Climate Smart webinar with the Netherlands Embassy

We’d like to share a guest blog post from our professional programme team on a recent webinar they were involved with. This was a new activity for the RAU and a substantial learning curve. Thank you to Professsional Programme Manager Elizabeth Badger, Professor Louise Manning and Associate Professor Nicola Cannon for the summary.

Climate smart webinar

This September, Associate Professor Nicola Cannon was asked by Tim Heddema, Agricultural Counsellor for the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, if the RAU would be prepared to co-host the fifth of a series of conferences the Embassy has been running with various partners.

The discussions around Nicola’s research work prompted the idea of an online webinar conference format, in these COVID-19 times, to explore future opportunities and priorities for collaboration on climate-smart agriculture between the Netherlands and the UK.

Nicola Cannon presenting on Climate Smart

As we race towards Christmas it’s easy to forget now that September was early in the new landscape of delivering online professional development programmes at the RAU and at that point our activities had been based around embracing the ‘meeting’ type platforms Zoom and Teams. These technologies are used in a variety of meeting and webinar deliver settings but we looked to develop a new approach and audience experience. This introduced us to the term simulive and the advantages of the learning experience of working with a platform which offered a this package.

Creating a simulive event

What does this mean? The use of ‘simulive’ allowed us to use both pre-recorded videos and live content, to have a branded registration and viewing site and a very detailed set of analytics,  and the facility of a programme manager on the day to ensure that we could focus on the delivery of content rather than back room technology management. We found this very appealing. We felt that hosting an event with a high level of International speakers and attendees needed a more polished and risk free setting than an internal meeting or teaching environment provided by the self-managed Teams and Zoom. The platform we eventually chose came from a list of options kindly offered by Student Recruitment and Widening participation Manager Liam Dowson of providers he had seen at external events he had participated in during his marketing and outreach activities for the RAU.

Climate smart
Climate smart presentation by Sophie Alexander

We spoke with a number of providers and then decided on WorkCast as a provider as they were appropriate to our needs and budget and the learning process began for us. We can say this has been a big learning curve.

Working with WorkCast

Once you are signed up for your event, WorkCast provide a very supported and responsive service and manage all aspects of the event except the speakers and topic content. However it is easy to underestimate the time it will take to coordinate all the parties and processes.

WorkCast recommend between 8-12 weeks to set up for an event and if your event has a reasonable number of speakers, with varying response times, availability and technical expertise, and especially if you are partnering with other parties in organizing the event, this seems accurate.  In fact all of the supporting information that WorkCast provided was actually very useful and relevant and probably equally transferable to general presentation and event working practices.

Lessons learnt

The first lesson learnt is definitely that online does not mean instant. Generous allocation in your planning of pre-production time is essential for proper topic development, technical and personal connection and presentation briefings particularly if you are including pre-recordings. In the end the biggest challenges are not with the selection of the platforms as there are a variety of ways to choose to run your event online. It is making sure that you cover all the potential issues that could arise – scripting the links between one presentation and another so another person can step in as a co-chair if internet links drop out.

Rehearsal is key especially checking pre-recorded videos work well on the platform. The videos themselves need to be of a minimum quality and ideally this is communicated to presenters in a timely way. Recognising that different viewers will have a range of internet download speeds which can mean that for some the video and sound are in perfect sync – whereas for others the two can separate. Making sure you have a clear protocol for managing questions that come in and that you can provide sample themes beforehand to panel members. Thus the content and curation of an event is critical and so is panel member and individual internet connection speed and equipment can definitely compromise the quality. Guaranteeing the speaker’s internet speed and background setting to emulate a more television like experience for the viewer will be a given in the future as audiences become more demanding.

A social media strategy is essential to drive attendance especially in the last twenty-four hours before the event. Linking social media engagement to the presentations on the day and preparing tweets and posts beforehand is essential. This can only be achieved if all the pre-recorded material has been listened to and reflected on. Professionalising our online presence when we move beyond Covid-19 is key and considering how we meet audience needs and use the correct platform for the topic and learning scenario.

Online delivery is here to stay, and optimising audience experience is key.

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