I Failed As A Remote Audience Group Facilitator

B. J. Enright, Tradeshow Logic President

shutterstock_69310882-blog“Sure,” I said naively, when my co-presenters asked me to facilitate the Remote Audience Work Group.  ‘How hard could it be?’ After all, I’ve facilitated hundreds of in-person groups. I have facilitated Q & A sessions in chat rooms for webcasts. ‘Surely, it’s not a big leap to go from that to actually facilitating a remote audience in a group activity?!?!’ HA!

“Remember, there’s a 40 second delay when you speak to the Remote Audience,” said the Hybrid Facilitator over and over again, as if I had not heard her the first four times. ‘No problem, 40 seconds.  I’ll just have to be patient. True, not one of my best characteristics, but I can do it.’

Do you have any idea how LONG 40 seconds is when you are speaking to a remote audience, who is “chatting” with you in real-time?  It’s an ETERNITY!  That’s how long it is. At lunch, following our presentation, I felt the need to demonstrate to my evil doubting co-presenters exactly how long 40 seconds is.  So, I pulled out my phone, clicked on the stopwatch app, and announced, “40 seconds starts now.”  After a bit, I asked, “How much time do you think has passed?” They shrugged. I said, “10 seconds.”   “Only 10 seconds?” they questioned with astonishment. During that same 40-second period, our waiter took all five of our orders before time ran out. Like I said, it’s an ETERNITY.

Now, imagine you are in a Chat Room. Everyone is typing their ideas, and you are viewing these exciting ideas as they scroll down the screen in real-time. You like one of the ideas and want to build on it. So, you verbally ask a question to clarify this great idea. But, since the remote audience doesn’t hear you until 40 seconds later, their real-time chat (which has a life of its own) has already sped ahead furiously to new ideas and concepts. Your verbal comment is “so 40 seconds ago.”  

To make matters worse, you have an earpiece that allows you to hear your question at the same time the remote audience actually hears it. That seems like it would be great, except you typically hear the last question you asked in your ear at exactly the same time you are trying to verbally ask the next question, while the Hybrid Facilitator is telling you, “Look into the camera at the Remote Audience.”

Okay, so what did I learn?  

First, never, ever, let anyone talk you into facilitating a Remote Audience in a group activity.

Actually, that’s not true. But, here’s what is true. I wasn’t a great Remote Audience Group Facilitator my first time out.  But I learned a lot, and I will do a better job the next time.  And you will be a better Remote Group Activity Facilitator your first time out – if you learn from my mistakes. Here are some of the things I would do differently: 

  1. Detailed Written Exercise Instructions. We did create detailed instructions for the group exercise, along with work sheets and great reference documents for the group exercise. And, the Hybrid Facilitator did make sure the Remote Audience accessed these documents prior to the group activity.  I would highly recommend that you do the same. 

    We should have, however, created the detailed written exercise and the tools at least 2 – 3 weeks out, so that we could have shared them with our Hybrid Facilitator and mapped out our plan for facilitating the Remote Audience.  

  2. Role Play. Two weeks prior to the event, go through the exercise in detail with the same Chat Room Monitor, who will be with you onsite.  Role-play the group activity, anticipate the types of audience responses you might get, and discuss how you would respond. The Chat Room Monitor should be as familiar with the exercise and the tools as you are. 
  3. Practice the 40 Second Delay.  In advance, try to simulate the “40 Second Delay Experience.”  My suggestion is to set up a conference call with a Chat Room with your co-presenters and a few friends.  Ask the participants to mute their speakers, so they can hear you, but you cannot hear them.  Explain the exercise to them verbally. Then, let the ideas scroll down your screen, when you see something you want to comment on, click the timer, and wait 40 seconds. When the timer goes off, ask your question to the group. Watch how the chat conversation continues to scroll down the screen. When you are ready to make your next comment, click on your stopwatch, wait 40 seconds, and then ask.  Repeat this, until you get accustomed to the 40-second delay.   
  4. Choreograph it and Script it. Once you and the Chat Room Monitor are familiar with the group exercise and the tools, list out the players, define each role, and map out how you would like the exercise to unfold. You should literally develop a script with speaking parts and directions for the sound and camera crews. Because you have no way to control what the participants will actually say or where the conversation will take you, the script will be more of a guide than an ironclad itinerary.  Writing a script in advance will allow you to anticipate and plan for how you will deal with the 40 second delay and it will allow you to be more flexible and relaxed onsite. Following are some factors to consider when writing your script: 
        • The Characters and their Roles.  Who are the players? In our case, the characters were the Main Presenter, two In-Person Group Facilitators, one Remote Group Facilitator, a Live Room Monitor, a Chat Room Monitor, and a Hybrid Facilitator. Don’t forget the camera crew and the sound crew.  Is this the set of a TV show or a group exercise!?!?  
          Be sure to define the roles and speaking parts for each player. Give some thought to how and when the different players will interact with each other.  Will the Live Presenter introduce the exercise to the Remote Audience? Or, will the Remote Group Facilitator introduce it? Consider the perspectives of both the Live Audience and the Remote Audience. 
        • Chat Room: Who will be able to read the Chats? Just the Chat Room Monitor?  The Chat Room Monitor and the Remote Group Facilitator? Or the entire Live Audience?  Who will type responses to the Remote Audience?  Who will document the Remote Group’s activities? How and when will you share the Remote Audience responses with the Live Audience? Define your cues, so that the Main Presenter knows when you want to share comments from the Remote Audience. Remember, there is a 40 second delay. 
        • Audio. Give some thought to what you want your Remote and Live Audiences to hear during the Group Activity. Do you want them to hear the Live Presenters or just you, as the Remote Audience Facilitator? Will they hear music and just watch?  (I do not advise playing music and speaking directly to the Remote Audience; it’s too distracting.) Define the moments when you want to be heard and by which Audience.  Map it out and give your sound team a script and a plan. Allow for time to review that plan with the sound crew prior to your session. 

          TIP: Remember, you CAN actually turn off your microphone – even if it’s a lavaliere. I forgot this in the moment, so my remote audience got to hear all of my missteps. It was a true un-edited Reality Show!

        • Visual. Give some thought to what you want the Remote Audience to see.  What will be visually interesting to them without being distracting?  Find out in advance what is possible with the camera equipment in the room.  Where will the cameras be focused? Will you be able to do “Close-ups” or will the Remote Audience see you as part of the larger group? Define what you want the Remote Audience to experience visually, develop a plan, and share it with the Camera Crew.

 

Hybrid Events are still somewhat of a new frontier. The skills required to present and facilitate in a live and virtual environment are different. But don’t be afraid to try it. Be bold. Be adventurous. Your audience will forgive you because it’s a new experience for them too.