Live online reflections

For the third year running I’ve hosted the live online presentations as part of the Learning Technologies Awards. It’s 60 presentations over two weeks, so that’s about 180 sessions I’ve hosted over the years.

As I come to the end of the hosting for this year, there are a few small but interesting observations I have.

“I’m muting myself”

The first is around the way that people act with the muting of themselves, either microphone through VoIP or on their phone if they have dialled in. I didn’t keep a tally of this, but my recall is that the people on computer audio would sometimes say “I’m going on mute now” but the people on the telephone line didn’t necessarily say that.

There was a fair distinction between those that made a point of saying “I’m muting now” and those that didn’t. It wasn’t necessarily due to experience live online, as some who I know have been doing this kind of work for a long time still did.

So what’s the difference? Maybe it’s trust in the technology? I think that can be a key point for some, they want me and/or their fellow attendees to know that nothing has gone wrong.

I think it’s more than though, I think it’s to do with how comfortable people are live online. I’ve written about Digital Body Language before and this is key to communication in our technologically-enabled world.

Some people were comfortable with the idea and the conversation could be as short as this:

Me: “Hi Bob, please unmute when you are ready to say a quick hello.”

Bob: “Hi Jo, all good here.”

Me: “Thanks Bob.”

Both of us mute, end of conversation.

However, some people had to add the part about muting, and whilst you can argue it’s about clarification of purpose, I think it’s more to do with the lack of understanding the social intelligence of conversation and tone about the conversation being to an end.

“This doesn’t work well, does it”

The other reflection I have, or perhaps annoyance, is people’s reaction to the technology itself.

For instance, I confirmed with one person that they had joined on the phone and their response was “Yes well I do find that <platform> audio just doesn’t work well, does it.”

If their experience is that there are issues with a piece of technology I understand and can empathise. However this is blaming a whole platform rather than looking at where the issues really are. I highlighted that there was nothing wrong with the audio on the platform, telephony, VoIP or the two together, and that 90% of the problems encountered were local to the person.

In other words it was to do with the individual’s microphone, computer recognising the mic, having it setup as the default, being plugged in correctly, off mute, actually working, having the mic arm down, setting it up in the platform, other software (like Skype) actually releasing it, computer update issues, having speakers that echo the audio back into the mic and many other examples.

Out of 60 sessions this year no one has complained about the actual functionality of the software for the presentations. Yes, it’s crashed for people, they haven’t understood where to click, there have been anomalies that caused issues. It’s technology, it happens. I’ve even had two big server issues that have panicked me into thinking we were going to have to cancel sessions, but we didn’t.

Largely, everything worked fine. The biggest issue was with people not reading instructions!

Knowing me, knowing you

When I’m hosting these awards presentations, I’m doing the technical role. However I’m not alone as Kate Vose does the most amazing job before, during and after, with regards the whole presentation process.

In the setup and running of these presentations we’ve swapped about 200 emails on all sorts of details. It’s stunned me so often when Kate has commented on people, such as the support they typically need, or previous year’s challenges they have had. She’s a mine of tacit knowledge about people, companies and the awards as a whole.

That’s made me reflect on the knowledge I’ve picked up about individual presenters, companies and judges over the years. I don’t think about it all year until the moment they login and perhaps have the same microphone issue as last year. It reminds me of how amazing contextual memory is, and how undervalued this extra knowledge can be in organisations.

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