Lessons learned from presenting at an online conference

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ETO member, Inga, shares her experience of presenting at her first online U of T conference.

This year I had the opportunity to present at my first U of T conference. The event, IT@UofT (learn more about IT@UofT here), is hosted entirely online using an event management platform called Hopin over the course of two days. I presented at one of the breakout sessions on Day 1 to just over 30 attendees. Below are some of the key takeaways I had as a first-time conference presenter, divided into three stages: before, during, and after the event. 

Before The Event

Practice Makes Professional 

The old adage of “practice makes perfect” was too much pressure for a first-time conference speaker like myself. Instead, I aimed for “practice makes professional,” which is another way of saying that I wanted to prepare as much as possible to make the session run smoothly for everyone involved. Practice was more than just running through my speaker notes repeatedly (which make no mistake, I also did!). It also ensured that I worked out and felt comfortable with important elements of the presentation by asking questions like: 

  • Timing: Have I given myself enough time to deliver all my content and answer questions afterwards? 

  • Flow: Does my presentation have a comprehensive narrative with a beginning, middle and end that connect? 

  • Tech: Do I have all the hardware working the way I need it to? Do I know how to navigate a platform like Hopin? 

  • Collaboration: Does my moderator have a good understanding of my session breakdown and how I would prefer to engage with attendees? 

Make the slide template work for you and your content 

The organizers of IT@UofT created a PowerPoint slide template for presenters. I was happy to not have to re-invent the wheel, but I also wanted to find ways to make my presentation stand out (is that a surprise, given the work I do in content production?). Fortunately, I am comfortable enough with Microsoft PowerPoint to take advantage of features like image customization and graphic animations. Not only did these slight modifications make the presentation look slicker, but it also helped to re-enforce concepts with custom images and deliver content in smaller chunks which helps attendees more easily digest the information. In general, it’s always good practice to reduce the amount of text on a slide which you can read more about in the ETO ScreenSteps on how to use a video template.  

On The Day Of The Event

Set Up Early 

I recently heard a saying that “if you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late.” While I can’t say that I apply that in everything I do (I mean, I don’t like to be the first person who arrives at a party), I certainly made a point of giving myself enough time to set up before my session. That meant having my tech set-up and slides ready at least 30 minutes before the presentation and logging into my session with my moderator 10 minutes before the session kicked off. 

Learn From Others 

It was also important for me to attend other sessions. Not only because it was a chance to learn from my colleagues, but I found it helpful to make note of how other speakers laid out their presentation, how they presented, and the ways in which they interacted with participants. 

Some of the things I noted on the day of the event included: 

  • Unstable video resolution was experienced by many participants, which was likely because of the Hopin platform.  One solution was to change the resolution in the video window settings. 

  • Unlike other platforms like ZOOM where attendees can be put into a waiting room before the meeting officially begins, I found it awkward to be able to join a Hopin breakout session before the speaker(s) were ready to present. I witnessed one speaker having issues with their presentation set-up, but there was no way for them to troubleshoot it “backstage.”  In another session, the speakers were on camera, but they were still working on their computers, so it was like they were there...but not. Both of these situations were not deal breakers, and the actual sessions were fantastic, but I’m sure the speakers would have preferred a smoother start. 

  • I learned a couple of my own lessons during my session. I forgot to ask my moderator to turn off their camera and microphone during my presentation, which created a slight distraction. 

  • Hopin offers two ways for attendees to add questions or comments during a session – the chat option and Q&A option. However, if it isn’t made clear to the attendees which one to use, comments and questions can easily be missed; something that happened in my own session! 

After The Event

Thank goodness for a good follow-up email! Attendees were invited to send follow-up questions directly to me via Teams or email.  I also received a few emails from attendees who were interested to learn more about my topic on creating an online Community of Practice called MADE (Media And Design in Education) for U of T and how they could get involved, which was amazing. 

Oh! Interested in learning more about MADE? If you're interested in joining the conversation, please fill out the Request to Join M.A.D.E. form and you'll be added as soon as possible.  Can't wait to see you there!

Article Category: Best Practices