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3 secrets to giving a remote lecture!

Someone writes in:

I noticed that you did a remote lecture in Warwick and I—thinking of organizing such a lecture—was wondering about the logistics.

(1) What software did you use? Was any special IT required for it to run?

(2) Did you feel that it was a positive speaking experience? Were there any challenges, especially any unforseen?

Referrals to other people who might be able to help would be very welcome.

My reply:

I used Google Hangout, which worked well. We started out with a phone call to get it set up, then once it was all going we didn’t need the phone anymore. I had them set up a few computers there so I could get a view of the audience. The toughest part was that if the sound setup is not perfect, you have to mute the audience when you’re talking to avoid sound feedback. It’s a challenge when you can’t hear the audience react to your jokes. I had to stare at some of the people in the audience (of course, with the remote connection they couldn’t tell I was staring) to get a sense of reactions.

Other than that, it went OK. You just have to psych yourself up a bit to counter the lack of direct contact.

Also, I’m thinking that in a remote talk it should be possible to do a better job getting questions from the audience. In my two recent webinars, one for political science and one for Stan, I got tons of good questions. It helped that people could type in their questions on the web interface so (a) they didn’t have to stand up to ask, and (b) they could type their questions when they came to mind and not have to wait till the end. Even though the actual question period was at the end, we collected questions throughout the seminar. Also in the webinars there was a moderator who collected the questions and asked me the good ones. This makes me think that something similar could be done in seminars more generally.

Maybe commenters have other thoughts.


  1. Brian Gawalt says:

    Wireless headphones might let you hear the audience, avoid audio feedback, but preserve full range of motion.

  2. Simon Gates says:

    I was in the audience for the Warwick talk – it was great! One of the best talks on the day (it was a workshop on hypothesis testing). Or I liked it the most anyway, largely because Andrew tackled the real questions of why people do this and what it means, whereas a lot of other talks seemed to get sidetracked into questions of how to do it.

    Technically there weren’t any issues from the audience side – I guess it’s important for someone to make sure the sound is good for the audience, and it’s a bit odd only having one view of the speaker. It’s probably a way of communicating that we all need to get much better at, as a lot of time and fossil fuel gets burned up at the moment so that people can talk to each other.

  3. Vahid says:

    I tried to use headphones, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me, instead of that i used microphone, and worked.

  4. honeyoak says:

    I have used anymeeting ( with great success in the past (and no, I am not affiliated with them. Just a happy customer). You can do things such as real time surveys that keep the audience engaged. Due to the lack of feedback, I find that writing a script (word for word) is very helpful to keep an uppity pace to the presentation.

  5. Keith O'Rourke says:

    The instant replay (actually the follow-up link to the online video a day or so later) was really helpful.

    The parts of the webinar I liked most were different during versus after.

    Perhaps a re-post a week or so after giving a recap of questions/answers and inviting more?

  6. Bill Harris says:

    I used to moderate such distributed meetings professionally. One thing we did to facilitate interaction was to have “question managers” standing by to answer text questions as they came in, rather than waiting until the end to answer them. When we were good at that, we could really get a lot of interaction going. It helped when everyone was logged on separately rather than in larger group viewing rooms, but it can work either way.

    For example, in your recent Stan introduction, Eric could have answered questions as they were typed in, eliminating confusion when it occurred instead of only at the end, when a listener had already potentially missed some of the meaning of the talk. Of course, Eric could also save questions for the end he thought you should answer yourself, and he could interrupt you if he had discovered that no one, for example, knew what a likelihood was and your educating everyone in the moment would save much confusion.

    • Eric Novik says:

      I did answer some questions as they were being typed in. I did it through the gotowebinar chat window, but I am sure I did not answer all of them, which would have been impossible. I also answered some questions that were emailed to us after the webinar was over. I am sure we could have done a better job with this and we appreciate your comments and suggestions.

  7. I really like using GoToWebinar for such occurrences.

    The other point I would add is that as a frequent webinar presenter, I suggest a set up that allows the presenter to stand up, and move around. I find that that helps to make my presentation more animated, as I would be standing if I was presenting in person.

  8. numeric says:

    It’s a challenge when you can’t hear the audience react to your jokes.

    You? Making a joke? Give us an example (fyi, snide asides are not a joke–something like “two statisticians walk into a bar…” is a joke).

  9. RJB says:

    I’m thinking that in a remote talk it should be possible to do a better job getting questions from the audience.

    I hosted a talk show in the virtual world Second Life (go ahead, laugh), where we used every tool we could find to foster real-time discussion and Q&A with a mix of voice, video, visual aids and text. As Andrew says, rule number one is to have moderators sifting through text to forward the best questions and comments to the speakers. But we pushed this notion a lot further, creating what I called constructive cacophony. We also had moderators tracking the conversation and contributing links and quotes relevant to what the speakers were talking about at any given moment, and highlighting particularly germane comments in the ongoing live audience commentary. Of course, all the cacophony was silent–only the featured speakers could use voice.

    Audience members weren’t always paying attention to what speakers were saying at one moment, because they were still arguing about what was said minutes ago. It’s not what we are used to, but I still chalk it up as a win. After all, if we suppress all of the back-and-forth, we are still losing people’s attention–we just don’t know it. And at least the cacophony model keeps people’s attention on the content of the session, even if it isn’t the speaker’s focus right this moment.

    This approach seemed to work best when many people in the audience had something to contribute, and points could be made and understood relatively quickly; when one person is presenting highly technical issues to a relatively uninformed audience, we are probably better off with the familiar speaker-in-front-of-zoned-out-faces approach to presentations, but who knows. How many of the people sitting politely with their hands in their laps and eyes on the speak got lost 4 minutes ago because they didn’t understand a term or argument, and could be back on track with a quick text question and response from another audience member?

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