This morning, I gave a technical presentation to a fairly large group (around 60 people). Nothing special there – I ought to be able to do that by this stage in my career – but this was a presentation with a difference… it was conducted via Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2007 (using the BT Conferencing service).
Now, the fact that this was done over the web was great: 60 less individual journeys in order to meet somewhere mutually convenient (resulting in direct environmental and financial cost benefits, as well as time savings); one less conference room (more financial benefit); and I didn’t need to take a load of equipment with me for a demonstration (although I could have done all the demos for this session on my laptop).
I’ve attended many Live Meetings where other people are presenting but I’ve never led one before and what hadn’t struck me until we did a dry run to test the technology was the impact of not being able to see my audience. With 60 people each connecting individually, many of them behind a corporate proxy server that won’t let SIP-based audio pass let alone video, webcams (even RoundTable devices) were out of the question. In effect, I was talking to my computer for just over an hour and hoping that people were still interested. It’s not a nice way to present – I rely on my audience’s body language to know that people are interested, that they understand what I’m saying, that I’m not going too fast, or too slow – and, even though Live Meeting has the facility for people to provide feedback, when you’re presenting your content and balancing slides, notes and demos, watching the seating chart to see if someone has turned their flag to red, or the Q&A panel to see if someone has a really pertinent question is just not very practical.
Despite that, it worked pretty well. Apart from me having too much content once taking into account the fact that people had joined the call late (as is normal in the organisation where I work) and that even though I’d booked a 75 minute slot, people tend to think in hours and would start to drop off the call at the 60 minute point… never mind, we live and learn.
I don’t want to suggest that I’m now some sort of presentation God (I’m certainly not – although I do enjoy this sort of thing) – what I’d really like to get across in this blog post are the discoveries I made on fairly steep learning curve with Live Meeting over the last few days, in the hope that they may be useful for someone else.
The first challenge was scheduling the meeting. It’s useful to know that Live Meeting can schedule meetings from the client application (which integrates with Microsoft Office functionality – for instance the Outlook Calendar) but that there is also a web interface – and that web interface is where things like recording the meeting, whether or not to include audio, options for presenter feedback, etc. There are also two types of meeting: scheduled; or meet now.
It’s also worth knowing a bit about how the audio content works. I know from trying to watch Microsoft webcasts over Live Meeting when connected to the corporate network that our proxy servers do not allow the audio portion to pass, so I need to work from home or a hotel to use audio with Live Meeting (hence the panic when my ADSL line went down last night). For that reason, I wanted people in an office to be able to dial in to a voice conferencing service and, whilst BT Conferencing’s Live Meeting service is linked to BT MeetMe to provide this functionality, MeetMe has a maximum of 40 participants. BT were quite happy to sell me a managed event call as an alternative but I’m not even empowered to order anything more than the most trivial of expenses these days without management approval (even staying in a half-decent hotel needs director-level sign-off), so I didn’t want to jump through hoops to explain why a lowly solution architect was holding a meeting with a high number of attendees. A bit of lateral thinking led me to a solution – I also have a voice conferencing account with Genesys and whilst I didn’t want to have to installed their software for the webcast – the audio portion of their Meeting Centre does allow 125 participants to join the call. So, after telling everyone behind the firewall to dial a different number and to put their phones on mute, we were in business. The one downside was that I needed to wear headphones with a microphone for the Live Meeting audio (for the recording) and to use a hands-free speaker phone for the voice conferencing at the same time.
Next up – how to present the slides. In my first attempt at getting Live Meeting to work, I shared my screen and showed PowerPoint that way. It really hit my computer’s performance and the quality was awful. The correct way to do it is to go to the Content menu in Live Meeting, select Share, then Upload File (View Only) – or alternatively select Manage from the Content menu and then click the button to upload a file. Live Meeting will convert the file to its own format, before uploading and scanning for any security issues but, even though this feature is intended to work for various Office file formats, PDFs, multimedia and HTML files, if you use a 64-bit operating system (I do) then only PowerPoint will work.
Live Meeting also lets you do things like white-boarding, application sharing and even desktop sharing. I used the application sharing functionality to share a remote desktop connection for some demos and also created some polls to get a feel for my audience’s experience (the idea being that I could pitch the presentation accordingly – all the more important without a direct feedback mechanism).
And, since the meeting ended, I’ve found that I could have set the colour depth when sharing applications and also viewed the screen resolution of other meeting participants in order to pick something appropriate.
So, what else did I learn?
- I’d definitely recommend using a co-presenter. One of my colleagues facilitated the meeting and was also acting as a presenter in Live Meeting. That meant he could monitor things like the Q&A panel to deal with any urgent questions, connection difficulties, etc.
- The 6 Ps (or just Practice Practice Practice, for those who are not familiar with the slightly less polite version) – aside from all the normal planning and preparation that I would put into a presentation, there was the effort put into making sure that the technology would work. Here, again, my co-presenter Mike was really helpful (“Can you hear me over Live Meeting? – “No” – “What about now?” – “That’s better!”. “How do the slides look in the Live Meeting client?”, etc.)
- Give yourself plenty of time before the session to upload the slides and generally prepare. My 15.5MB PowerPoint 2007 presentation was just over twice that size when converted to Live Meeting format, and took a while to upload over an ADSL line). Then there may be polls to set up, applications to get ready for sharing, etc.
- When presenting PowerPoint slides, you can turn thumbnails on/off in the Content menu, but there is no equivalent to PowerPoint’s Presenter View to access speaker notes. As a consequence, it might be handy to export the PowerPoint presentation to a Word document and print it before starting the meeting.
- If you like to point things out on your slides (and I do), then the annotation tools may come in handy with a pointer, highlighter, and other tools too.
- If you’re planning on recording a meeting, don’t forget to click the record button! (and make sure people know that they are being recorded – so they can opt out if they’re not comfortable with that). Whilst on the subject of recordings, by far and away the biggest disappointment for me was that, even though there are two versions available for each recording (for viewing or for download), neither one is perfect:
- The Microsoft Office Live Meeting High Fidelity Presentation does not need any add-ins to play but I found there were some substituted fonts, the demonstrations using shared applications were not recorded and the slide animations did not work correctly.
- The Microsoft Office Live Meeting Replay is much better, but does not show slide animations (so some slides will appear with lots of graphics on top of one another) and it requires the â€œMicrosoft Office Live Meeting Replay Wrapperâ€ to be installed from the download page.
- As a result of the above, it might be necessary to refrain from using some PowerPoint features (e.g. slides with lots of animations) as they may not present well in the recorded version of the Live Meeting – one of my more complex slides wasn’t looking too good during the presentation either (although it seems to be OK on the Live Meeting replay).
- If you use polls to solicit feedback from the audience, you can extract that data later. It took some time to work out how – in the end I found out that the web console has the ability to generate reports (it’s possible to report on the names of attendees and the time that they connected, disconnected, their IP address, Live Meeting client type, etc.) and those reports include the poll data.
This is just scraping the surface of what’s possible with Live Meeting – there’s a lot more functionality available (meeting lobby, breakout rooms, etc.) but this summarises the basics that I had to get to grips with over the last few days. Sadly the online help provided by Microsoft is very superficial (BT do provide some additional help as part of their service and I’m sure other providers do something similar) but a bit of patience and a well-targeted Google search should help to fill in the gaps.