The Art of Hosting

From the emaillist, Sept.'14:

Hey friends,

I am cyber hosting a 4 hour event for an OSU Leadership team next month and looking for technology tips.
I have done this a couple times in the past - with a circle with a good mic in the middle and me in the circle on screen.  It worked quite well but the techno screen part was not ideal.  I used GoTo meeting for one event and Skype for another.  
Skype can sometimes waver on quality, and GoTo meeting was good quality but also shows the group a picture of themselves which is distracting.
What are your experiences? Tips? Recommendations?
Both on the technology...
but also anything else you want to share from your cyber hosting experience so I can continue to stretch my learning and practice.
I will have a host in the room, posters on the walls, and a good mic in the center so I can hear people, and speakers so they can hear me.
Thanks friends!
Caitlin.
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Caitlin, It would help to know more about the context and the design you’re thinking about, how many people there’ll be, etc. - if you can get me that information I’m happy to talk more off-line if it would help - but here are a few thoughts just off the top of my head - 
 
Four hours is a long time to be in front of a computer and obviously you’ll be taking breaks, but you might also consider initiating some movement or stretching to break up the sitting time - some kind of body engagement. If you’re actually engaged in the same exercise and they can see that, it helps keep you in the room with them and less of an abstract entity. 
Technology can shut some people down (i.e. “distance” them from you or themselves), so the more comfortable you are with it the more comfortable your participants will be. Take on whatever preparation and practice you need in order to become comfortable enough yourself to put them at ease. Whatever technology you use, ideally try to keep it to a minimum and in the background as much as you can so the interaction and engagement is in the forefront, not the technology.
Working in the online sphere demands presence and attention, in part because with limited sensory access it tends to magnify whatever is going on with you. So similarly to your comfort with the technology being able to stimulate their own, the more in your body and able to connect with the participants you are in an online medium, the more in their bodies and able to connect - with you, with themselves and each other - they will be. That often means not letting yourself be distracted or “led" by the technology, even when it appears to be going wrong. Staying on an even keel “normalizes” things for the participants and keeps them feeling connected to you and each other no matter what else is happening.
As you can tell, a lot of the work of hosting online is done on the subtle levels since to be effective you need to be "listening into” and inhabiting the space even more deeply than usual.
Back to the mundane: GoToMeeting doesn’t HAVE to show them an image of themselves; if you don’t need it to see them, they could just turn off the webcam on their end. How are they seeing you? Is your image being projected onto a screen or wall, for example? 
That’s it for the immediate, but I hope this is a helpful beginning to the conversation?
I’d love to hear what other people are learning about working in the online sphere as well… I’ll check out the FP post...
Love,
Amy
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Hi Caitlin:

 

My wife, Elaine, and I host a monthly call using MaestroConference, so I will be sharing some of what we learned doing that.  It’s not the same as what you are doing, but some of the principles apply.

 

From what I understand, you are presenting to rooms of people rather than to individuals at their computer.  Either way, though, it’s easy for people on conference calls to try to multi-task and answer email or do something else. Find ways to fight that.

 

As Amy said, you will have to be more present and attentive yourself.  We think of it as holding the space. We also ask the participants to help us hold the space. Some thoughts on how you could do that are:

 

If it’s a room of people, ask them to form pairs or groups of 3 and answer the question: What do you have to let go of to be fully present in the room. If it’s individuals at their computers, ask them to shut down all other applications and reflect on what they have to let go of to be present in the room during the call.

 

Take frequent breaks – I suggest no more than 30 minutes of presenting, less if you can --  and interact with the participants as much as you can in whatever ways you can.  I am not a big fan of polls and surveys, but if you can, call on a few people to answer questions or make comments. Hearing voices as not as good as hearing and seeing people, but it’s better than reading something or having something read to you.  Don’t do it all at a “q and a” at the end, but do it throughout.

 

For one break, you could ask another connecting question such as “what did it cost you to attend this meeting.” Same idea,  put them in small groups and or reflecting on their own. Or some other question that asks to reflect on what has meaning for them about whatever  you are presenting.

 

Whenever possible, have the participants do some work related to your presentation and have them raise their hands or use chat to reflect back to what struck them about the exercise.

 

Calls are not like face-to-face, so don’t try to make them like face-to-face, but ask yourself what can you do to give people a similar experience to face-to-face. There are benefits to technology; for one, it allows people from around the world to participate.

 

Have someone else on hand to handle behind the scenes. (It sounds like you have that in place.) Try not to apologize for the technology. Most of the time, people don’t know there is a problem.

 

If you are having guests, have a practice session with them. Ask them to show up early since there are almost always glitches.

 

Stay present and good luck.

Eric Hansen

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