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Open Thread Thursday: Virtual Presentations

open thread

[I’d like to start a new feature at GeneaBloggers called Open Thread Thursday where a topic is presented for discussion.  I think that many members of our blogging community as well as readers may have the same questions around a specific topic.]

This post began as a discussion over on Facebook where Marian Pierre-Louis of the Roots and Rambles blog asked for some tips on presenting “virtually” to a genealogical society.  Many folks offered tips but what was really great was how many folks didn’t realize it was possible to do a long-distance presentation to a genealogical society or even a conference or expo from the comfort of your home.

I have successfully presented genealogy workshops virtually, most recently for the California Genealogical Society and Library in Oakland, where the topic was They’re Alive – Searching for Living Persons. Almost 20 people attended in Oakland while I was here in Chicago during the two hour presentation.

So, here are the open thread discussion points – leave your answers, ideas and even further questions in the comments:

  • Have you ever attended a virtual presentation before – genealogy or some other topic?
  • What method was used? Webex? Skype? Go To Meeting? Second Life?
  • Were you satisfied with the quality of the presentation?
  • What features do you think are required for a virtual presentation? Video? Teleconferencing?
  • Were there any technical problems?
  • As a genealogy speaker, have you ever presented virtually or considered the possibility?
  • Would you charge a lower speakers fee to present a session at a conference to a room full of attendees or to a genealogical society meeting?
  • If you were to use a program like Webex, would you charge attendees to connect from their home to the presentation?
  • As an attendee, what would you be willing to pay for a one-hour workshop on a genealogy topic if you could connect on your computer from the comfort of your home?
  • If a workshop were offered on how to present virtually, would you be interested?

© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

23 thoughts on “Open Thread Thursday: Virtual Presentations

  1. I’ve attended virtual meetings, in my “old” life as an HR executive. The Society for HR Management put them on. I don’t know what the platform was, but they were great. I rarely had time for conferences.

    Now, with two very small children in tow at all times, genealogical conferences are impossible for me, so I’d be very interested in web-based learning on intermediate/advanced topics. I don’t know what I’d pay (it depends on the topic), but I’d pay something if it was an in-depth, advanced subject where I need to learn more.

    I’d especially look for presentations where I could download/view them at my convenience. The aforementioned two small children keep me from being able to sit and watch a whole presentation during most times of day, so I have to do this stuff while they sleep…which would not be a convenient time for most people.

    (I like the open threads…it’s nice to be able to discuss topics of interest to the whole community!)

  2. I have attended virtual classes via Webex and Go To Meeting, and both were very effective. The quality was very good–occasionally, there were technical glitches.

    The classes I attended were free; but if you wanted the handouts and a link to download the session, there was a reasonable fee.

    I would be interested in a workshop on how to present virtually.

  3. Greetings Thomas,

    I am definitely interested in a workshop on learning how to present virtually. Sign me up!
    I would like to know which method has worked best for other virtual presenters and how they worked out all the details with the society or conference – technical, financial, etc.

    I don’t think I would charge a lower speaker’s fee because that fee represents the time and work I put into my presentation. Where the society or conference would save money would be on the travel costs I charge for presenting in person.

    Thomas, this is a great topic of discussion.


  4. There are so many genealogy societys and groups that would be so well-served by opening their presentations or seminars (perhaps tightly run meetings) up to this type of attendance. I belong to certain groups that there is no possible way (distance-wise) I could attend their meetings/presentations BUT I am very interested in the topics.

    Being able to virtually attend would be such a plus for several reasons – it would benefit me in the learning capacity, but it would also benefit the society because they would have greater member interaction, they could charge me a fee for virtual attendance (it might be different that actual attendance based on what all is involved) and that would help their bottom line, and it would keep memberships up as virtual presentations/seminars would be an added plus to differentiate that society from others that don’t offer them and it would make me feel more of an ownership interest in the group – something for them to keep in mind in light of the current economy and so many groups vying for a finite amount of genealogists’ dollars.

    One way NOT to do this – I recently signed up for a seminar that was to be presented virtually – and received an email a few days before the presentation that it was not going to happen, with no explanation and no rescheduling – not very smart on their part as I would not look to them again for such a meeting. Keep potential attendees aware of your situations and solict ideas for which presentations should be virtual.

  5. I attended a Go to Meeting webinar today about social media. Sign up and log in were a breeze. These webinars are a benefit of my membership in a certain professional research organization.

    I would like to see the Association of Professional Genealogists host webinars for their members. This would provide professional education and networking to members who aren’t able to attend the annual day-long APG conference.

    Open Thread Thursday is a great idea for collaboration, feedback and discussion. Thanks for starting it.

  6. I love the idea of virtual presentations. And I can totally relate to Kerry’s comment above about needing to be able to view them after the kids are in bed.

    I participated in a test presentation for the New England Chapter of APG where Mark Lowe gave us a virtual presentation. I thought it went very well. I have also attended a couple of the webinars. I thought those were very good (Tony Burroughs / Mary Penner) and they are accessible afterward at the subscribers convenience.

    I am going to give a virtual talk for the first time tomorrow for Family History Expos in CO. I have never done this before so I can only hope for the best. More feedback on that after the fact.

    I think the key issue is whether the presentations allow presenter/audience participation or are merely presented to the audience.

  7. I love the idea of virtual presentations. I can totally relate to Kerry’s situation having already been there done that. Also, there are seminars I see across the country that I would love to attend but can’t because of geographical distances and costs. Virtual presentations get around that.

    I would think this could be a boon for local societies as well from a cost cutting standpoint since they wouldn’t have to pay travel cost and other expenses for a speaker.

    On the downside, there is something about attending a class in person and meeting and interacting with the speaker and other participants that I don’t think can be replaced in a virtual conference type of situation.

    Still they have their place and I see lots of positive things about them.

  8. Thanks for starting the Thursday discussion topic; a great idea!

    I have attended both Webinars for a fee and virtual presentations for free. I found them equally useful, although I think handouts or some added-value makes paying for an online presentation more attractive.

    I also second the motion to be able to access a presentation at any time; some webinars offer live attendance and the opportunity to ask questions, and then later access the the presentation on-demand.

  9. I took a “pre-course” presentation for a translation memory course once using Go To Meeting. There were a few glitches, but it eventually worked quite well. I would like to see opportunities to take genealogy classes this way, because most of the local genealogy classes in my area are given at night in locations that are somewhat farther than I would like to drive.

  10. “Temporarily disable/close any startup or background programs that can suck memory and resources.” [note this is from the exchange we had on Facebook.]
    Thomas, Can you please explain where I look in my system to see what else is running in the background? I can’t say I’ve ever looked for it before! I realize if you’re creating a lecture you’d need to address some different operating systems. I am running XP Pro.

    My second question would be from the rest of the comment I cut from above, “With Webex (which I use), I want as much resources available to me for the presentation.” How much of the system resource does Webex consume. Not having used it, I am going to guess you would ask me to download it and play with it a bit. But, perhaps you’ll give me an overview in one of your blogs?

    I have more questions, but we’ll start with these!
    Thank you for creating this opportunity to ask these questions!

  11. Great idea to have this discussion, Thomas!

    I’ve attended many GoToMeeting Webinars and most go off without a hitch. Occasionally there will be a drop in the connection or another technical problem, usually resolved quickly.

    I like the webinars that are also recorded for listening at a later time. Time zone differences can be an issue with an international audience.

    I’d be willing to pay for a webinar that advanced my genealogy knowledge.

  12. Virtual presentations have a real place in today’s world. I don’t think they can totally take the place of in-person meetings because we all from time to time need to network, and speakers need to be in face-to-face contact with their audiences, at least part of the time.

    Like Kathryn, I would not reduce my base speaker’s fee, because as she said, that represents the research and compilation and design time and effort we put into these things. However, the savings for the sponsoring organization would be in not having to pay travel and lodging expenses.

    I have attended a few virtual presentations. I do not remember what platforms were used. Most of these were audio only, and I think that is the least desirable method. I really like having a visual component, so that I can see the speaker and see his or her facial expression, body language, and reactions to audience questions and (we always hope) applause. There were some technical problems having to do with the sound in some of these that I listened to. One presentation was barely audible because of poor sound quality.

    My local genealogical society’s immediate past president wanted to have us put on some webinars, but that did not come to pass by the end of her term, and it is unlikely to happen now (unless she presents the idea again in her present capacity as publicity chair). I haven’t heard any more about it, however. I do think it would be a great, inexpensive way for the society to perform some effective outreach.

  13. For those of you talking about whether to reduce your speaker fee…what if you were offering the class directly to the students? For example, if you charge $500 for a talk at a genealogical society now, what if you offered that talk online to interested individuals for $25/participant? Would you make more or less money?

    I think there’s an untapped market of people who can’t or don’t want to attend the genealogical society conferences and meetings, and this would be a great way to reach those people. I don’t think it would necessarily cut into your existing client base (since the two groups have such different needs).

    I know a LOT of people who never hear many great speakers because they’re only available in group settings. I also know there are genealogical societies who might “try out” a speaker this way, and might later hire them for larger lectures.

    (The numbers I used are completely made up; I have no clue how much speakers are paid for their lectures)

  14. Thomas, Thanks for the invite. As being a member of the first Genealogical Group to hold a month long seminar on line for October’s Family HIstory Month, a few years back I have some strong comments. I believe this can be a wave of the future. We have so many people that are house bound, wheel chair bound and movement is anguishing, that we did it via a chat room concept holding 2 to 3 classes (chats a night).
    We had world reknown speakers and no one charged dime that we were told of. It was a way to get the word out about their products, software etc, their societies, their topics in Genealogy etc. We were amazed the four of us that put this together how willing the genealogical world was in helping to make this happen.
    I do not believe there is a much more caring group than genealogists.
    I saw Lisa Cooke do her tidbit and I am chomping at the bit to learn more.
    I did a presentation on Tombstones last night. What a
    great event it would have been if I could have shown the different designs on stones etc instead of attempting to describe them.

    I also concur that I do not think it would harm the speakers that are paid because there are those of us who learn by seeing and those who can learn by being told. I tend to be a show me then I can do it person, I master the other but it takes a few more times around to master it. After all I still have not
    mastered getting the Geneablogger emblem on my pages. BOO HOO.
    I think it is our duty to share our knowledge with others as much as we can. Why know it if you do not share it. To be compensated is awesome but to help another is far more rewarding as you already know by what you do.
    Thanks for giving me the time to express my thoughts on this.
    For those in need of numbers mine are about five years old but the need and concept is accurate.

  15. I am a trainer professionally, and have attended virtual training, which I found excellent except for a few technical issues (firewall & the need for a headset), which would not occur in the home.

    I have successfully used elluminate for web meetings, and hope to use it in the future for presentations.

    I think that it helps attendees if they can see the presenter, and I remember seeing a great application some years ago which had a webcam component, a place for Powerpoint slides and a chat box..but just can’t remember the name….(but will come back and repost when I find it).

    I think as far as fees go, that you need to cover your costs. My genealogy training sessions are for a local group, and we charge a fee to help raise funds, so it is hard to say if we could charge less for a virtual presentation. Normally we charge about $5, so I would think we would have to charge more.

    Although I would like to run virtual sessions, I am very aware that our members tend to be less technologically savvy, and I could foresee frustrations and issues. Even so, I might now be spurred to give it a go.

  16. While I too experience online presentations in my working life, I am tend to be somewhat resistant to them in my private life (i.e. where I do my genealogy). I think this is because a physical seminar provides an opportunity to meet and mingle with others, a social aspect that is lost in the online seminar. I am unsure how popular online seminars would be for older people for this reason – a visit to the local family history library usually has a social motivation as well as a genealogical one (the tea room can be busier than the microfiche room!).

    Also older peole are very reluctant to pay online (too concerned about security) and I presume payment for online presentations would be done online.

    In the workplace we mostly all have relatively modern computers, but in the home many people (especially older ones) often have very old computers, sometimes hand-me-downs from their adult children. Also there may be much lower bandwidth available to some people at home. This “low-tech” situation means that the online seminars will probably have technical problems of one kind or another.

    While these comments are generalisations, nonetheless I suspect online presentations will work better with younger demographic (who are cash rich but time poor) rather than an older demographic.

    In order to charge a fee for these online seminars, then I think the topics have to be pitched at a fairly advanced level and presented by real experts. There are plenty of free introductory and intermediate seminars out there plus loads of free advice available in mailing lists and newsgroups or WWW sites, so to attract a paying audience I think the content would have to be of a much higher standard.

  17. Another thought: this could be a money-maker for smaller societies. For example, I saw Randy Seaver talking about a seminar being held by the Chula Vista [California] Genealogical Society soon. I would love to hear it, but I’m 2,000 miles away. If they offered it for download after the fact, I’d happily pay to be able to see/hear it.

    The genealogical society would make money from people they never would have reached otherwise…and they could, in turn, afford to hire “bigger” speakers, and more of them. There could be a whole cottage industry in terms of content-creation for smaller societies. Everyone benefits from that.

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