By special request, this blog post is written just for kids. But I guess grownups are allowed to read it too. Would you like to get better at talking to groups of people? Maybe that means standing in front of... Related Stories - Speaking Tip: Next ...


Presentation Advice For Kids and more...

Presentation Advice For Kids

By special request, this blog post is written just for kids. But I guess grownups are allowed to read it too.

Would you like to get better at talking to groups of people? Maybe that means standing in front of your class and giving a report. Or maybe you want to make a podcast about your favorite subject. You might even use a web conference to let people see you and hear you in other cities or countries! All of these are examples of different ways to give a presentation.

Giving a presentation is not the same as having a conversation with a friend. You have to do all the talking, and the people listening to you want to get something from you… They should learn something they did not know before, or they should see a new way of thinking about something, or they should be ready to do something based on what you told them.

Learning how to be good at presentations is like learning how to play a sport or learning how to play a musical instrument. Anybody can pick up a guitar and hit the strings to make noise. But it takes lessons and practice to get good enough to play a song that other people want to listen to. It takes lessons and practice to become good enough to be a starter for your school's football team. If you want to get good at presenting, so that people WANT to listen to you and ENJOY listening to you, you need a few lessons and you need to spend time practicing.

One of the most important lessons and things to practice is thinking about how to organize the things you want to say. I would like you to try an experiment. Think of your favorite movie. Now I want you to describe that movie to someone else. Find a parent or a teacher or a good friend and ask them to listen without saying anything back to you. If you cannot find anyone to listen, stand in front of a mirror and describe the movie out loud to yourself.


Most people are surprised at how much trouble they have giving a clear description of the movie. After all, you love it and you know all the things that happen in the film. But you find yourself trying to describe everything that happens. You forget to mention characters and have to go back and fill in things later. You find yourself spending too much time on little details and have trouble getting back to the main story. The person listening to you probably gets fidgety or looks bored.

This is what can happen when you give a book report or a history report or present a science fair demonstration. You know so many things about your subject that you have a hard time organizing them and making the topic interesting for the people listening to you.

Now comes the lesson… the basic skills that you can practice and get good at. Write down a list of the facts that you know about your topic. All the things you want to include in your talk. Do not worry about the order or making them sound good. They can just be a list of simple words. Now look over the list and ask yourself, "Why would my listeners care about any of this? How can I make it relate to things they are interested in?"

To write this blog post, I thought about things I wanted to tell you. They were the facts I know. "What is a presentation, organizing thoughts, practicing skills, relating to the audience…"

I looked over the list and asked myself what YOU care about. I am an adult and I usually give presentations to business men and women. But you would not care about that. So I started by asking you to think about the kinds of presentations YOU might give. I related the information to school reports or giving presentations to friends. Later I came back to the same idea ("This is what can happen when you give a book report or a history report or present a science fair demonstration").

Another thing I did is to keep writing "you" and "your" instead of "I" and "my." Go back and look over this article. Do you see how many times I bring you into the subject by making each fact about you and how you can use the information or get better at the things that matter to you? That automatically makes you more interested than if I keep writing about how "I" give presentations and what "I" think is important.

I also spent some time looking for places to get rid of little things that were not important in helping to build your interest and understanding. I know this article seems long already, but it would have been even longer if I had not gone back and removed sentences where I could.

Finally, I have to think of what to leave you with at the end. What did you learn? How will you think about something in a new way? What can you do with the information in my presentation?

I hope you now have a new way to think about getting ready for your next presentation. You have a plan for organizing your information and you will think about ways to make the subject about your audience instead of about you. You even have an easy way to practice… Can you go back and think about your favorite movie again, deciding how you would describe it to your listener in a way that makes them want to see it?

If you keep working on your presentation skills, you can become just as much of a "star" as in sports or music. All it takes is a willingness to learn and practice your technique!



Would You Like Pizza With That Webinar?

Last week I had a "lunch 'n learn" webinar with a vendor. I've done that before, but I've never had the lunch delivered to my office as part of the hosted experience.

The company I was learning about is called eatNgage (which makes it hard to start a sentence with their name while keeping proper branding). They offer webinar hosts the ability to provide meals for registered webinar attendees. It's a fascinating new wrinkle on the age-old problem of how to boost online meeting attendance.

The basic idea is easy… eatNgage finds local restaurants with delivery services and has food delivered to your webinar registrants at a given time - preferably  in conjunction with your meeting. But there are several options that add value to the process.

The hosting company starts by specifying a budget per meal. This includes the price of the meal, delivery, tax, and tip - as well as any intermediate aggregator "middle man" costs. $25 per meal would be a typical minimum, with higher prices allowing a wider range of options for providers and meals.

eatNgage maintains relations with well-known national chains such as big name pizza franchises, as well as aggregator companies that manage delivery services with restaurants in different localities. Webinar participants enter their delivery address on a web page and see a list of offered meals and providers that are auto-selected based on the operational criteria for that meeting.

While eatNgage has a partnering arrangement with Zoom web conferencing, which allows for tight integration of registration and reporting, hosting companies are free to use other conferencing technologies. In a similar type of "ours or yours" flexibility, eatNgage can handle all email communications with participants or can call on your preferred email marketing platform (MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc).

One particularly nice feature integration lets a meeting host offer a set of time and date choices to participants. This is great for things like sales presentations, interviews, demos, and other one-to-one meetings. You can avoid a lot of back-and-forth on trying to find a mutually convenient time to connect.

Other hosting functionality and flexibility includes a selectable option for whether participants should be allowed to share the meeting invitation with colleagues or not, and whether meals should be offered to all registrants or a subset. A hosting company can set automated criteria based on "lead qualification scoring" from registration questions or can manually review and choose which registrants should get the extra perk of a delivered meal.

I asked some additional questions of Rachel Yelin (VP of Product Development) and Rory Conley (Sales Manager) at eatNgage. They confirmed that at the moment, meal delivery service has the most arrangements with United States cities. They have begun expansion into major Canadian metropolitan areas, and UK/European expansion is being eyed for future development.

If a host prefers, eatNgage can provide participants with a more traditional incentive in the form of a restaurant eCard voucher, which allows you to provide gifts for people in more difficult geographies, or for meetings outside of convenient meal times.

They currently are set up for individual meal selection from each participant rather than "catered tray" deliveries intended for rooms full of people. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me that registration in most cases (dependent on the food provider) can be extended to 2 or 3 hours before meeting time.

Hosting companies can also opt for additional help with full campaign management, webinar promotion, lists, ad buys, and so on. This is offered through eatNgage's parent company, Marketech.

I asked about use cases, and again got a surprise. I thought the service would only be used for one-on-one meetings, or very small group conferences. But Rachel told me that they have supported webinars with several hundred participants. At first I couldn't imagine cost justifying such an expenditure. Then I adjusted my thinking to my old life as a director of product marketing selling commercial software that could command many hundreds of thousands of dollars for a contract. We thought nothing of booking hotel meeting rooms, having catered meals brought in, flying presenters to a site, paying for attendee parking, and using up our presenters' time before and after the meeting on unproductive travel. Compared to that, the cost to have a meal delivered to participants at their own workplace and get them to attend the same presentation becomes much more attractive.

I am always happy to see new innovations that extend and enhance the effectiveness of webinars. I think this is a great option for many companies to consider, and may well be a useful tool to improve online attendance rates in larger web events or to build receptiveness in smaller web conferences.



How Flexible Is Your Webinar Technology?

I don't ever answer the question "Which webinar product is best?" It is a meaningless question without a lot of extra qualifiers and priority choices that differ from user to user. Some people place a higher value on low price, some on ease to learn, some on audio quality, some on video quality, some on reporting, some on integrations with other products, and so on without end.

One potential priority that doesn't get considered enough on those lists is "How flexible is your webinar technology?" Does the platform dictate what kind of content and interactions are possible, or does it support whatever a user wants to do?

You may have a good idea of the kinds of webinars and types of content you typically work with. But I guarantee you that at some point in the future you'll invite a guest speaker who will want to include something that surprises you. Will you have to tell them, "Sorry… You can't do that. Change your content to match the limitations of our software" ?

Here are just a few of the many areas where webinar technologies vary in flexibility:

1) PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi - If your webinar product shows the presenter's screen through screen sharing, you're fine. But if it relies on an upload/conversion step for slides, you can bet that it only handles PowerPoint. Any other content will need an intermediate conversion to PowerPoint format.

2) Slide Animations and Transitions - If your webinar software converts uploaded slides, does it retain animated effects? If your product uses screen sharing, is it fast and smooth enough to reliably show smooth motion effects to participants? Test this on a mobile phone or other wireless internet connection that is prone to speed drops and network congestion. You can be sure that your vendor's QA group tests on hard-wired Ethernet connections in their office.

3) Live Video - Can your webinar product show video of a presenter? Can it show multiple presenters at the same time? Is there any control (on the host side or attendee side) over positioning and size of the video versus other content? Is the video captured in the recording along with the rest of the content?

4) Video Clips - Can you show prerecorded video content to attendees? Can you show a video directly off a web page or video portal like YouTube, or do you need to have a local video file on your computer? Can the software show video content that is embedded on a PowerPoint slide? Is video clip playback included in the recording?

5) Audio Clips - Can you play an MP3 or WAV file with audio during your webinar? Can attendees hear it if they are listening on telephone? Is it included on the recording?

6) Audio Connections - Can presenters choose whether to use computer audio or telephone? Can you "mix and match" or do all presenters have to choose the same type of audio connection in order to avoid lags between speakers? Can audience members choose whether to listen via computer or telephone? Are telephone numbers available globally? Can people on telephone hear audio from a video clip?

7) Typed Chat/Q&A - Does the software allow moderated vs. public chat? Can you change modes during a session? Can a host delete individual messages? Can presenters flag messages to facilitate handling?

8) Emails - Can a host control all content in emails that go out to participants? Can you elect how many reminders to send and when they go out? Can you send separate "thank you" and "sorry we missed you" post-event emails?

9) Polls - Can you ask both "select one answer" and "select all that apply" questions? Is there a limit on the number of answer choices you can offer?

10) Interactive Web Pages - Can you display a web page for attendees that each person can interact with (for example, to fill out a form)?

11) Attendee Microphone Control - Can a host mute and unmute attendee microphones to allow presentation mode vs vocal interaction? Can attendees speak on computer mikes and telephone? Is there a lag between those two audio channels?

12) Secure Meetings - Can your webinar software provide individual links for each registered attendee, with only one login per person allowed?

This is just a quick representative list that is in no way comprehensive. But it covers the areas where I most frequently run into frustrations when working with clients who expect to be able to do whatever they can imagine and are surprised when I have to tell them that their webinar software makes it difficult, impractical, or impossible.

More flexibility often goes hand in hand with more expensive webinar software. It costs manufacturers more in R&D and quality assurance to implement, test, and maintain all those options across different computer platforms. It often results in a steeper learning curve as well, since administrators and presenters have to learn the nuances involved in setting options and configuring a session. But if you support lots of different types of web sessions or work with many different presenters, it's nice to have the comfort of knowing that you can accommodate them rather than forcing them to adjust to your technology.


Webinar Slides And Text-To-Speech

I got schooled today, and I'm happy to have learned a new viewpoint. Maybe this will be new to you as well.

I was in a rehearsal with a guest presenter for an upcoming webinar. We were going through a draft version of the presentation slides and came across a typical bullet point slide:

    • Sub-point A.
    • Sub-point B.
    • Sub-point C.
    • Sub-point A.
    • Sub-point B.

I gently pointed out that the periods at the end of each line weren't really necessary or appropriate, since they didn't represent full sentences.

My guest presenter gently countered that the formatting was entirely intentional. If a sight-impaired attendee uses an automated text-to-speech application to review the PowerPoint slides, bullet points end up being recited as run-on verbiage. The punctuation is necessary in order to break the flow and have an audio indication that each point is a separate item.

Now, it is unlikely that a webinar attendee would rely on an automated text-to-speech application, because it would conflict with the presenter's own narration. But our presenter wanted the slides to be available as a handout, which might include sight-impaired recipients. Rather than making two versions of the slide deck - one for use in the session and one for use as a handout, she chose to just include the punctuated version for presentation use.

I was humbled. Not only was I unaware of this limitation of text-to-speech software, but I had never even considered that design perspective. I did some searching and found a helpful web page with many suggestions to make writing work more effectively for TTS applications. I include it here as a reference for you:

In a perfect world, we would make a version of presentation materials that are optimally designed for a sighted audience listening to a narrator, along with a second set of hardcopy materials that can be referenced by a larger and more physically diverse audience. But there are practical considerations for how much time and effort presenters can dedicate to their materials. If you can only make one version, why not make it accessible to everyone?



Zoom Offers Integrated Automatic Transcription

Last Fall, Zoom announced that they would be adding the ability for customers to have their web conferences automatically transcribed. It looks like that capability is now live and active. I have not personally tested it yet, but I am very interested. Jonathan Dame wrote about the new functionality on the TechTarget Network, and I thank him for bringing the software update to my attention.

The automated transcription function has to be turned on in the account settings for the Zoom account. It works with Cloud recording, but not with local recording to your hard drive.

Once you have recorded your online session, Zoom sends you a notification email when the recording assets have been created. You may choose to record audio in m4a format, or audio and video in mp4 format. The transcription service adds an extra vtt file, which contains the software's speech-to-text attempt, timestamped to synchronize with the meeting recording.

You will notice that I said "speech-to-text attempt." Zoom is not pretending that automated transcription is perfect, and you shouldn't expect that. Dame's article quoted Zoom as targeting an 89% accuracy rate under "ideal" conditions. The nice thing about the service is that Zoom lets you review the recording and the transcript side by side. You can adjust and edit the text in the transcript as needed, resaving it with the recording.

Once you have your transcripts saved, you can search your library of recorded meetings for a keyword or phrase and the software will return a list of meetings with that text. Inside a recording, you can do the same kind of search to find instances of its use within that meeting. Since all text is timestamped, it is easy to jump to the relevant section of the recording and watch or listen to the original speech at that point.

Zoom has partnered with a third-party company called AISense to perform the speech-to-text conversion. They claim to use a machine-learning algorithm to improve accuracy over time, and hopefully the software will become more tolerant of different speaker idiosyncrasies, accents, delivery speeds, and so on as it gets more data to work with from many different Zoom recordings.

Meeting transcripts are not that hard or expensive to produce. There have been plenty of companies providing the service for many years. Several things make the Zoom offering potentially more attractive however. The meeting host or administrator does not need to extract an audio file and send it to a third party. No human operator listens to your recording, so you don't have confidentiality concerns. Turnaround time is greatly reduced. And the automatic timestamp makes it easy to maintain synchronization. Plus, when the transcript is completed, there is no manual step needed in order to make the text displayable on the recording… It automatically becomes a selectable option using the CC toggle button in the recording video player.

This is a great real-world test case to see if the speech-to-text success rate will be high enough to satisfy customers, and to see whether they are willing to manually correct automated transcription errors. Since there is no incremental cost to using the service, it's certainly worth trying out the new functionality.

One application that immediately suggests itself is for offering translations into other languages. Once you have your edited vtt transcription file, you could send it to a translation service and have them return a new vtt file with the same timestamps, but with all content in the desired alternate language. If this takes off, I can see the possibility for Zoom to replace the simple On/Off toggle for the captions with a language selector. Then interested parties could choose from multiple vtt files all associated with the same source recording. This would be a great way to satisfy dual-language requirements in countries such as Canada.

Other web conferencing companies should be looking on closely, but for now, Zoom has the jump on them as far as integrating an automated approach to transcription. This is the kind of innovation we need more of in the web conferencing industry.