I am often asked about the technology that I use for my online courses and, as happened during last week's webinar on this topic, am sometimes met with surprised reactions for the simplicity of my setup.
I’ve been presenting webinars and online live training sessions for more than 17 years and I’ve used many platforms and applications, and a variety of equipment, in that time. While some online content lends itself to more complex setups, such as virtual computer labs for enterprise-wide hands-on technology training, fancier and more expensive is not always better (or necessary).
My aim with my clients who are delving into the online learning space is to start with simple.
Are you exploring online live sessions?
Are you rapidly adapting your classroom learning events into the online space?
Are you wondering what minimum requirements will allow you to quickly launch, without breaking the bank?
Let me offer insight into what I use for both hardware and software applications, as well as the low-cost alternative. I'm a Mac user but grew up on Windows, and both setups work equally well.
Perhaps the most obvious setup for online live presentations is to use your existing equipment. You quite likely do not need to purchase a new laptop or desktop. Launching into the world of online meetings can be quick, as long as you have enough working/functional computer memory (i.e. ability to log on to the internet and connect to online meeting platforms) and the appropriate browser (eg. GoToMeeting works best in Google Chrome).
I use both simultaneously during my live online sessions. The iMac is my main tool, front and centre, and it is on this system that I am logged in as the facilitator for online classes. This main system with the large display allows me to share content, browsers, presentation slides, and my webcam. The iMac built-in webcam and speaker function perfectly for sharing my mug and for hearing my participants.
Webcam – often web-enabled cameras are built into laptops and computers. Position the webcam at eye level (or slightly above) and off to one side. Optionally, you may wish to connect a secondary external webcam so you can switch between cameras during the session.
Microphone/speaker – as with webcams, microphones and speakers are often already part of your computer system. Optionally, you may wish to connect an external microphone to increase the quality of our audio, particularly if you will be recording the session. While the iMac and MacBook and most systems come standard with internal microphones, I purchased a portable microphone and a boom arm/mesh guard for enhanced quality and minimizing background noise. The Samson MeteorMic requires no setup and uses a USB plug-in for high-quality sound during live sessions, audio recordings, and for video creation. The mic itself is quite small which offers portability for travel, however, when not travelling, it is affixed on the end of the boom arm which is clamped to the left edge of my desk.
The MacBook is off to my right with a secondary monitor connected to it: the MacBook monitor displays the participant vantage point (which is not an exact replica of the presenter view on my iMac) while the secondary monitor displays my agenda to help keep me on track.
Swap iMac for PC, MacBook for laptop and it'll work just fine.
Low-cost alternative? Use one computer as your main display and a piece of paper with your agenda. Use the built in camera and mic.
Although connecting to the internet can be accomplished with a wireless connection (wifi), there is a high probability of latency with upload/download speeds. Latency issues can result in frozen or robotic webcams, audio that cuts in and out or lags behind visuals, sluggish presentation slide transitions, or delays in shared content appearing on screen. A wired connection increases the quality of the online experience.
I use a hardwired ethernet cable connected to my iMac to mitigate any potential latency issues caused from wireless connectivity. With the MacBook using wireless, I am able to observe the participant view in real-time and adapt my delivery in response to delays in their visual feed.
You may wish to verify your internet connection's upload/download speeds at www.speedtest.net to compare wifi with ethernet cable.
Low-cost alternative? Use whatever connection you have; ask participants (or assign the task to one participant volunteer) to alert you of any latency issues with the display on their end.
As my home office is on the perpetually sunny side of the house, I’ve invested in black-out blinds and proper studio lighting to avoid shadows and sunbeams. The trio of photography quality light stands are strategically placed in front of me at, in relation to the position of arms on the face of an analog clock, 10am, noon, and 2pm. This provides a wash of light evenly so that when on webcam, whether I’m sitting down, standing, walking around, or demonstrating with flip charts or other props, the visuals are well-lit.
Low-cost alternative? Set up a lamp or light in front of you or sit facing the natural light of a window.
Offer a professional setting free of confidential information. A blank wall is sufficient; consider distractions and avoid cluttered backgrounds. Solid, light colours work best for live feeds. The more 'information' in your backdrop, the higher the possibility of latency. Cleaner = faster, better quality viewing for your audience.
When I set out to create an office space conducive to both presenting live and recording on demand training videos, I considered using a variety of backdrops through the use of a green screen. I did a bit of research on them, liked the way they appeared to be non-visible to the viewer, purchased a green screen kit, set it up, and then could not figure out how to remove the green alien-like halo that surrounded my blond locks. My original aim was not to present from a seemingly out-of-this-world landscape, rather I wanted to offer different backdrops simulating a variety of office spaces, libraries, boardrooms, etc. so as not to bore the viewer. After multiple attempts at altering the settings failed to offer anything short of cartoonish, I abandoned the notion, packed up the green screen, and instead invested in a brick wall backdrop for my otherwise plain office wall.
Low-cost alternative? Use a blank or uncluttered wall; remove confidential information such as bulletin boards, contact lists, or wall calendars.
I often do not use a clicker/pointer when presenting online because the distance between me and the keyboard and mouse is minimal; however, on rare occasions, I do find it helpful. Most often, though, the clicker is used when I’m presenting in person so I can roam around the room without being anchored to the podium or stage.
Low-cost alternative? Use your keyboard or mouse to advance slides.
There are plenty of applications and service providers from which to choose – perhaps too many! For online meetings, you may already be familiar with Facetime, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, Webex, and a growing list of options.
Your decision on which platform is best suited to your meeting requirement or online training program will be based on familiarity, functionality, security/privacy, budget, etc. I often take my clients through a lengthy list of potential features and functions to aid in their decision-making process. The suggestions below reflect my current needs, not my forever commitment.
For my live online classes and 1:1 coaching, I prefer to use GoToMeeting over the many alternatives currently available, particularly for the facilitator control panel because it allows me to see a full list of participants, the chat box, and all of the other features for sharing content I neatly visible on my screen. I like the ability to lock the room for my 1:1 sessions, move the control panel around my screen during my online classes, to pop out and resize the chat box and the participant list, to pass presenter role over to my participants, and so on. GoToMeeting allows me to record my sessions and download the recordings very shortly after the session ends (unlike other platforms, which can experience delays). The quality of the GoToMeeting recordings is good and requires no edits before sharing with participants. GoToMeeting is a paid subscription service; however, they do offer a free 14-day trial (without asking for your credit card) as well as discounts for annual subscriptions over monthly.
Low-cost alternative? Zoom offers a free ongoing subscription; however, there are limits on group meetings (40 minutes if more than 3 participants) and many concerns right now about week-long delays for downloading recorded sessions. Cisco, who generally offers a 30-day free trial of Webex Meetings (up to 200 participants), is a stable, secure and robust offering Webex free of charge during the COVID-19 pandemic (up to 100 participants).
Kajabi’s known as the #1 Knowledge Commerce platform for digital entrepreneurs who want to teach others online. Not only is it a website builder with pre-designed templates and free hosting, Kajabi allows me to offer online courses with all types of digital products (recorded sessions and videos, downloads, activities, assessments, quizzes, etc.). Kajabi also includes blogs, email and pipeline marketing, automations, integrations with a bunch of other platforms...I could go on.
If you are an entrepreneur and want to sell digital products online or if you are a training manager and want to implement a new Learning Management System for your organization...I cannot recommend Kajabi enough. Not only do I use it for my business, I have helped my clients successfully implement their systems and launch their online courses. Unabashed love for this system. Perhaps you'll take it for a test drive. If you're curious, contact us for a demo and I’ll answer your questions. Here’s a link to the free training that got me started: FREE Weekly Kajabi Webinar.
Low-cost alternative? A free cloud-based file sharing service, such as Dropbox, will enable you to share course documents and handouts. Gather feedback and evaluations from your participants using free online tools such as Survey Monkey. Other tools, such as Quizizz, can be leveraged for participant assessments or testing (and fun engagement techniques!). Hint: In addition to Kajabi, I still use all of these low-cost alternatives for the sheer variety they offer in my instructional design.
Within my programs (and for individual clients), I offer 1:1 coaching and to allow my clients to book a date and time of their choosing, I use Calendly’s paid subscription version because it allows customization and integration. For example, when a client books a 1:1 session, they receive a custom confirmation email containing an auto-generated GoToMeeting link, which they can click a button to add the meeting to their calendar - that same notification is simultaneously sent to me, streamlining and automating the booking process. In response to the COVID-19 situation, Calendly is offering free upgraded integration with Zoom and GoToMeeting until June.
Low-cost alternative? Use the free version of Calendly (and manually adjust your meeting invites to include your meeting link).
If you are exploring online presentations, whether for a meeting or a training program, especially if budget is a concern, my recommendation is to use what you have.
Start with the low-cost alternatives.
Use your existing Mac or PC (or even a mobile device) with a built-in camera and mic, position it for stability in front of a window for natural lighting, go live, and leave all other bells and whistles for later.
Your participants are less concerned with the hardware and software you’re using than they are the actual content and wisdom you are sharing. They are more likely to forgive technological glitches during, what is for many, a rapid transition to online methodologies as a result of this global pandemic.
First and foremost, know your audience, know your content.
Secondary, use basic hardware and software to start and adapt from there as needs change and your comfort level increases. And ask for help!
Questions? I'm here.