by Brittany Mason, Kristi Merilees, and Naomi Devine – Delaney Producers
2020 was a year of adaptation for us here at Delaney, as it was for most people. For us, that meant taking public engagement and facilitation training as well as events online because of COVID-19. We wanted to share some of our lessons learned, a peak “behind the scenes” into how we made this transition, and tips to help you do the same.
As we transitioned to working remotely, choosing the right tool (for us, it was Zoom) and considering class or event size was key. We also realized that the tried-and-true lesson of separating process and content was even more important, and a new team role was created: the “technology host”, or meeting “producer”. Facilitators focus on the content delivery and producers focus on process. The trainer or facilitator focusses on the meeting the objectives of the session, while the producer’s job is to ensure the online course or engagement is delivered smoothly.
Virtual, or online, training sessions and engagement come with their own challenges that are tricky for one person to manage while delivering training content or facilitating meetings. Potential issues abound, and these are just a few: What if your connection crashes? How do you answer all the questions in the chat, whether public or private? What if someone is having trouble getting into the meeting and must email/call you?
It soon became clear that the producer role was key to ensuring our training sessions and meetings run smoothly and that the facilitator and participants are supported in their online participation.
Here are some of our top tips we learned in 2020 that will help you to be successful in the producer role.
Preparation Is a Producer’s Best Friend
Being as prepared as possible is the most important thing you can do to ensure the success of your meeting. This includes:
- Connect as a team before the meeting. As the producer, meet with the trainer or event facilitator and anyone else in the team, to ensure everyone is on the same page before the meeting starts.
- Create a producer’s guide. Include any pertinent links you may need to share and any activities that you will be facilitating. At Delaney, we map out each slide in a presentation with the links that are to be shared with participants, so that the producer can supplement what the trainer is saying without prompts.
- Ensure your call details and settings are correct. Check the back-end settings to ensure that you have enabled, or disabled the functionality you want (chat between participants, save chat, screen sharing, etc.) If you’re using Zoom and will be doing breakout rooms, make sure breakout rooms are enabled. Want to ensure participants can use the chat function? Make sure that’s enabled too.
- Log in to the meeting early. We log in to our virtual meetings half an hour early to have a final touch base before we start, communicate any last-minute changes or considerations, and ensure the technology is working.
Always Have a Plan B…and a Plan C
Going hand in hand with preparation is having multiple back up plans in case your original plan fails. Especially in these days when we are relying on technology more than ever, and are all learning as we go, it’s important to have contingencies. Sometimes we learn contingency planning by living our worst nightmares (like the internet cutting out in the middle of an important meeting), but we can also manage risk by thinking about all the ways things can go wrong and preparing for those possibilities.
Most of the time you just need to be flexible; however, some things you can consider for your back-up plans include:
- Make the trainer or facilitator the cohost. As the producer, you will need to be the “host” of the meeting so you can create breakout groups, manage participants, and launch polls. If your internet drops off or something else goes wrong, however, you want to make sure the trainer or facilitator or someone else on the team is a “co-host” so they can take over hosting duties. This has proved invaluable to us on several occasions when connectivity failed, or computer screens died – for whatever reason!
- Send telephone call details as well as video conference links.Ensure participants can join no matter where they are or what their technological capacity is. Having said this, it is important to identify potential limitations ahead of time should a participant join by phone (e.g., if you are showing a slide deck, they won’t be able to see it).
- Consider sending information packages to participants ahead of time. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to send supplementary information packages (either through email or regular mail) to participants so that if they are having troubles seeing certain aspects of your virtual presentation, they have a back up avenue for viewing. We send our participants hard-copy training manuals and supplementary materials to ensure they have what they need, when they need it.
Participant Experience Is Paramount
If participants don’t feel supported before, during, or after the meeting, they will be less likely to fully participate and this will impact negatively on learning, session outcomes and potentially future projects. At Delaney, we believe firmly in creating safe and accessible spaces, especially in virtual environments, so we can ensure all participants are heard. Some things to consider that will ensure a positive participant experience:
- Minimize delays. Set up breakout rooms ahead of time, if possible, and ensure transitions between activities are smooth and expedient. Giving clear instructions is key; write them out!
- Monitor the chat and support participants with their needs. As the producer, you’ll want to ensure participants have everything they need to participate. If they’re having troubles with technology, it’s your job to help them get it sorted or to send them to someone who can. Additionally, alert the facilitator as questions arise in the chat or when “hands are raised” so that participants can have their questions and comments heard in a timely manner.
- Be strategic in assigning breakout groups. If there are people who should or shouldn’t be together in a breakout group for whatever reason, make sure you’ve arranged for that, ideally ahead of time.
- Support under-represented or under-served participants. If someone in your group requires an interpreter, for example, make sure they are always sent with the interpreter(s) to breakout groups, and ensure they have everything they need. When we have American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in our meetings, we send them the presentation slides ahead of time to help them prepare; we ensure videos have closed captioning; and we facilitate conversations closely, so participants have equal opportunity to participate.
- Be a cheerful and kind host! You are inviting participants into a potentially new and uncomfortable space. Make sure each person feels welcome and safe!
This may seem like a lot, upon first reading. We’ve also created this video – The Tech Host’s Guide to the Galaxy – for you. It includes additional information about the Zoom interface. Enjoy!
Like all of you, we have had to learn differently this past year, step outside our comfort zones, and engage in new experiences. We can assure you that learning the role of producer is not difficult, but it may be uncomfortable until you have had the opportunity to do it a few times. Work with your team to try new online tools and techniques, help each other out, and remember to have fun with it!