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How to Run an Online Workshop

We’ve received a lot of feedback from people confused about how a virtual conference will work. We get that! We’re doing something new and new stuff can be confusing.

To help everyone interested understand how the con will work and what to expect, we’re going to be running a series of mini events showing how things like workshops, vendor space, con rooms, evening activities and everything else that goes into a con will work.

Last week we ran a short workshop on, well, How to Run an Online Workshop. We used Zoom, the same conference software we will be using for the con. And thanks to Zoom’s record feature, we can share it with you.

Here is the video, transcript is below!

A couple notes on how the video differs from an active workshop–In the video when the slideshow is up (screen share) you can see an inset of video of whoever is speaking. In an active workshop the screen share replaces the video of the person doing the screen share. Also in an active workshop people’s videos are labelled with the name they choose or (if they call in by phone and don’t block their phone number), their number. This makes it easier to remember who is who in the call, but please if you are calling in by phone block your number. The name and/or number labels don’t show up in the video.

 

How to Run an Online Workshop Transcription

Jessica Mahler: Ok… So this is “How to Run an Online Workshop”. It is an open presentation from the Accessible Multi-linking and Polyamory Virtual Con. As the people participating tonight know, this is an online conference that’s going to be running in November and because online conferences are kind of a new thing we’re doing this video and a series of others to give people an idea of how this can work.

Now, this video is being made in our Zoom conference software.

Right now we’ve got myself – Jess Mahler, e’ve got Michon Neal and Cassandra Perry – who are in charge of putting together AMaP. And Mx Rhizome is joining us – who is going to be our keynote speaker. At the moment, I’m the only one who’s screen you can see; I’m doing a screen share. We’re gonna get into that a bit later. But we can also pop out of screen share.

Pause.

And now you should be able to see me or whoever’s talking. Hi!

Mx. Rhizome: Hi.

Jess: Yeah. I did not prepare for this as well as I would have for – I was going to say a professional gig. But I guess this is a professional gig. This is my job, doing presentations and writing about polyamory and whatnot so yeah, whatever.

So, as you can see, it is possible to do a screen share and run a slide show and, oops, went too far. What we’re going to do is there are five steps to running a workshop online and the first is: Know your software.

The software we’re using tonight is Zoom. Zoom allows, as we saw, we can do the video. We can do face-to-face interaction. We also have this fun whiteboard.

Cassandra: The whiteboard’s the coolest part.

Jessica: This is a whiteboard. It’s fun; it’s silly. You have some limited options and everyone in the chat can use the whiteboard. So this is great for interactive stuff during the workshop. Select. Move stuff around. Everyone can also do screen shares if you let them. The default is that only the one running the workshop can do screen shares. I suggest keeping it that way for most purposes unless you have a specific reason to want screen shares from everyone.

But yeah, that’s what we’re doing here.

A nice thing with the whiteboard is you have this spotlight with the arrow and I can go boop, and it has my name and I’m pointing to this thing. And someone else can point to something else and we can all interact that way. The challenge of the whiteboard, of course, is people who can’t see the screen can’t see the whiteboard. Part of what Zoom does, one of the great things about Zoom and one of the main reasons we’re using Zoom and not other kinds of software is: it allows people to call in from any telephone.

If you are using whiteboard, it’s important to tell people what you’re doing. I’m drawing a big pink circle and I’m moving it up to the top left corner. Someone else has written “yay” and scribbled on the board. I have typed “This is a whiteboard” so that people who can’t see the whiteboard can get what’s going on. I’m going to stop sharing the whiteboard.

Cassandra: May I add an accessibility feature?

Jessica: Yeah, please.

Cassandra: For any use of the whiteboard, would be as Jess is doing – very important – verbalizing what is put on the whiteboard. If that seems like it interferes, that can be added later or someone can volunteer to do that as text within the group chat.

Jessica: And related to that – let me see if I can do a screen share of the Zoom board. I can do a desktop Zoom share; that’ll show you what I’m looking at… Oh, of course as soon as I do desktop screen share it makes Zoom disappear.

Okay. Well, what I can’t show you is that there is a Zoom group chat that is currently on the right side of my screen. And from when I first started this video it’s showing me Cassandra saying, “Yes,” she can hear me. And Michon commenting on my baby in the background being cute. So for people who, for whatever reason, can’t participate verbally, if they are participating through the computer, they can take part in the chat. In which case, it’s important to keep track of the chat so that people who aren’t commenting in chat can see it and respond to it.

Again, like with the whiteboard, if you’re responding to something in the chat, read off what’s in the chat so that people who are following by phone, or that can’t see the chat for whatever reason, can keep track of what’s going on.

Now, there’s a lot of other stuff that’s involved in Zoom. I don’t want to get into it all tonight because that’ll take doing a full intro Zoom and would take all our time. But it is there. It’s a free software. You can go there, you can download it, you can test it out and play with it. And we’ll be doing some other sample video calls in the future for people who can’t make it tonight or who want to get in and try it out.

Going back to my slideshow now.

The next part of running a workshop is the same for any workshop, whether it’s online or not: You want to plan how to use your time. I allotted a half hour for this and between getting it up and running, saying hi to everyone, starting the recording, we’re not ten minutes into that half hour. That’s a good chunk of our time. But at the same time, I planned for that because I knew that going through the software would take most of the time.

The rest of this is going to be familiar to people who’ve run workshops in the past. Well, the rest of the five steps, anyway. The next slide is another new one but we’ll get to that. Once you’ve planned how to use your time, you want to outline what you want to say. Slideshows are great for that; let me just say: I outlined as I built the slideshow. I highly recommend it since we have the option. But face to face is also awesome, so go with what works.

If you’re going to use slideshows, visuals, graphs, prepare your images ahead of time. Yes, you can use the whiteboard for it but it really can’t work for making bar graphs or slideshows. So be prepared.

And the step that I forgot tonight: You want to practice. Because you want to remember what you’re going to say without stopping and having to check your notes every five seconds. Yes, the notes are there to jog your memory but you want to be comfortable with it. Otherwise it’s just awkward, you know? Not remembering what you want to say half the time. Very awkward, I promise.

Okay. So, another thing you may have noticed, I can use all of the whiteboard features on my screen share. While I’m sharing the screen right now, I can go like this and go “This is impor-” yeah, I can’t write for shit. “This is important.” Another reason to practice.

Michon, I was saying earlier about my handwriting: do you see this?

Michon: It’s like mine but worse!

Jessica: Let me just erase that.

Michon: Oh my goodness!

Jessica: And we will go on to the next slide.

And as Cassandra brought up shortly before, we really want to keep in mind accessibility. That is one of the major points of doing this con online, is to make it accessible. But at the same time, online has it’s own challenges.

If you’re doing visuals, make sure that you use contrasting colors so that it’s easier for people to see. As Cassandra mentioned, we want to read and describe all visuals so people can keep track of what’s going on. Keep an eye on the chat box for comments or questions. Make sure you are speaking clearly and don’t rush so that people can easily follow what you’re saying.

If you are the type of person who can come up with fancy visuals – obviously, I can’t. We have straight black and white here. Bu if you are the type of person who can get fancy with it, remember don’t use flashing images or strobing animations or anything like that. That can cause problems.

That’s the gist of the formal part of this little informal workshop. And now that I’ve covered what I want to cover, I have time left to open it up. Anyone got questions? Comments? Thoughts?

Cassandra: Yeah, I’d like to add some more accessibility notes.

Jessica: Please.

Cassandra: We will have an abbreviated guide up in the next month or so for presenting online, accessibility. If there is anyone who needs assistance or would like advice with making their presentation accessible, they can feel free to contact me. And I can help out with that.

Jessica: Thank you very much, Cassandra. Cassandra is our accessibility expert. She is definitely the person to go to for all this. I will help out where I can on accessibility but Cassandra’s the expert definitely; go to her when you can.

Rhizome: I think that the thing that I would ask about, because we are using sound: is there closed captioning? How does that work?

Michon: Yeah, I would. It used to be, kind of still is, one of my jobs. I don’t do it too much lately but that’s what I… Which is, yeah, very strange because I do have my own hearing issues. When I’m doing the captioning, it’s fine. When I’m actually listening, it’s not so, yeah. So anything for that, if anybody needs it, just send me the video or whatever. I can take care of that.

Rhizome: But does Zoom have a closed captioning component?

Michon: I don’t think so.

Jessica: No. Zoom doesn’t. We’ve looked at three options for that. One is that Cassandra knows of a software that you can connect with to any phone call or video conference thing that will do text-to-speech. And we are looking to get that hooked up. We’ve also talked about trying to get volunteers to take part in all the workshops and type directly into the chat box, to transcribe as it’s happening. And if anyone watching this wants to volunteer for that, please let us know! That would be awesome.

Again, we are recording this and we’re going to record as many of the workshops from the conference as we can. Anything that we can’t get transcriptions or closed captioning for during the conference, we can always do a transcription of later, that people can access at a later date.

Michon: I can do all the afterwards \ stuff; I can do all the transcripts. If anyone wants to do the live closed captioning, volunteers would be awesome. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of other stuff to do.

Jessica: Yep.

Michon: Yep.

Jessica: Folks watching may have noticed that Cassandra does not have a video where the rest of us do. If you are participating, it is entirely your choice whether you share your video or not. You can also choose to keep yourself muted so that people can’t hear what’s going on with you. You can also choose what name is displayed.

And, it’s not something I have set up but I know people who have done this: there is voice altering software. So if you really need to be anonymous and keep your privacy, no one needs to see what you look like. It is entirely up to you how much you share here.

Cassandra: I think it’s also pretty important for people when they are not speaking to mute themselves. Because of the background noise, which can make it very inaccessible to other people who are trying to hear what’s going on.

Jessica: That is an important point and I did not do it for this, but I do have the option as the host to mute everyone else. At the moment, everyone else is muted. I am the only one who can speak and the background noise cut out considerably, actually. That is actually a good option for if you’re running a workshop: have it muted while you’re doing the presentation part. And when you do a discussion, you can unmute. And there, everyone is unmuted again. Hello, background noise!

Michon: Yeah. Yeah.

Jessica: Related to that, if anyone does have problems hearing what’s going on, you can always type in the chat box to have someone repeat that. And if we don’t have a transcription going, the workshop presenter can repeat what was just said.

Rhizome: Fascinating; they have a raise hand option.

Jessica: Yeah. I hadn’t noticed that before but they have everything here. I love this thing!

Michon: There also should be an option to – I never figured out how they did it – but to break up people into certain groups… Speaking of background noise. Right. It’s okay, buddy.

So if you have an interactive part or want smaller group discussions, there’s a way to do that. It’s kind of random; sometimes people will end up in rooms by themselves. We’ll just have to warn people and let them know, “Hey, just come back to the big room. You know, the big chat and work there.” If that’s something you’re thinking of doing.

Jessica: I know other conference software has that. I haven’t found it in Zoom but we can definitely dig into it and see what’s available.

Michon: Okay.

Jessica: It’s a bit earlier than we planned on stopping but we covered everything I needed to say. Does anyone else have anything to add?

Rhizome: No, but the software, it’s completely new to me. It’s going to be my first time so I had a little bit of anxiety about installing or whatever. I guess I’ll poke around in it a little bit. Are we going to be having other workshops coming up?

Jessica: Yeah. We’re going to be doing more things like this and more options once we’re closer to the con; we’re going to be paying for the ability to have longer workshops and larger groups in a workshop. When that happens, we’ll try to do one big thing for all the presenters so everyone can interact a bit, play around, get a chance at the whiteboard and the screen share. And there will, as you said, more like this once we get chat set up and forms set up, all the different parts of the con put together.

We’re going to be doing something else like this to walk people through how the con as a whole is going to work because this looks at the workshops, which are sort of the point of the con. But there’s more to a con than workshops. There’s interaction with the other participants. There’s the con rooms, the vendors; and we’re going to be including all of that. We want to show people how that’ll work out ahead of time.

Because, again, it’s completely new. No one in the polyamory or alt relationship community has done this before. So let’s make sure people know how it works ahead of time.

Rhizome: I just want to know – I’ll need to know ahead of time – I’d like to tell folks about it. There’s one person that I met who was doing research on polyamory for a group of therapists, of their understanding of their clients’ different relationship dynamics and whatever. This person’s very interested in attending the conference and they’re wanting to let other people know about it as well.

So, looking forward to when that can happen.

Jessica: I’m sorry; I’m not processing that. When you can share work?

Rhizome: When I’ll be able to let people know about the conference happening. Are you okay with us already letting folks know?

Jessica: Oh yes! Spread the word. The website’s up, there’s a newsletter people can subscribe to-

Rhizome: Okay.

Jessica: They can follow the Facebook page. I need to add a subscribe button to the Facebook page so people who find the Facebook page can subscribe to the newsletter. That’s going to be my task for next week.

Rhizome: Okay. Well, great. Thank you for asking me. I haven’t done anything like this in quite a few years. But I’m looking forward to it.

Jessica: Thank you for joining us tonight. We’re looking forward to having you at the con. Okay, I’m going to stop the recording now so for folks watching later, have a good day and I hope you found it helpful. Take care!

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