Tales from a reticent Elluminate presenter

They say that the best way to learn is to teach – or if not teach then facilitate – or if not facilitate then engage, interact, participate and act. By act I mean ‘get in there and get your hands dirty’.

I have now twice found myself in the position of leading an Elluminate online conferencing session. For neither session was I the intended leader – but in both cases the leader’s technology failed, so leaving me no choice but to ‘pick up the reins’. I had to get in there and ‘get my hands dirty’. I never have liked having dirty hands 🙂 However, since this has now happened twice I thought I would reflect on what I have learned about the physical management of an online synchronous session. Some people seem to do it so easily – but I do not find it easy. So here is my list of things that work best for me and what I have learned.

1. Plan the session well in advance and have a trial run through in Elluminate. This means that you can check that your microphone is working and that you know your way around the Elluminate tools. If you allow enough time you can even go out and buy a new headset 🙂

2. Some people might only ever run one of these sessions. I have attended a lot of sessions but only been responsible for running two.  Running a session is a completely different experience. If you are not confident with the technology then make sure you have someone there who is. We had Helen Whitehead today. It was such a relief to know that she was in control of the technology. She also is very experienced so she knew when to step in.

3. The main difference between ‘teaching/facilitating’ in an Elluminate session and in other environments is – for me – that the facilitator has to contend with the chat room, answering questions and managing the session/ presenting – all at the same time. I cannot do this. Despite being female I am not good at this type of  ‘multitasking’ :-). I cannot even follow the chat and presentation at the same time when attending an Elluminate session, never mind when running the session. Some people seem to do this wonderfully well and maybe it is achievable with lots of experience, but I have not got there yet. The answer is to work with a team. Someone to handle the technology, someone to do the presentation, one or two people to follow the chat and ‘gather in’ the questions to feed back to the presenter.

4. On the whole, in my experience, very few people are willing to take the microphone and speak in an Elluminate session and I don’t blame them.  The technology can seem daunting – you can hear yourself speaking in your own room, but you don’t know how you are sounding to others. This is where Elluminate teaching overlaps with any good teaching. It’s important to make participants feel comfortable, confident that they can contribute and that all contributions are welcome. I don’t find this bit difficult. What I do find difficult is paying enough attention to what participants are saying. I am nervously thinking about the next slide, the next question, the next activity. Again, this is where a good team could help.

5. I have attended many Elluminate sessions. The ones that I have enjoyed the most have been those that were most interactive. For me Elluminate sessions are not so much about the content to be presented, but about the discussion that can be generated between participants and presenter around key themes/issues related to the content on which the session is focused. If we wanted simply to present we could do a podcast or video presentation or powerpoint presentation – but the point of all getting together in real time is so that we can interact. Elluminate has a number of tools that facilitate interaction – like the chat, polling, writing on the whiteboard, moving into small groups/rooms for discussion (moving into rooms, in my experience, requires someone who is confident with the technology, but can work very well).  That’s not to say that I don’t respect those who don’t wish to interact, but prefer to observe.

6. All the other points I can think of are simply what you would expect of good teaching – e.g. not overloading powerpoint slides, giving people time to think of questions and respond, listening more than talking (I’m not sure if we got this balance right today), sticking to time etc.

I have never yet listened to the recording of the first Elluminate session I led.

I didn’t dare – but I have forced myself to listen to the recording of today’s session. Three things went wrong:

1.     I was completely thrown by having to lead this session – extremely nervous – I can hear that in my voice, but perhaps if you don’t know me you can’t – but this had knock on consequences.

2.     I ‘ummed’ and ‘aahed’  a lot. I don’t do this when I feel confident – although I am naturally a reflective person and prefer to take my time instead of jumping in with a response, which is why it is better if I don’t lead these types of sessions

3.     I simply could not listen. I was too concerned/nervous about managing the session. This meant that I did not give sufficient or adequate response to people who made very interesting comments – and I’m sorry about that – but at least the session was recorded

There’s probably more – but that’s all I can cope with for now. And I’m glad I listened to the recording because it wasn’t as bad as I expected 🙂 and of course I learned a lot – more than expected – so I suppose you could call it emergent learning 🙂

4 thoughts on “Tales from a reticent Elluminate presenter

  1. Helen Whitehead February 15, 2011 / 10:41 pm

    A very thoughtful reflection on the webinar, Jenny. Thanks. I acknowledge all your comments but would add a couple of things, as I can compare the webinar with others ELESIG has run.

    There were I think more people there than we’ve ever had at an ELESIG event and they were very engaged. This is partly due to the types of participants we had and a lot to do with the opportunities that Jenny and Regina and Roy provided.

    It’s invariably the case in webinars that you can’t follow every thread and respond to every good comment. I hope no-one felt they were ignored in the chat: there was a lot going on, quite fast. I wanted to follow up some things, for example see if we could throw in Fred Garnett’s related emergent learning model at the end – but we just didn’t have time (even though we didn’t go into complexity theory!) I do hope people will listen and comment in the forum so we can develop some of the points raised.

    I’m sure if we’d tried to cover this much material with such a knowledgeable group face to face we would have the same issues.

    Everyone went away knowing more and with a lot to think about. I think that makes it a success and yes, an example of emergent learning.

  2. Carmen Tschofen February 18, 2011 / 4:28 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    Just flying by here:-), but wanted to say that I identify with your Elluminate experience. I found out right away that there was no way to run a session (at least to my satisfaction!) on my own without my head exploding, and that there were probably three, multi-faceted roles that could be filled: the coordinator/presenter/discusser; the back channel content monitor, responder and “feed forwarder”; and the overall technical coordinator– helping new participants, making sure slides were uploading, etc. (Actually, this was kind of how the CCK sessions worked,wasn’t it?) Since we usually lost one of those people due to tech glitches, it still left us with a two-person leeway. Also helped to have a post-session postmortem to figure out how it went and what we’d tweak… While the number of sessions was limited, I got the sense that, like any other co-teaching, working with the same people regularly helped to smooth some edges and get a sense of how things can be seamlessly “handed off” among the “hosts.” Don’t know if you’ve ever seen the World Cafe materials (http://www.theworldcafe.com/hosting.htm), but belatedly realized I did have them in the back of my mind while trying to juggle in Elluminate, which might just have made things more complicated:-)

    Carmen

  3. Heli Nurmi February 24, 2011 / 9:08 am

    Hi Jenny,

    now I have read your article and listened again to this Elluminate session and I have to say that
    I liked the session and the way you three women and Roy later, facilitated the session. It was interactive, the tasks for participants were relevant and all worked flexibly.

    So could you please change your identity concerning ‘session facilitator’ – you have succeeded very well already

    I’ll write about the article via email and continue in my blog .. I hope today
    Heli

  4. jennymackness February 25, 2011 / 3:51 pm

    Thank you to Helen, Carmen and Heli for your posts. I am still thinking about the session and your comments are helpful. Thanks also for the link to the World Cafe materials Carmen. Interestingly, someone else has just pointed me to these as well.

    Jenny

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