This is not a technical article but something that is useful for chapter leaders who are planning to use NetMeeting for their user group with a remote speaker..
Why do you need NetMeeting?
There are couple of reason why a chapter leader would decide to use NetMeeting as part of their user group meetings. They are
- Choice of speakers - Net meeting gives you the option to pick and choose speakers for your user group. There quite a number of very smart people out there that could give a great presentation but do not have the time nor financial arrangements for them to travel.
- Financially beneficial - It is also cheaper than if you are trying to bring in a speaker from outside your user group. Your user group will have to at least pay the charges of their travel or stay. That could become quite costly.
Drawbacks of NetMeeting.
There is a downfall to using NetMeeting. The user group meetings are not just about the knowledge transfer from a speaker to the members. Meetings are also about networking and bonding with each other. When you have way too many meetings with remote attendees and speakers, you lose one of the integral parts of having user group meetings. That is networking. This article tries to show you how to minimize the impact of having net meetings that will have an impact on networking.
The speakers also have issues with Net meeting. The main issue is that it feels like they are talking to themselves or to the wall. The method I propose will reduce that feeling for the presenter as well.
What are the pre-requisites for having a successful NetMeeting?
There are some pre-requisites to have a successful NetMeeting.
- Have a NetMeeting account. If you do not have an account and you are a leader of a registered PASS chapter, please contact your regional mentor and/or Nancy Nasso (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- A good internet connection. My best guess would be that a 1 MB connection is needed to have a good lag-free presentation. This is for both the presenter and the audience.
- A projector that supports a resolution of at least 1024 x 768. (This is the best resolution for the NetMeeting client)
- A good set of speakers. Here I am talking about hardware speakers for the projector or local compuer and not the presenter.
- A powerful microphone. This is to pick up all the comments from the participants.
- A video camera that pans the audience.
How do you prepare for the meeting?
Once you have identified who the speaker is, exchange your phone numbers for any eventuality. Keep in touch with your presenter as much as possible by email and make sure that you notify any change to your user group meeting plan with the presenter as early as possible.
At least one week before the meeting, notify your members about the meeting. Stress the point that you would like them to be present for the meeting at the usual meeting place even though the meeting will be broadcast. You should also provide the group with the details of the speaker and topic. Ask the speaker to provide you with an abstract and a biography you can use.
You will want to make an appointment with the presenter for a few days before the meeting to go over the presentation and talk about the group. As you are the owner of the net meeting account, create an event for testing. Send the presenter's link to the presenter one day in advance. If the presenter is doing a presentation for the first time using NetMeeting, provide a link to download the NetMeeting client in advance.
It would be best if you could have an alternate way of communicating to the presenter other than a phone. For example, you could use a chat client like Yahoo or MSN Messenger. The alternate method of communication is to sort out technical issues like no audio. Believe me, the cost for the phone call can be pretty high at times, especially when the presenter and the user group are located in different countries.
Make sure that the NetMeeting client is installed. Before you start your NetMeeting client, check if you have the right audio and video device as your default. If not, you will spend quite a bit of time trouble shooting issues with audio.
Once the pre checks are completed, connect to the meeting you set up with the attendee URL while the presenter connects with the Presenter's URL. Spend a few minutes going through the slides and remind the presenter that the best screen resolution for NetMeeting is 1024 x 768. While going through the samples and slides, make sure that everything is inside the screen and you will not miss anything. Now you are ready for the meeting. Create a new event for the day of the meeting and send the presenter's URL in advance.
It is time for the meeting.
The fun is about to start. At least 15 minutes before the presentation starts, connect to the NetMeeting client and have a talk with the presenter. Make sure you set up the projector and test the resolution. Also test the audio and video. Once all the testing is done, point the camera to the crowd. If the presenter is using dual screens, he/she can keep the cam on the other monitor and see the audience.
Before the meeting starts, make sure that you turn off the projector. When the meeting commences, go through your usual agenda. Make sure that your regular meeting starts on time so that you can go through your agenda at the right pace. As soon as the introduction of the speaker is completed, switch on the projector so that the attendees can see the presenter. From that point on, the ball is on the court of the presenter. Your only job is make to sure that you help the presenter in any way you can and also act as a moderator for all the questions and answers.
You might ask why is there a need for the webcam and microphone. The reason is that the presenter can watch the audience as well. This prevents the "talking to the wall" feeling. It makes the talk more interactive.
By going through all these steps, you make sure that your members get some good knowledge. The members do not lose the networking part of the user group since they are all in the same room. Once the meeting is over, they can catch up with each other. As the chapter leader, it also gives you chance to interact with your new and old members.
Ah... The dreaded Murphy's law
You can prepare as much as you want to make it flawless. But Murphy's Law can strike at any time. For those who are not that familiar with Murphy's Law, here it is. "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong"
This happened to us during our last meeting. It was Wayne Sheffield and me who were in the firing line. We tested everything couple of days before the meeting, but on the day of meeting the external modem that we were planning to use stopped working. That looked bad. I had nearly 20 minutes to fix the issue since we had one of my members giving a small presentation before Wayne's. I was able to connect to the wireless network so that we could continue with the meeting, but the connection was not very good. We had quite a bit of lag during the presentation, but Wayne handled himself pretty good and everything went fine.
"All is well that ends well".
As insurance, make sure you have enough materials with you to give a presentation on any topic if you cannot fix technical issues.
Acknowledgements - Need to Thank some people
I want to thank Jeff Moden from the bottom of my heart for helping me go through the first NetMeeting. He was very patient with me and it cost him quite bit money. He also made sure that my user group members felt good after the first net meeting by giving a great presentation. He has a good sense of humor.
Wayne Sheffield is the second person I would like to thank. He was at the receiving end of the Murphy's law. He waded through the technical difficulties and gave a great presentation.
Nancy Nasso from SQL Pass headquarters was also pretty fast to arrange a NetMeeting account for our user group when we needed it.