Samantha Villegas, Senior Consultant (Email)
Covid-19 has required many communities to stay at home, but many of our clients, the municipalities and utilities we serve, still need our help. When you’re asked to make a presentation to clients online, with or without the public watching, here are some basic tips to ensure your success.
There is a lot to consider and work out with the client BEFORE the meeting takes place. Here’s a checklist of items to run through so you are fully prepared:
What’s your purpose?
Determine what is the purpose of the meeting. Are you presenting an informational item? Asking for a decision? Seeking input toward a decision? This should influence how you structure your presentation and be very clear in invites to the meeting and at the start of the presentation.
What’s your platform?
Determine what platform or software will be used (WebEx, GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc.) and make sure you know all the features, how to log in, how to use it, etc., paying special attention to how your audience will engage. For example, is there a hand raise option? Chat box? White board? Make sure you know how all that works so you can explain it well to guests, if needed. Note: there is a trick to running a PPT file and being able to view the chat simultaneously in Teams. You’ll want to know how to do that and practice it.
Are you sharing video?
Find out whether the client wants you on video or not, and probe to understand what the expectations are for the audience, and how it has worked effectively for them before.
What feedback is desired?
Ask the client what type of feedback they need to help you devise some questions to ask the elected body or attendees for that input. Incorporate these into the slides.
Who is doing what?
Determine who’s moving the slides and hosting the meeting, who will greet guests, make introductions and kick things off – the general “run of show”. It is advised that at least three people be identified to run the presentation, the “host” who welcomes the guests, runs through the introductory remarks and shares how to use the software/how the meeting will run; the “guest speaker(s)”, which is typically you, with the client staff; and the “facilitator” who may be running slides, sharing screen, watching the chat and prompting questions. It is also wise to have an IT professional attend in case issues with technology arise.
How will feedback be received?
Find out how public comment will be taken, whether they will ask guests to use chat, call on individuals, use a hand-raising tool, etc.
What of technology fails?
Be prepared to do without computers and strictly by phone, in case of a technology failure. This means, all in attendance have a copy of the presentation in advance. Your host and facilitator have a copy of your talking points and prompts for discussion, and your attendees (whether elected officials alone, or elected officials and the public) have a clear way to participate. This may mean that the host stops the presentation at predetermined points and prompts each elected official by name for questions or comments. It may also require that public attendees have submitted questions (or their desire to ask a question) in advance, and the host calls on them in the order their request was received.
What laws are at play?
Have client check with attorney on your state’s Freedom of Information Act, “Sunshine Laws” or Brown Act, if it applies. These rules guide what constitutes a public meeting, how documents (records) are shared, what constitutes a record and much more. During the pandemic, states may have amended these rules on the fly, so it’s critical to review them with your client, prior to planning your virtual meeting.
By yourself – Once you’ve completed your slide deck, practice going through it with your computer’s camera on, to get comfortable with the material, to get comfortable looking into the camera as you talk, to check slide legibility, and to time yourself.
With technology – If there’s an opportunity to actually use the online meeting software your client wants to use for the meeting, then a few days before the meeting, invite a colleague to watch you as you practice to offer feedback and enable you to work out any kinks.
With client team – Once you are confident in your part, schedule a meeting a day or two prior to the presentation to run through everything with the client, including the host and facilitator and an IT person.
Check space – Make sure the space you will be in for the presentation is one with limited noise and disturbance and has adequate lighting.
Clear the room – Give your roommates or family a heads up so they know you will be unavailable and need quiet for the meeting timeframe.
Check lighting – Do not sit directly in front of a window, as that will make your face impossible to see.
Focus camera – Center your face and body in the camera frame.
Send a note – One day before the meeting, for smaller stakeholder meetings, consider sending an email to the attendees to give them some notice of how things will go for the meeting. Let them know you will share your camera and hope they do too, though it’s not required. But let them know that when they share their camera, it’s easier for you to read nonverbal behavior and see when folks may not understand something or have a question or comment. Let them know of any tips for using the software and that they will need to click the link to join in order to see your screen or presentation, as opposed to just dialing from the phone.
Open early – Launch your meeting call at least 15 to 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled meeting start time to give you and the client a chance to test software issues, run through the order of the agenda, click through the PowerPoint (if applicable) and practice handing off screen share if applicable. You can also help attendees troubleshoot their connection.
Take roll – When you are the host, you’ll want to take roll to make sure all attendees are present. Do this by running down each name on your invite list. Then ask if there is anyone on whose name you did not call.
Help guests participate – Once you open the call, begin by orienting the attendees to the software (unless this role is being handled by someone else). Run through the control bar and show them how to mute and unmute, raise their hand, and use the chat function. Encourage their participation in the chat to ask questions or make comments. Let them know the chat will be saved. If you are planning to record the call, this is the time to hit record. Make sure everyone knows you will be recording so they can opt out at this point if they are not comfortable with it.
Set expectations – Let participants know that your eye contact may stray on occasion as you check the chat box, take notes and review talking points. Also ask that attendees turn off any computer or phone notifications to limit noise, and mute themselves when not talking. Let them know you will prompt them for questions and that they will all have a chance to be heard. Some people will not feel comfortable just jumping in, so you may need to call on attendees by name to ask if they have anything to add.
Facilitate understanding – The virtual meeting is new to most folks, and their connections may not be perfect, so you need to speak a little slower than you normally do, and pause a little longer between slides to give listeners a chance to hear you and process the info. Use these pauses to periodically check the chat box and answer questions.
Check the chat – Once you finish your presentation, review the chat box to make sure there are no questions left unanswered. Make a note of any questions you need to research to answer.
Summarize next steps – Before you say your thank yous and goodbyes, summarize any action items that came up and what your next steps will be. Invite participants to reach out directly to you with any further questions and commit to a deadline to respond back.