During the coronavirus/CoVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 crisis, a number of people have said that they will be doing events remotely, and I'm quite sure that even more will be jumping on the bandwagon.
In 1985, I ran the technical side of the World Logo Conference, which was the first ever fully integrated onsite/online conference. (In fact, few have been run since.) Subsequently, I worked as a data communications consultant in a wide variety of similar situations and events. I've done a number of online courses, Webinars, Webcasts, remote presentations, and other such events. Three and a half decades of experience in the field. (Longer, really, because my previous experience was what got me the WLC job.)
So, I'd like to offer my experience and advice to those wanting to run such events.
No, not the hands-on technical side. You young punks have all the latest accounts on the latest social media apps, and your own preferred platforms. But I do know what is needed, what works, and what doesn't.
For example: from experience with the WLC, and Webinars [etc. etc.] since, presenters are going to need as much feedback as possible. Lots of feedback. It's a bit unnerving, just shouting into "the void." Think of all possible ways to get questions and reaction back from the remote audience to the presenters. It's very hard to automate this. Yes, most platforms have some kind of "chat" function so "attendees" can send comments and questions (and there's always email), but the presenter is probably going to be too busy doing the presentation to pay attention to/switch screens/bring up apps in order to find those comments and questions. As well as a camera operator or team sending out the feed, it is a very good (necessary?) idea to dedicate someone to monitoring feedback, and actually feeding it back to the presenter (in real time).
Also: most people think that simply producing a slide deck is enough for any presentation, especially a remote presentation. A remote presentation actually needs a lot more preparation of materials, since you can't fudge and fill any gaps the same way you can in a live presentation. You should be prepared to write up at least a minimal outline of the talk, for people to read, in advance, if possible. Also, have a list of further resources for the presentation, such as Websites with more information or resources attendees can use to explore further, since they can't surround you after the talk and set up a time for coffee and further discussion or work. Again, this should be available in advance, or, at the very least, posted at the beginning of the presentation.
Yeah, I'm old. But I've done this for a long time, and I know what works.
These days, if you are either doing an event (or even just working from home), you probably want to do it with video calls or video conferencing. And, even if your company has all kinds of teleconferencing equipment, it's probably at the office, and you're probably at home. So, you probably want one of the various video conferencing programs.
You can try a lot of them free of charge. You can even use a lot of them free of charge, subject to some limitations. There are a number of options, with varying strengths and weaknesses.
There is Whatsapp. Most people will think of it in terms of text chat, but it can make audio or video calls, and even group video call. However, it does have a four participant limit for the video calls, and it doesn't have some of the integrated functions that others do. Whatspp, of course, is owned by Facebook, so you may be concerned about how much of your data is being sold, although the content of the calls themselves is encrypted and therefore protected. Also, your Whatsapp account is tied to your cell phone number. There is a way to make it work with a computer, laptop, or tablet, but it's cumbersome, and, while you are using Whatsapp on your computer you probably can't use it on your phone.
Oddly, Snapchat, for video calls, does have a higher limit of 16, if you are willing to make the sacrifice to your security professional's soul. Also, I am reliably informed by a Certified Young Person that the quality of Snapchat video conferencing is appalling.
Google, of course, has a foot in the videoconferencing door with Duo and Hangout. The Vancouver Chapter used to Webcast it's meetings with Hangout, but it's fallen out of favour with our video team.
The big name in video conferencing, at the moment, is Zoom. Zoom is intended for business. It is intended that your company buy a commercial account. But you can make your own account, and try it, and use it, for free. It just doesn't seem to be as easy to use it for quick, ad hoc calls. It is definitely intended for corporate group work, and trying to get established with non-corporate entities can be trying.
For example, there is a "Contacts" list, but it's not easy to populate. It's not like a phone book or address book or contacts list for your cell phone or email. It's not really easy to start off and begin to make calls. The process goes like:
1) Install the app.
2) Create an account (unless you've done that already online). (You can create a Zoom account on the Zoom Website. Basically, all you need is an email address. If you've got multiple devices capable of running Zoom, and multiple email addresses, it might be an idea to create multiple Zoom accounts so you can call back and forth between them to practice.)
3) Go to the Contacts page or screen.
4) Somewhere on the Contacts screen will be a "plus" sign (+). (Probably at/near the top of the screen. Tap the +. The screen that results might say something about search. Type in the email address (or Zoom account number, but it's probably the email address) of the person you want to add. (that is, the email address they used to create a Zoom account.) Then you will probably get a message about the person/account not being found, but there will probably be a button so you can invite them. Do that, and then they have to get the message and respond in order for them to be a contact.
5) Once they accept/become a contact, they will appear on the Contacts screen (or under "External"). Once that happens, you can click on them in order to get options to start a chat (word balloon icon) or video call (camera looking icon).
6) Oh, it's not over yet. Once you start your first video call, you have to make some choices and/or tests of what audio and video you are going to use. However, on a phone it shouldn't be too complicated.
(It's easier with a commercial or corporate account. In that case, all of your co-workers are probably in your contacts already.)
Once you have established someone as a contact, calling them is a bit easier. However, Zoom does feel like it is really intended for planned, scheduled meetings. On a free account, you can create a videoconference with up to one hundred participants in it (which seems a lit of overkill). The Zoom client app does have various ways to manage this on your screen (muting your microphone, turning off your camera, hiding various participants, having a gallery view, or selecting the current speaker only). The free account is also limited to a call of no more than forty minutes if you have more than three participants.
If you want to practice some of these (or others), you can contact me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up some practice calls. I'm usually available for this between 10 am and noon, Pacific time, most days except Sunday.
If your organization has the funds, I recommend looking at a commercial meeting host company. Both (ISC)2 and ISSA use the BrightTALK service for webinars. The provisioning appears well developed and the features work well, including list of participants available to the meeting organizer. I have been both a speaker and a viewer on BrighTALK sessions, and they seemed to work very well from my end. I have no clue as to the costs involved.
Actually, someone mentioned Jitsi Meet, and my open source loving soul is intrigued.
Anybody got any experience with it?
We did a bit of a "stress test" on Google Meet today, part of the attempt to create a worldwide security conference (while we're all at home and not going to onsite ones).
Google Meet doesn't seem to have quite the same video quality as Zoom, and there are definitely some features Zoom has that Meet doesn't. However, the free version of Meet has fewer limitations than the free version of Zoom.
One interesting bug report: I was the "host" of the meeting, and, at one point, the controls (ability to turn my mike on and off, ability to bring up the chat window, etc) on my window stopped working. The meeting didn't freeze: I could see all the video going on and the various participants, and I could hear the discussion. After a while the controls came back.
However, later in the meeting my control froze again, and then after a few minutes the video (of the participants) froze (but I could still hear the audio discussion), and then after a few more minutes the audio cut out. After about another minute the video suddenly started to run at "fast forward," as if it was trying to catch up, and then I was dumped out of the conference. (My computer was fine: only the meeting window was affected.)
Since I was the "host," I wondered what that would do to the meeting, but, when I rejoined the meeting, everyone was carrying on as before, so the meeting wasn't lost when I left.
If you have ever been on a conference call, you will undoubtedly laugh at this.
(Even though it is six years old ...)