Managing Social Media Disasters: What to do when employees go off the digital deep end

February 29, 2012

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional developmentSocial media can be an organization’s worst nightmare. What do you do when employees badmouth their boss on Facebook? Or Tweet sensitive company information? These are complex situations with no easy answers. But there are practical strategies you can use to mitigate the effects of employee’s inappropriate behaviour on social networks and more importantly, prevent disasters before they happen.

It only takes one person to create a social media disaster for an organization. When that happens, the situation becomes complex and messy very quickly. You will leave this session with practical ideas that you can implement to control social media damage and prevent your employees from going off the digital deep end. Here are 10 tips to help:

Preventing a social media disaster

#1 – Develop an organizational social media policy

Putting together a social media policy for your organization is a critical first step in ensuring that people understand what is expected of them and why.

#2 – Provide training to your employees and managers

Policies mean nothing if people do not understand how to follow them and why they are important. Offer organizational lunch and learns, webinars and other short, quick training for your employees.

Social media training should not be one-way. It should not involve a trainer standing at the front of the room delivering content or telling employees what the social media rules are as part of compliance training. The most effective social media training involves conversations, dialogue and the participants exchanging ideas and input.

#3 – Establish disciplinary protocols before you need to use them

Most large organizations have standards and disciplinary procedures in place for workplace behavior. In an ideal world, discipline is unnecessary. But let’s face it, sometimes, people do stupid things. Take for example, the Domino’s Pizza employees who thought it would be funny to put snot-covered cheese on the sandwiches they were preparing. Not only did they sell the snotty food to customers, they video-taped their antics and posted their video to YouTube.

In that case, the employees were fired and charged by the local police with delivering prohibited foods to the public. What would you do if this happened at your organization?

Organizational response to a social media disaster

#4 – Respond quickly

A social media disaster is much like other kinds of organizational crises in that it requires an immediate response. You need to respond within 24 hours.

#5 – Apologize

Gone are the days when an organization can try to cover up a disaster. In today’s world, news travels fast. Your customers, clients, investors and funders may know about a situation before you do. If the organization has screwed up, the first step to recovering your reputation is to acknowledge the screw up and say you are sorry. Anything else just makes the situation worse.

#6 – Ditch the “corporate speak”

In addition to the apology, you need to sound genuine. A speech prepared for the TV cameras that is full of multi-syllabic words and corporate jargon is not as effective as a sincere, heart-felt apology, using plain and simple language. In a crisis situation, we tend to use shorter, simpler language. The stilted “corporate speak” of the late 20th century creates an immediate negative visceral reaction among people who hear it today. Be real. Be straight up. Be sincere. Nothing else counts.

Deal with the offender

#7 – Immediate response

In addition to a response from the entire organization, you need to deal with the offender(s) immediately. If nothing else, contact the person and let them know that their behavior has been unacceptable. Make an immediate, polite and straightforward “cease and desist” request. If nothing else say, “I don’t know how we’re going to deal with this. For now, I’m asking you to promise me that you won’t post anything else about this on social media. Would you do that for me, please?”

#8 – Insist on accountability

This is not an easy situation to deal with. An immediate reaction from a manager might be to simply fire the person. Given the circumstances, that may be warranted or it may be an over-reaction. If you decide that the offense does not warrant firing, the offender still needs to account for his or her actions. Asking “Why did you do it?” may help you understand, but it does not really move you towards a solution.

A productive conversation might include questions like: “What would you do if you were me?”, “What will it take to make this situation right?” or even “How do we make this right again?” You may not get the answers you want, but you will gain valuable insight that will help you determine your next steps.

Make it right

#9 – Affirm your commitment to your customers or clients

What makes a social media disaster so terrible is that an employee can go rogue in a matter of seconds… and customers or clients can find out before management does. That means your customers form their own opinions and make decisions based on the information that they have in a given moment, not necessarily based on what is true.

Organizations that serve customers or clients do not exist without them. They are the reason you do what you do. So, taking care of them is top priority. Make your response more about them, than about punishing an offender. A simple statement such as, “This isn’t how we treat our customers. We are going to do whatever it takes to earn your trust back” can be very effective. (Remember to ditch the corporate speak and be sincere).

#10 – Use social media as an engagement tool

This is not the time to silence your fans or supporters who are momentarily angry and express their feelings on your organizational Facebook page. Instead, engage your customers in conversations and dialogue. Re-iterate your apology (but not ad infinitum) and ask them what they would do to make it better. Re-direct the conversation in a positive way that is about helping you re-build the loyalty you may have lost.

These are just a few tips to help you in a complex situation. The reality is that a social media disaster can affect an organization for a long time after it has happened. Using the incident as an opportunity to learn more about your customers, what they want and what matters to them is an effective way to ensure an effective response and a long-term solution to help you re-built your reputation.

Want to get your employees, managers and leaders trained in how to manage social media disasters? Learn how in one of these programs, all of which are offered as live training and e-learning programs:

  • a one-hour webinar
  • a half-day workshop
  • a full-day workshop
Here’s what the curriculum looks like:
View this document on Scribd

Join us on February 29, 2012 at noon Mountain time for a one-hour webinar offered by Chinook Learning on this content. You’ll get the condensed version of the “how to” steps in 55 minutes.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Alberta Catholics and homeschoolers may have to teach kids being gay is not a sin

February 28, 2012

A new bill before the Alberta legislature could require home schoolers and faith-based schools to teach that being gay isn’t a sin and that diverse lifestyles are not a bad thing. The Alberta’s proposed Education Act states that “all courses or programs of study offered and instructional materials used in a school must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.”

An article from the Home School Legal Defence Association (HSLDA) of Canada calls the bill “attempt by a government to control what families teach in the area of values and beliefs in their own home”. The underlying message is that Big Brother is watching… and He won’t tolerate you teaching your kids that homosexuality is a sin. The HSLDA urges home schooling parents to contact the Minister of Education to ask that the law be amended.

As someone who has taught diversity programs and believes in the inherent worth of all persons, regardless of their orientation, I admit that I was surprised to read about the resistance to the new bill. I confess a certain naiveté around such matters. It never really occurred to me that parents may want to home school children so that they could teach them that being gay was a sin, but I suppose that could happen.

What do you think? Should faith-based schools and homeschoolers be able to teach the values that they believe in, even if they don’t reflect what the government requires?


2012 Bill 2, Alberta Legislative Assembly

Alberta bill may make it illegal to teach that homosexual acts are sinful“, Catholic World News

Homeschooling families can’t teach homosexual acts sinful in class says Alberta gvmt“, by Patrick Craine, Lifesite News

“Canadian Province Imposing “Diversity Training” on Homeschools”, Home School Legal Defence Association (HSLDA) of Canada


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

10 Characteristics of Informal Learning

February 28, 2012

Before you ever go to school or take part in a Mom-and-tot program, informal learning starts the day you are born and continues on until the day you die. Here are the characteristics of informal learning:

1. Informal learning is never organized.

There are no set formulas or guidelines. Examples of informal learning include activities such as teaching your child the alphabet, or how to brush his or her teeth. There is no prescriptive program of study for this.

2. Informal learners are often highly motivated to learn.

Unlike the formal learning environment of school, informal learners are often eager and attentive. A teenager showing a friend how to find an “Easter egg” in a video game is an example of informal learning. The gamer really wants to find out how to achieve his goal, so he embarks on a journey to figure out how. His friend becomes his teacher.

3. Informal learning is often spontaneous.

Learning happens anywhere, any time. The learner is inspired to learn because of an immediate desire to know how to do something or understand a topic. Or an informal “teacher” sees an opportunity to share their knowledge or wisdom with someone else. For example, we were recently standing in line at the airport waiting to go through security. There was a family in front of us. The father, who was holding the hand of his young son, who was about seven or eight, used the posters on the wall of the security area to teach the boy to read new words. The boy sounded out the words and they talked about the content of the poster. This not only helped to pass the time during a long wait, it was a great example of spontaneous informal learning.

4. There is no formal curriculum.

There is no program of study or prescriptive methods. Whatever methods used are the one that the person teaching knows how to teach… often based on their own experience.

5. The “teacher” is someone who cares – and who has more experience than the learner.

Even the word “teacher” here is a bit of a misnomer because professional teachers all have credentials, certificates or a teaching license. In the informal learning context, those leading the learning are likely to be emotionally close to the person who is learning, such as a mother, father, grandparent or other caregiver. An adult child teaching an older parent how to use new technology is an example.

6. The world is your classroom

It is a myth that learning happens in a school or in a classroom. With informal learning, there is no classroom. Your home, the neighborhood park, the community and the world are the classroom.

7. Informal learning is difficult to quantify.

There are no exams and informal learning is difficult to quantify.

8. Often dismissed by academics and skeptics as being worthless.

Informal learning is often overlooked and not regarded as particularly valid learning. Some researchers and academics (though not all of us!) have the opinion that informal learning is less valuable than formal, prescriptive learning (due, in part, to the fact that it is difficult to quantify… and they believe that if it can not be quantified, it has no value).

Sarah Elaine Eaton education educator presenter keynote researcher Canada Alberta informal learning9. Essential to a child’s early development.

Learning your mother tongue is an excellent example of informal learning. Imagine if a child were not exposed to any language for the first 5 years. How difficult would that child’s development become? It is an experiment that, as far as I know, has never been done. It would be considered too risky and unethical. Everything a young child learns at home is informal learning, from how to brush their teeth to how to say the alphabet to good manners. Without informal learning, we would never be able to cope in a formal learning environment.

10. Essential to an adult’s lifelong learning.

Informal learning is a lifelong process. It does not end when a child enters school and the formal system “takes over”. On the contrary, children continue to learn at home. As we get older, we learn from our friends. As we enter the workforce, we learn from our co-workers. Into retirement, we still learn from friends and also from those younger than us. An adult learning to read and write from a volunteer literacy tutor is one example. A retired office worker learning from her grandson how to use an iPad is another example.

Informal learning is what keeps us vibrant, mentally active and interested in the world around us, as well as our own development. Just because informal learning can not be quantified easily does not mean that it is not worthwhile – or even essential to our development and growth as human beings.

Related posts:

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning (Infographic)

New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada

Formal, non-formal and informal education: What Are the Differences?

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: A podcast

Breathtaking Impact of Volunteers’ Contribution to Non-formal and Informal Literacy Education in Alberta

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning in the Sciences


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

French pre-schoolers learn literacy skills with Twitter

February 21, 2012

A new project in France has captured international attention. A kindergarten class in Talence, a town near Bordeaux in southwest France is using Twitter to build literacy and language skills. The Vancouver Sun reports:

“The children’s teacher came up with the idea as a way to teach them to recognize the alphabet in different formats – cursive, keyboard, screen – and to learn to transition from the oral to written word.

Each day the process is the same: the children propose topics, discuss them under the teacher’s guidance and vote on a winner.”

The children’s teacher, , Philippe Guillem, says

… that the goal was not just to teach the children but to educate the parents as well.

“They have to consider how this will play out when their children are 12 years old and using the tools of the future.”

The children use a group address:!/camusmat04

The Tweets are protected, which means that you need to send a request to follow them. If you are approved, you will be able to see the Tweets.

This is a stellar example of how to engage children with 21st century technology for learning purposes. I hope we see more innovative uses of technology and social media to get today’s children engaged in learning.

Read the original article.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Skype for Literacy and Language Learning: “How To” Tips and Best Practices for Teachers

February 21, 2012

Sarah Eaton, literacy, languages, language, ESL, EAL, keynote, speaker, presenter, Canada, Alberta, English, educationAfter doing a number of workshops and research on how to use Skype for literacy and international languages, I’ve put together a free, downloadable guide for teachers and tutors.

Here’s what is in the guide:

  • Introduction
    • Technical requirements
    • Thinking about a computer-to-computer call
    • Skype versus other technologies
    • Skype-enabled handsets
  • Set up your Skype account
  • Add Contacts
  • Make a Skype call
  • Advanced features
    • Conference calls
    • Instant messaging or chat
    • File sharing
    • Screen Sharing
  • Ideas on how you can use Skype
    • Personal use
    • Organizational use
    • Marketing your programs
    • Teaching
    • Tutoring
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography (includes 22 citations)

Check out the guide and download it from Scribd:

View this document on Scribd


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words (A year of inspired insights #6)

February 20, 2012

I had been teaching for about three years when Bob came into my class. A retired engineer with a gentle personality, Bob had been to Mexico several times and wanted to learn Spanish.

As language teachers I think we are sometimes drawn to those students who show a natural affinity for the language. We praise them to their faces and quietly marvel at their skills in the staff room when we are talking with our colleagues.

Bob was most definitely not that student. Bob was highly intelligent. Before retirement, he had been a successful engineer for several decades. When it came to Spanish though, it was like his brain functioned in slow motion.

When it came to speaking, I wondered how a Canadian could seemingly gain a southern American twang when pronouncing Spanish. It was like fingernails down a chalkboard.

Sarah Eaton speaker presenter keynote education literacyWhat Bob lacked in natural talent, he made up for in tenacity and enthusiasm. Like Kyle, he won my professional heart with “do or die” attitude. His homework was done every day. He made up his own flash cards. He practiced the dialogues. He got extra tutoring. Bob decided that this his thing and there was no stopping him.

He’d come into class and tell me about the move he watched in Spanish over the weekend or the audio book in Spanish he had found at the library. He found the stores in town that carried Latin American products and not only did he become a frequent customer, he got to know the staff. His passion for the language and Latin American culture was effervescent and contagious.

Bob passed his first course and his second, and then a third. He spent the summers in Mexico taking immersion programs. He progressed but very slowly. The twang and choppiness of his spoken language always sounded a bit like fingernails down a chalkboard.

After Bob had made it through his basic level classes, he had a choice of what classes to take. He came to me for advice. Part of me wanted to say, “Look, amigo, you are wasting your time and your money. Seriously, you just don’t have any talent for this stuff…” but something stopped me.

I dreamed a dream

Sarah Eaton, Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, keynote, presenter, language, education, literacy, Calgary, CanadaMy mind went back to my high school years. I had a full slate of courses, was actively involved in student activities and had a part-time job. Some students worked so they could buy more fashionable clothes than their parents could afford. Some of the boys wanted to buy a car. Most of us socked away a few dollars to be able to go to the movies. But the thing I really saved my money for was singing lessons.

I loved to sing. I never had much confidence when it came to singing, so I never tried out for the school musical. Instead, I worked behind the scenes on the set so I could still soak up the experience. I really, really wanted to be on stage, but it would be a cold day in hell before you would ever get me up there, singing in front of people.

I knew that if I took private voice lessons and worked hard, I could do it. My plan was to take singing lessons in grade ten and eleven and try out for the school musical in grade twelve. Even back then I was a long-term planner.

I started with one lesson a week and then moved up to two lessons. I would go over to my singing teacher’s apartment, where she would sit down at her electric piano and proceed to engage me in my favorite learning experience of the week.

I was especially thrilled because she taught me songs in Italian and German. I adored learning to pronounce words in other languages. I learned how to form different sounds in my mouth, to breathe from my belly and project my voice. Those two hours were the highlight of every week.

I would go home and practice in between lessons and my confidence slowly increased.

Every year, Wanda held a recital for her students. The first year we agreed that I was not ready to participate. I still had stage fright and though you’d never know it today, the thought of being in front of an audience caused me so much stress I almost vomited.

By the second year though, I was bouncing off the walls with effervescence. I was ready. I was going to do the recital and that would help me to get ready for the auditions for the school musical. When it came to singing, a child-like delight not only filled my soul, it ran through my veins.

Sarah Eaton, Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, keynote, presenter, language, literacy, education, Canada, AlbertaThe day of the recital came. I had rehearsed and felt nervous, but ready. I got up in front of the audience I channeled Giordani’s “Caro Mio Ben” in such an inspired way, you would have thought I was lip synching to an archangel. It was brilliant. I was so happy I cried.

At the beginning of my next voice lesson, Wanda said we could do whatever song I wanted. Filled with confidence, I was already thinking about the school musical. I chose “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” since I thought I might be able to use it for my audition.

She ended the lesson a few minutes early in order to debrief the recital, “So, how do you feel about how it went?” she asked.

“The practice paid off,” I said. “I wasn’t perfect, but man, it was really the best I have ever done.”

She looked me square in the eye and, “Sarah, it has been two years… I know you really want to do this…” She then said words I have never forgotten, bullets that ripped through my heart in an instant, “I think your energies are best directed elsewhere. You’ll never be a singer.”

Stunned, I asked, “What do you mean? I thought I did OK…”

Wanda replied, “I don’t really know how to say this kindly. This is our last lesson. You will never learn to sing. It’s time for you to go. I have another student coming.”

Shell shocked, I left. In that instant, my confidence vaporized. My enthusiasm for singing would never be the same, knowing that the teacher whom I idolized had banished me. I never tried out f the school musical. Never went back to church choir. For many years, I wouldn’t even sing the national anthem at public events. I was ashamed to open my mouth. The effects of that one day lasted for decades.

The circle of life … and learning

I looked at Bob and said, “Amigo, what class inspires you the most?”

He looked at the calendar and said, “I think this course on Mexican poetry…”

“Then take it,” I said.

Bob went on to take exactly that course, followed by many other courses. He told me once that he spent four hours a day learning Spanish. He travelled throughout Latin America, taking great pleasure in planning out each trip down to the last detail.

He lived and breathed Spanish. Spanish was to Bob what singing had been for me. Even though I had been tempted to tell him that he really didn’t have any natural talent for the language, I didn’t. I knew that what mattered most to him was the joy he got out of learning what he loved.

There can be miracles when you believe

Bob and I have kept in touch over the years. Several years after he had been a student in my class, I was walking down the hallway of our department and I heard Bob in another professor’s office, talking about an upcoming trip to Mexico.

I stopped and listened. He spoke in simple, but grammatically flawless sentences. The words flowed into sentences and the twanginess had all but disappeared from his speech. You could tell that he was not a native speaker, but it was no longer painful to listen to him. “Bob,” I thought to myself, “Happy retirement, amigo. Way to go. You’re living the dream.”

As teachers we are influenced by the idea that those with “natural talent” deserve most of our attention and admiration. We focus a little more on those people who somehow inspire us by their facility to pick concepts up easily and master new skills effortlessly.

Every now and again, you will get a student whose passion for the subject matter fuels their discipline and dedication, as they put in endless hours of practice. We can forget that as teachers, the influence we can have over our students can impact them in ways we can never imagine.

I am quite sure that my signing teacher barely remembers me. If she does, she may just roll her eyes and think, “Remember the girl with that awful voice… poor thing…” I am sure she has no idea that I sobbed for weeks and that despite a secret desire to take more singing lessons again, I have never tried. That day, I was quite literally, shamed into silence.

If I could reach higher (as a teacher)

Our job as teachers is a complex one. At the beginning of our careers we think it is about the subject matter and getting the students to learn the content. As we progress through our careers, we begin to really understand the complexity of what we are doing.   No matter what subject we are teaching, every single one of our students comes to us with hopes and fears, as well as different levels of interest and engagement.

I admit that I my own experiences influence what I say when I assert that an important aspect of our job, is to help students tap into that part of themselves that fuels their drive  and to never, ever tell them they are not good enough. Not every student is going to be a phenomenal prodigy but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be an exemplar of enthusiasm combined with disciplined practice. Being a lifelong learner is not about being sensational at everything we do. It is, in part, about having the belief that what we are learning is worthwhile and that we ourselves are worthwhile.

Sarah Eaton, keynote, speaker, presenter, education, languages, literacyIn one sentence, we as teachers can either raise our students up, or beat them down. The impact and influence we have on our students can be greater than we ever imagine. What about you? What words have teachers said to you that have stayed with you for years to come? Were they encouraging or devastating? What have you said to your own students that you think may have influenced them years after they left your class?

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” As teachers, part of our job includes giving students the tools they need to build their own dreams.

And just for the record… Today when I am driving alone in my car with the windows up and the radio on, I don’t sing songs, I own them. In my little blue Mini Cooper, I am a rock star. I can almost see it, that dream I’m dreaming...”

Related posts:

A year of inspired insights #5: When reason falls on deaf ears

A year of inspired insights #3: Servant leadership in the scullery

A year of inspired insights #2: Conversations change everything

A year of inspired insights #1: There’s a silver lining in every ambulance

My 2012 resolution project: A year of inspired insights


Share or Tweet this post: You can raise me up: The lasting impact of a teacher’s words

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

9 Tips for Successfully Incorporating Virtual Presentations into Your Conference

February 16, 2012

Today I had the coolest experience. My colleagues at Idaho State University (ISU) Workforce Training were having an educational technology conference today in Pocatello. I teach for them online, but today’s conference was live — except for one presenter, me.

Here’s how we did it:

1. Brief your presenter on what to expect

Jeff Hough and the team at ISU gave me a thorough briefing about the conference a few weeks prior to the event. We negotiated the terms of the presentation and they gave me details on what to expect.

2. Tech-savvy conference organizers

These folks specialize in offering professional development webinars for educators. I’ve done dozens of webinars and used the same platform (in this case, Adobe Connect) that the conference organizers had on hand. They knew how to set up their system and had used their webinar platform hundreds of times before. They are adept at all kinds of technology and had significant experience successfully producing webinar presentations.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, virtual, presenter, webinar, education, professional development3. Experienced and energetic virtual presenter

Modesty aside, it is safe to say that I know how to give a virtual presentation. I have colleagues who flatline in a webinar environment because they “need the crowd to give them their energy”. At today’s conference, I never saw my audience. Well, not until after when one of my ISU colleagues, Paul Dickey, tweeted this photo (which I saw after the presentation).

Some of the worst virtual workshops or keynotes I have seen have been given by people who have no experience or webinar training. (In case you’re interested, here’s how you can get trained).

4. Previously presented material

Ensure the presentation has been tested. The conference organizers asked me to repeat a Twitter for Teachers workshop that I had taught for them previously. They had already seen the program delivered via webinar and liked it. The program had already proven to be a success.

Conference organizers want their attendees to have a stellar experience. Many things can go wrong with a virtual presentation. Make sure the presenter’s content is not one of them.

5. Do a connectivity test

Before the conference, we tested all the technology we were going to use – audio, video, slides and a real-time screen share. Hotels and conference centres are notorious for having poor wireless connections. The more people who tap into them, the slower they get. Virtual presentations chew up a lot of bandwidth. Even if your system works perfectly at the office, having a new venue changes the game. Every single piece of tech needs to get tested… and tested again.

As we prepared for today, we had some issues with the audio. We made some adjustments that helped significantly when the room was filled with a live audience.

6. Expect the unexpected

At one point during today’s session, we lost audio. Because we were all experienced working in a virtual environment and were aware of our audio problems during the connectivity test, it came as no surprise when the audio cut out. We were quickly able to work things through and I picked up where I had been cut off. Both the conference organizers and the presenter need to be able to keep their cool when “tech happens” in front of a room full of people.

Every person involved in today’s virtual program understood what aspects of the production we could control, such as our individual mics and computer settings and which we could not control, such as the venue’s wireless connection cutting out. Knowing what you can and can not control puts you in a better position to problem solve on the fly.

7. Include real-time interactivity

In my case, Jeff acted as a host for the session, introducing me and then fielding questions from the audience. At the beginning of the session, I said, “OK, let’s do a show of hands in the room. How many people use Twitter right now?”

Jeff acted as my eyes and ears and reported back to me, “There are crickets in the room, Sarah,” meaning that there was silence. He then added, “There are maybe four hands up.”

“O.K.,” I said. “That is less than 10% of the room. Let’s see if we can’t increase that by the end of the presentation…”

We stayed in constant contact throughout the session, talking back and forth, naturally and with a conversational tone.

8. Show, don’t tell

There is a certain amount of “telling” in an instructional program, but try to limit it as much as possible.

My presentation included a combination of static slides and a real-time screen share. I was showing folks how to use Twitter, so I demonstrated it live. Because Jeff also has a Twitter account, we were able to Tweet back and forth in real time and the participants could see it on screen.

The highlight for me as a presenter came when one participant signed for Twitter during the presentation and Tweeted “@DrSarahEaton“, as I had shown them how to do moments earlier.

I noticed it on my feed and said, “Hey, who’s that? Is that someone who’s in the conference room right now?”

Jeff asked the brand-new-baby-Tweeter to raise his or her hand. She did.

This was the single best moment for me as a virtual presenter. It was completely unrehearsed and unexpected. We had no idea anyone was going to sign up for Twitter right then and there and start putting the content into action at that very moment.

It caught the attention of every single person in the room and suddenly, it all made sense. What I had been saying about educators being able to connect in real time from all over the world, was no longer something I said, it was something we were able to actually show them. It was the coolest thing.

After that, a few other people joined in and sent Tweets, too.

Jimeny Cricket may have talked, but these crickets Tweeted! It was brilliant.

9. Give participants a valuable handout

Participants did not get a copy of my presentation slides. (Bor-ing!) Instead, every participant received a copy of the Twitter for Teachers manual that I did to accompany the course. It is a 25-page, step-by-step how to guide that steps them through the exact processes I showed during the presentation, in exactly the same order. Well, except for the spontaneous moments that made the session come alive.

The technical aspects of a virtual presentation increase your risk of failure significantly. Just about anything can go wrong. Even with all the preparation in the world, the potential for unexpected screw ups can still happen. Lots of preparation helps to mitigate that risk. Having an experienced team who have worked together before also helps tremendously.

You know when a virtual presentation has been truly successful because the webinar technology becomes “invisible”. When participants are so into the experience that they almost forget their presenter is hundreds, if not thousands of miles away and their sense of distance has melted away, you know you’ve just incorporated a great virtual presentation into your conference.

A personal thanks from me to all the folks at ISU Workforce Training. As any experienced virtual presenter knows, those work on the production team are the real stars of the show.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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