Developing Virtual Skills

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9th Jun 2019
Brandt von West Creativity
Brandt Von West – Creativity before Innovation
19th Jul 2019
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A decade of virtual skills
 

Introduction

As we wrestle with what our futures look like, and how we go about creating them, it is worth looking back sometimes, to see where we came from. This time line of the online work that I have been involved in, or peripheral to, with respect to the speaking world, is a great example of slow, humble beginnings, maturing into a viable and valuable offering.

2009 - Toastmasters Meeting hosted across continents

In over 200 meetings, since its inception, Martyn Battrick had missed only 2 of the Forest Hills Toastmasters club meetings, and those were for reasons related to other Toastmasters events. At his farewell roast, I jokingly suggested that he be Toastmaster of the evening (MC) at an upcoming meeting, via Skype. He took me up on this offer and so we hosted what was one of the first multi-continent meetings. Martyn was returning to the UK after many years in his home of the Forest Hills club, in Hillcrest, Kwa Zulu / Natal, in South Africa.

Since this was early days, we did some dry runs before hand, carefully checking out the internet connection in our venue, and arranged a back up Toastmaster if something went wrong.

It only took about 25 minutes for everyone in the room to get over the novelty of the technology and continue the meeting like any other. With years of experience, and since he knew everyone in the room, Martyn hosted beautifully. When we stopped for our dinner break, he went and had dinner with his wife, and returned to the second part of the evening wearing a South African Springboks rugby jersey.

2010 - SharingGlass with Skype on social media training

Way back then I used to do social media training, helping small business owners learn how to use the platforms for marketing and generating leads. For one client, I ran a series of short sessions helping them to get to grips with social media. Car trouble meant that I would have missed one session, but they suggested we do it online - so I had my first experience of teaching online skills using an online platform, in this case an app called SharingGlass that allowed them to see my desktop using Skype.

2014 - Virtual speakers at PSASA meetings / Streaming to followers

We have been doing a version of this sporadically in the Cape Chapter of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa (PSASA) since I started this in 2014. We would invite a guest speaker, a professional speaker from another part of the world, to address our meeting to share their insights.

Benefits have been multiple:

- We get to access the best minds in the speaking world, regardless of where they are, without having to wait until they happen to be in South Africa.

- Our local speakers start to get a taste of the whole world of speaking, inspiring them to explore what else is possible with their work, to explore other parts of the world as speaking markets as well as considering stepping up into leadership that would give them more access to these opportunities.

One of our first guests was the incredibly professional Alan Stevens from PSA-UK&I who has a wealth of experience online and in the industry. His name will come up again in this article.

We have in recent months started streaming our Cape Chapter meetings again, but this time for the sake of the audience, not to necessarily bring in a speaker. We have a number of members who do not travel at night and one who spends half his life in Namibia, so now they don’t lose out when they are unable to be there in person. It takes some intention to ensure that the Zoom audience on the computer are made to feel part of the meeting and not relegated to the corner of the room, but then Cape Town people are very friendly. We include the computer and Zoom attendees in group discussions and group photos.

The other chapters regularly invite steamed speakers as well.

2015 - Virtual Marketing Summit at PSASA Cape Convention

Here’s Alan again!

PSASA has an annual convention where we bring out the best learning, experience valuable networking and get to showcase a few things that are possible in the speaking world. Typically speakers from other associations also attend so that we get to hear from their experience and their part of the world. We also get visited each year by the President of the Global Speakers Federation (GSF), the body to which all our professional speaking associations belong.

Many times we have a pre-conference event that has a broader market focus to raise awareness of the PSASA and to raise a bit of income. In 2015, I was Convention Convenor, with the help of my husband Richard Mulvey, who had run a bunch of PSASA conventions.

I decided to do something different knowing that in the speaking world we have a vast fund of knowledge and skill, so we set up a panel of 5 speakers talking about marketing. That wasn’t the part that was different. The speakers we invited were not attending the convention in person, and were located in 5 different countries in 5 different time zones. Only the audience members and the MC, the trust-worthy Alan Stevens, was in the room at the time.

Preparation before hand included Alan having an online meeting with each of the speakers to discuss their topics so that he could introduce them well. (That should be a standard with an MC, but is sadly lacking.) But he took it a step further by pre-recording their 20 minute slot and bringing the recordings with him to the event. Should the connection prove insufficient to the task, or there was some other calamity, Alan had 5 recorded interviews in his virtual pocket and the audience would not have lost out.

This was literally the most stressful part of a 3 day event in the middle of a week of about 11 events we had planned, and once we pulled it off, I started to relax.

2015 - Opened PSA-UKI Convention from PSASA Cape Town Convention

But wait, we weren’t done with the inter-continental conversations. The then-President of PSA-UK was Mike Ogilvie. He had agreed to come to our convention in Cape Town and speak, and then his association decided to have a mid-term event that fell on the same weekend as ours. He was in a jam, but someone thought up a clever idea to make it make it work. From our stage in Cape Town, Mike connected with his association in London, greeted them, introduced our two associations to each other, and opened their event. We even had a shout out to one of our PSASA members in the PSA-UK audience, and there were cheers all around!

All of a sudden it became normal for the members of our two associations to visit each other and connect and collaborate.

2019 Update

- in the 2019 annual convention, South African speaker, Frank Furness, who now lives in the USA, presented to both the PSASA convention as well as the PSA UK&I midterm convention, at the same time, spanning 3 continents with good content and inspiration.

2016 - Video training for PSASA Workshop

We have played around with a few video workshops for PSASA members over the years. Richard has been recording his training and speaking for ages and now has a library of content that he uses to generate online training courses.

On this occasion, Richard set up a workshop at our home studio, with the green screen, lots of cameras and a bunch of guests in the room.

Lets explain the cameras so that you get the picture (lol) of how much tech was going on that day.

- Richard had 2 cameras on him recording his presentation, so that he could cut it to a video training product for resale later.

- We had a camera on the video cameras, to take some photos of the set up and the audience.

- We had a video camera at the back of the room, to pick up what Richard was doing and show the audience, but it was connected to my computer so that we could share it via Google Hangouts.

- We had people in the Google room watching the presentation.

We weren’t quite sophisticated enough with Google Hangouts, so I had a back channel with the delegates in the virtual room - they texted me questions via SMS and I passed them on to Richard.

It was a valuable session learning about video and having a chance to get familiar with the set up for those in the room later.

2017 and 2018 - Nigerian training - LinkedIn via Zoom and then Facebook live summit

We love travelling in Africa but we also love sharing with our colleagues on the continent, without having to leave home in Cape Town. On two occasions I have been invited by large Nigerian networks to do some training or deliver a message. Since we have been to Nigeria, in person, on two occasions and know how wonderful the people are, it is a pleasure to be able to give them some more insight in this way.

The first one was an hour plus of LinkedIn advice on a webinar, with a 40 minute Q&A afterwards. It was on Zoom and I confess I was blown away scrolling through page after page of participants on that call.

The second one, in 2018, was for an online business motivational summit and was hosted on Facebook Live and I talked about futures thinking and strategic foresight.

2018 - 360 degree live streaming of PSASA Convention

We return to the PSASA Annual Convention, this time in Gauteng and run by Richard. I was MC this day, but not responsible for the higher grade set up that was going on. Our colleague in the Pretoria Chapter, (2019 update: now National President) Ross Saunders, arranged for the Saturday line up to be streamed, live, on YouTube, via 360 degree cameras.

Not only were we the first speaker conference in the GSF world to do a 360 degree live streaming, but this was also only the second conference in South Africa, to be done this way.

Of course that meant there were a few teething problems. Our PSASA YouTube account wasn’t configured for this and it took too long to sort it out once we realised, so we streamed via the camera company’s account. We also didn’t have the technology to edit the massive videos so that had to be done later.

But we did give every member of the audience a Virtual Reality headset and encouraged them to check out the video later on YouTube or to play around with other virtual reality videos online.

2018 - PSASA Online Panel

This was fun!

We had been talking through the year about virtual presenting, and I had met and started working with Ian Hatton who has done most of his work virtually. Ian teaches managers how to manage virtual teams, virtually. From his home in Cape Town, he can train a team in a different part of the world, and demonstrate the techniques to help them make their virtual teams more effective.

So we set up a panel to demonstrate and discuss virtual presenting for speakers.

- Ian Hatton, in the room with me, talked about virtual training.

- Michelle Clarke, in Chile, talked about virtual coaching.

- Tom Abbott, in Singapore, talked about virtual speaking. 


South Africa. Santiago, Singapore! Training. Coaching. Speaking.

All of these people doing their best work, internationally, from their homes, and paid full fee!

Oh, and not only did we use Zoom to present the session, it was live streamed with 360 degree cameras too.

2018 - PSASA Virtual Chapter

Since 2016 we have had very casual online meetings for speakers affiliated with PSASA. We find a guest, anywhere in the world, to talk about an issue important to us, and then we all connect on Zoom, listen, question, discuss.

After a number of meetings, we extended the time of the meeting to an hour and a half, to allow for a little more connection between the regulars.

And then Ian Hatton joined us and has helped to raise the standard of our interactions and technology use.

And then just recently we have started to formalise the meeting a little more, and it now features as an official Chapter within PSASA.

The benefits of a Virtual Chapter include:

- Offering education to speakers who are not in the regional areas where our physical chapters are.

- Offering an opportunity for those speakers who cannot attend physical meetings in the evenings.

- Demonstrating generosity to people allied and adjacent to our industry.

- Allowing regulars of the various chapters, to meet people from other chapters and learn about their colleagues.

- Allowing people unsure of their place in the speaking world, to have a gentle introduction to the PSASA.

2019 Update

- the Virtual Chapter has now been officially inaugurated and has its own members, leadership team and budget!

2018 - OMfOS

After a couple of sessions that we held in the Virtual Chapter, it turned out that there were a number of speakers who wanted to explore more online work. We have also spoken at length about masterminds and encouraged people in that direction, so it was natural that our next step was … an Online Mastermind for Online Speakers. With the curious acronym OMfOS, the group has become extraordinarily valuable to its members. Although a regular mastermind shouldn't have a leadership team, the size and scope of this group requires a little structure. There is a small, core group that are the essential mastermind and then a second tier class with a group of around 12 in a community of 40.

Ian Hatton leads a team of very dedicated speakers who help the rest of the group members through the sessions. They meet once a month or so, on Zoom and spend much of their time in virtual break out rooms wrestling with the issues of the day. They have a Facebook Group and a Whatsapp backchannel that is vibrant in sharing, encouraging and supporting each other. In fact, anyone in PSASA testing out a new virtual meeting, virtual training, webinar, podcast or anything else online, has an automatic virtual crowd to join on for support and feedback.

2018 - The Sales Meeting

Richard runs a weekly Sales Meeting webinar, via Zoom, for anyone who is interested in learning a few new selling skills and honing their techniques. The meeting is strictly 30 minutes and regular as clock work. Again, there is a group of regulars of about 12 people out of a list of 60 who have signed up and attend when they are interested in a particular skill. It has been running now for almost 9 months.

2018 - Inception level Zoom-on-Zoom call at PSASA MidTerm 2018

We introduced a mid-term event 3 years back in PSASA to cater for a deep dive into various tools and as a way to introduce other people into the association.

2018 was Cape Town, I am convenor again, but since I have changed professions and am now a futurist, the theme was, you guessed in, The Future of Speaking!

We wanted to tackle some issues around innovation and futures thinking that speakers should have a handle on. We must be ahead of our audiences in thinking about issues and be able to offer them guidance. So we talked about online work, innovation models, generational issues in audiences, tackling taboo topics. We had a speaker from the Russian speakers association connect with us and share a short message. We even discussed how we as speakers position ourselves and how we charge fees.

Which introduces us here to Dr Graeme Codrington. Graeme is a futurist and one of our busiest speakers. He is in a plane every week, and was going to present to us from a hotel in Hong Kong, but as that plan got canceled, he was at home in Gauteng. The power was out at his home, but being an actual professional professional speaker, Graeme had back up power and back up internet connection.

Ian connected with Graeme via Zoom. Graeme could see the room, talk to us, ask questions and engage with the audience.

But at the back of the room Richard had cameras set up and a second Zoom account running, live streaming this session for the sake of a few members who couldn’t attend in person, including our one (dual association) member who lives in Namibia and our Russian colleague in a different hemisphere.

By this stage in our experience, this event was almost second nature. We thought nothing of live streaming a blended virtual experience via a second platform.

Take aways

And that was the point! After all that expereince, this was just another tool in our kit and we didn't have to think twice about it.

Experience:

With experience over time, daunting technologies became second nature. Even the digital immigrants don’t need to think twice about technologies that were once foreign to them. We can handle our phones, online banking, Pokemon VR apps and even digital TV.

If we want to get familiar with what is possible, whether it is online presenting or some innovation in your company, then you must practice. You must start somewhere.

Start somewhere:

Our very first online guest at a PSASA meeting was an old friend of mine. Also a speaker, we had known each other since I was in school. I knew I could experiment on him and if I blew it, he wouldn’t be offended. And then we got better from there.

Try different tools:

I started on Skype. We have used Google Hangouts and Facebook live. I was introduced to Zoom and then bought the premium package of Zoom because it is now an integral part of my business.

Rent a crowd:

Find some willing colleagues with reciprocal support, who will help you test out your presentation, sound, light, etc. Do practice runs until you feel comfortable.

Get more professional:

There is no excuse to not become more professional as you become more proficient. We need to recognise that every one must start somewhere, and be gracious to those who have not yet acquired the experience that we have. But you need to be improving. Check your sound and light. See what is in your background and clean it up. Connect with your audience, don’t just present at them.

For PSASA, our online experience have made us richer. We have learned from colleagues we would otherwise never have heard from. We have brought new people into our association and given them a richer experience. Our PSASA meetings need to be professional and offer the highest possible experience to attendees. But it is acceptable in this setting, to experiment with a new technology and to show our members what is possible in their speaking businesses.

For me, experimenting with these technologies has given me the confidence to explore new speaking opportunities, to travel and to explore topics. When faced with a new innovation and feeling daunted, I remember the path from that first Toastmasters meeting, to our inception level presenting at the midterm event, and I know we can tackle this too.

Be proud

Should it read as a bit of a brag, just know that I am okay with that. None of what I have done here, has been done alone, but with incredibly talented and patient friends and colleagues. And when one looks back on a decade of growth and learning, it is entirely permissible to be proud of this body of work, and encouraged about what one can learn over time.
 

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