Becoming a “Virtual Presenter”
By Stephanie Pollack, et al
At NASAGA’s 2013 conference in Sarasota, FL, Stephanie Pollack and a group of students led a workshop from their base in Singapore. By blending a recorded video presentation with on-site facilitation, the group was able to offer a highly interactive learning experience for conference participants about the importance of appreciation in organizations. This article describes the process, challenges, and revelations the group experienced in creating their presentation. – Editor
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
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For NASAGA’s 2013 Conference, we were lucky enough to be the “virtual presenter” of a workshop from halfway across the world. We are thrilled to be given this opportunity to share how the idea was conceived, the challenges that we faced, and the process of bringing our ideas to the audience despite being miles away. This article is written by me, Stephanie Pollack (S), and two members of the Connect Team, Arielle Chan (A) and Charissa Kwek (C).
Who are we? The Connect Team
A&C: We are Singaporean undergraduates and recent graduates from The University at Buffalo (SUNY) program based at the Singapore Institute of Management. We are strong believers in the Culture of Appreciation, and decided to dive headfirst into this project–hoping to share our experience with the world. Who knew we would become super multi-taskers and discover powers we never thought we could possess? We have been amazed at the wonders of what appreciation can bring and we wish to make the world an easier place to be happy in.
Who am I?
S: I am a facilitator, trainer, professor, writer, and consultant with 20+ years of experience working on six continents. With my business, Creative Facilitations, I develop and lead innovative transformation processes, retreats, trainings, educational programs, and community building events around the globe to connect people to ideas, each other, and themselves for positive change. As a member of NASAGA for years and a multiple conference session facilitator, I am honored to have keynoted at the conference in 2010. I began teaching in Singapore in January of 2012.
S: Of all the places in the world to focus on appreciation, it is much needed here since Singapore was recently rated as the unhappiest country on earth (per global Gallup polls). In addition to a national focus on financial success, the traditional Singaporean education system is extremely competitive and results oriented. With one-directional rote learning, it is purely lecture with exams that consist of information regurgitation. My teaching style is the polar opposite. I inject the human factor by creating community in the classroom while consistently using interactive experiential methods. Every session begins with a quotation and a personal one-on-one check-in, moves through experiential games and activities to enliven theory, and ends with an appreciation. In addition to learning the course content and being able to apply it, students report gaining more friends, being more collaborative, and learning more about themselves.
Building connections through appreciation activities works for any group, for youth in school or for adults in organizations. The hope is to transform society one person at a time. If the younger Singaporean generation takes hold of the concept, it’s only a matter of time before society is forever changed for the better.
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Appreciation: Why it matters
S: These two numbers tell a convincing story: The number one reason people leave their job is that they do not feel appreciated (U.S. Department of Labor). 65% of workers say they did not receive a single word of praise or recognition in the past year (Gallup poll). Whaaaaat?! Appreciation needs to be a fundamental part of every organization. It is through acknowledging the thoughts and efforts of people that we show they matter. We confirm that their work is purposeful and their presence meaningful. The Connect booklet was created to change the story so people in any organization anywhere in the world can create a Culture of Appreciation.
So you want to TEACH and TRAIN on appreciation
S: The best way to teach and train about appreciation, as with everything else, is for people to experience it and feel the positive effects. Ask people to recall and share their own experiences being appreciated and appreciating others. Provide opportunities for people to practice. Mix it up so it’s intrapersonal, interpersonal, small group, and large group. Make some appreciations anonymous and others transparent. Do an appreciation at the end of every conscious experience together. Be consistent. Just like any other set of activities, begin with something low risk until people become comfortable and then keep slowly raising the bar. The amazing thing with appreciation is that people feel so good about it that they will begin to raise the bar for you, unprompted! That’s when you know the Culture of Appreciation has officially taken hold.
Process: What it was like to design and facilitate a workshop virtually?
How it came to be
S: Since the Connect booklet has the potential to positively change the culture of organizations on a global scale, I wanted to find venues for us to present the concepts in-person worldwide despite our Singapore location. I proposed we do video facilitation for a few conferences that I knew were populated with innovative organizers who might be up for something different. For NASAGA, we had Judee Bloom’s “risktakery” to thank. When I approached the group of people who created the booklet after the class was over about this possibility, they rallied like total rock stars! They volunteered for one or multiple aspects of the project (especially Arielle and Char, the two student writers in this article), and stayed up night after night to create the session video that was shared at NASAGA.
The challenges and how we solved them
A: It was grueling. It was excruciating. It was many sleepless nights. But it was also heartening, motivating, and ABSOLUTELY fun. This project made us discover what we are physically and mentally capable of, and the learning journey reached deep into our souls. The people we worked with were an amazing lot. As many hours as we put in work, we probably spent the same amount of time eating, bonding and joking around too. But of course, facilitating a conference miles away in a different time zone brought on some challenges, no matter the effectiveness of the team.
C: The biggest challenge was feeling like we went through a mental wringer. Sleepless nights spent clicking away at our laptops, pushing out videos and words with sheer perseverance – and yet, there was that sweet, triumphant taste of success once everything was completed. Nothing could have been done without teammates who could be counted on to suffer through the endless hours together. They were a constant amidst unpredictable factors, and lifted the drudgery with fun bonding sessions and little talks that went deep into the night.
Challenge #1: “Why Won’t You Work?”
A: Technology was a huge contributing factor that allowed us to facilitate the workshop despite being a thousand miles away. We needed to have video and sound software editing skills, which we had to learn as we went. Despite having three camera hobbyists in our midst, it still took a lot of trial and error to determine the best light, filming locations, and camera quality.
C: Technology proved to be both a boon and bane. It allowed us to facilitate the workshop, but it gave us so much grief. It was absolutely crucial that we uploaded the video on one particular night, but the Internet connection completely died on us – resulting in a desperate scramble to travel down to sponge off the school’s snail-paced Internet. We nearly cried tears of relief when it worked – huddled as close as we could to the locked school compound, milking the Internet connection for all it was worth.
- Make a checklist of the perfect combination of film equipment settings for consistent quality
- Give yourself as long of a buffer period as possible, longer than you think
- Always have a backup plan
Challenge #2: A Leap of Faith
C: One of the challenges we faced was uncertainty; lots of it, in fact. Since we could not be there to facilitate the session in person, we had to rely on an on-site presenter chosen by the organization. We were apprehensive, not knowing if the person chosen would have difficulty facilitating the session when they had not been behind the scenes. We had no choice but to take a leap of faith. Fortunately, Kate Blaine was an amazingly fabulous facilitator for the session.
A: To help the on-site facilitator run the presentation smoothly, we made sure that our instructions in the video were crystal clear. We put in adequate amounts of pause time to account for the facilitator’s reaction time so the video instructions could be easily followed by the participants. We also provided a short instruction guide for the facilitator to help her understand what we were trying to deliver with our video. We ensured every step of the program was outlined because we could not adapt spontaneously to the audience’s reactions and needs.
- Include an instruction sheet (in an easily accessible format, such as .pdf or .doc) for the on-site facilitator
- Present step-by-step information within the video clip (e.g. Pause here for 2 minutes)
- Make the video easy to understand and follow (e.g. speak slowly)
Challenge #3: “Would cultural barriers be a thing?”
C: We were afraid that people might not understand our accents, so we put in subtitles. There was also that small issue of being all prepared to deliver the lines of the script that we had written up – only to realize that terms in our British English language might be misinterpreted in U.S. American speech.
- Create subtitles to help people remember instructions and to support the understanding of listening to accents
- Use examples which are culturally relatable to your particular audience
- Adapt to the speech of your audience to provide better comprehension. If no one in your group is familiar with the linguistic context of your audience, find someone who is to proofread and help you rewrite.
Challenge #4: “Can’t use our crowd-o-meter”
A: Since we were not physically present, we could not get immediate feedback. We provided a link to our website at the end of the video so there was a channel for participants to give us feedback. We did not to think to ask whether the conference would be soliciting feedback for us or if we would receive the results. Luckily for us, Kate is such a professional that she was both prompt and thorough in providing feedback about the session (despite not being explicitly asked to do so). We were overjoyed to learn that it went well, and appreciated the detailed review she provided so we could make our video even better.
- Provide a link at the end of the video in order to gain participant feedback.
- Determine whether or not the conference asked for participant evaluations, and whether or not you will be privy to responses.
- Request specific feedback from the on-site facilitator within a certain time frame.
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In closing, we appreciate you!
Thank you for being interested in reading about how conferences can be presented virtually. We are so glad that you might consider offering to share your brilliance with conference goers at NASAGA from lands far, far away, and hope this article has helped to solidify this possibility.
A&C: We faced many bumps on the road which was partly because we were a student-volunteer group. We realized that the most important thing was commitment and responsibility, both of which came from intrinsic motivation which appreciation plays a huge part in.
We invite you to join us in the quest to spread the Culture of Appreciation. Please download the Connect booklet for free:
We hope this booklet inspires you to discover how fun and easy it is to create a Culture of Appreciation in organizations. If you find it influential, please share the link with others to download and help us spread the movement.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”