • Pre-load your slides into Blackboard Collaborate and test them. This works better for slide presentations than the built-in application sharing tool; they will load faster and display at a higher resolution. 
  • Be sure to test all the computers you'll be using during your session. Blackboard's support website provides useful resources, including:
    • A "First Time Users", section that provides links to install the required software
    • A link to the Configuration Room, which lets users test their connection and audio settings
    • Orientation tools 
    • Technical resources
    • How to conduct a dry run (see below for more on this)

Step 2: The Dry Run

The "dry run" is an opportunity for you to go through the entire session and ensure that your session will accomplish your desired objectives (and that everything works as anticipated). Do this at least three working days before the live session is scheduled, to give yourself time to fix anything that's not working correctly. Guidelines for a dry run include:

  • Use the same computers in the same location as the live event. This will ensure that the proper software is in place and that there are no connection problems (firewall, network security, etc.). 
  • Include all the moderators and speakers in the dry run and make sure that each person understands his or her role (driver, presenter, etc.) and is comfortable with the Blackboard Collaborate interface. 
  • Test all materials and tools included in your agenda. For example, make sure your slides load properly and web pages work as you expect when you use the application sharing tool.

Step 3: The Day of the Session

  • Create and print out a detailed agenda to guide you during your session. New moderators may also want to print out Blackboard Collaborate's Moderator Quick Reference Guide so you have an annotated screenshot of the tools on hand. 
  • Log in and begin setting up your session at least 30 minutes before the start of the event.   
  • If you are using the application sharing or web tour tools, be sure to have all of your pages, sites, and documents pre-loaded on your computer so you don’t have to search for and open these while moderating.
  • If you will be showing a web site that requires a password, log into that site ahead of time and determine whether the site will automatically log you out if it's inactive for any length of time.
  • Make sure the Chat window allows access to all leaders and participants.
  • Enable/assign the appropriate privileges.
  • Set the microphone default to mute.
  • Turn off any applications like Instant Messaging, email, etc. that may unexpectedly interrupt your presentation.
  • Turn off your phone.
  • Put a sign on your door to minimize distraction and interruption.

Step 4: During the Session

The kick-off

  • Consider inviting participants to introduce themselves via the Chat window. This will enable them to practice using the tool and stay engaged while others join the session.
  • Ask participants to practice raising their hand, leaving the room, clapping, and laughing using the Blackboard Collaborate emoticons. 
  • Briefly run through the session agenda and any housekeeping items, including a sound check.
  • Let participants know how they can ask questions
  • Introduce the moderators/speakers and their roles. 
  • If you are recording the session, let the participants know this is being done, how the recording will be used, and where they can access the recording for future reference.
  • Remind participants that they can adjust how they view the session (color, what appears on the right or left, etc.).

Technology considerations

  • If you are having issues of audio lag or echo due to participants using speakers and microphone instead of an all-in-one headset, you may consider using the “walkie-talkie” approach where moderators and participants take turns speaking.
  • Limit the tool privileges you grant to your participants. You may not want your guests to be able to interrupt at any time or have the ability to draw on the whiteboard.
  • Always use computers that are hard-wired to the Internet. Wireless connections are much less reliable and may result in drops during the session.

Effective moderating techniques

  • Speak clearly and don’t rush. 
  • Animate your delivery. Use your voice to project energy and enthusiasm into your delivery.
  • Encourage participants to raise their hands when they have a question or comment.
  • Ask questions and provide opportunities for interaction.
  • Provide specific instructions on whether participants should respond by polling or by raising their hand and whether questions will be taken during the presentation or addressed at the end.
  • Poll the participants at various intervals to get feedback and consider sharing the results as appropriate.
  • Use the whiteboard tools to support your presentation - for example, use the Highlighter to call attention to specific parts of the screen.
  • Remind participants that when they're in a breakout room, they can raise their hand to notify you that they have a question or send you a private text message, even if you are not in the room. 
  • Refer to your printed agenda often to make sure that you are staying on track.
  • If you have technical transitions that require your attention and focus, you may choose to tell participants what you are doing before you do it so that they're not confused or distracted by short delays.
  • Whenever possible, and especially for initial session(s), moderators and drivers should be on different computers in the same physical space to facilitate communication during the session.
  • If you need to speak to another person who is in room with you, be sure to turn your microphone off. Most microphones will pick up even the quietest whispers.

Step 5: After the Session

  • If you recorded the session, review the recording. Take notes of what went well and what could be improved for future sessions and use these in the debrief session (see below).
  • If applicable, post a link to the recorded session and let participants and other interested parties know it has been posted.
  • Conduct a debrief with moderators and support staff. How did the session go? What went especially well? Where could things have been improved?
  • Get feedback from participants about their experience in the form of a poll, a focus group, a follow-up conversation during class, or via email - whatever works best for your particular group.

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