Imagine an in-person workshop. The speaker is setting up materials in the front of the room, organizing her props, and making sure she has her crisp opening ready to draw people into what she is planning to teach them. In the back of the room, a trusted partner is welcoming people, getting them a name tag, troubleshooting technology, and making sure anyone with a special need is attended to.
An online event has the same two roles—presenter and producer. Over the last three years, I have had the good fortune to work with the best producer in the business—Tom Lang. Tom is a rockstar because he demonstrates the three reasons why the producer role is so important: quality control, audience engagement, and speaker support.
We aspire to make the online learning experience seamless. People enter the webinar room easily, their sound works, and they find the “chat” box and resources. In a large event, they are automatically muted. The ideal, however, is often elusive—people call in and you can hear their dog barking, or people log in five times and complain they are hearing an echo. Tom anticipates what will be needed as he responds within nano-seconds with the links or instructions. He teaches us to:
- Know the system and common problems experienced by participants. If you are hearing an echo, it is probably because you are logged in twice. If you call in on a phone, you’ve somehow bypassed the auto-mute function and need to be manually muted. He’ll have you muted before the dog barks twice.
- Anticipate common needs. Tom has the dial-in phone number ready to paste in the chat box at a second’s notice. He has the URL of the mail that went out with resources ready to paste into the chat box.
Now that we’ve moved from simple powerpoint-driven online presentations to polls, break-out rooms, and whiteboard sessions, we need someone who can focus on technology while the presenter is managing the content. Each system is different, and a good producer knows what is possible and how best to support non-technical participants in using these tools. Tom teaches us to:
- Provide an orientation to the icons and tools that we will be using at the start of an event.
- Use the power of the chat box. Tom starts each webinar with an invitation for people to introduce themselves in the chat box. He actively monitors the chat box throughout a presentation to bring questions or reactions into the conversation.
- Use the other tools available to you, from polls to breakout groups. They aren’t as complicated as they may seem.
Over the course of a year, a learning program might work with fifty or more speakers. These experts have a range of comfort with online learning, have used a diversity of systems, and some of them need support to get on the right platform at the right time. And then there are the times when internet fails mid-presentation and someone has to step in. Tom teaches us to:
- Do a dry run prior to a session to make sure the technology works. Provide an orientation that walks through which browser to use, which app to download, or how to share screens.
- Have the powerpoint saved in an easy to retrieve place for when internet fails and someone other than the presenter needs to jump in.
- Capture any resources mentioned during the webinar for follow up communication. He tees up in advance a post-event email to be ready to add any additional resources that were discussed along the way.
It takes a team to deliver a high-quality online learning experience. We are lucky when we find a great producer to support our learning programs. Thanks, Tom!