by Bino Socrates
JULY 22, 2020 – When the quarantine restrictions began, almost instantly, everyone shifted to online platforms so they could continue whatever it is that they have been doing since before the pandemic. Thanks to these platforms, the world did not have to be at a complete standstill in the face of such a crisis.
As it turned out, working from home isn’t that bad after all. For many people, it has meant that they do not anymore have to face the daily traffic jams, especially for those in places like Metro Manila. It has meant more energy to devote to work and more time for rest and leisure. Like most other companies and organizations, Universitas Foundation was able to continue with its projects through online means.
However, as most of us would attest to, operating through online platforms also goes with some disadvantages. Shortly after the shift, there emerged the term “zoom fatigue”, alluding to the most popular platform nowadays, Zoom. The term refers to “the mental exhaustion associated with online video conferencing” . Apparently, this set-up causes a certain kind of psychological stress . And contrary to what one might intuitively think, conducting big events online and “webinars” is not that simple.
Based on our own experience in Universitas and the feedback from our participants, minor technical difficulties (e.g. in joining the Zoom channel) and malfunctions (e.g. in audio and screen-sharing) can become counterproductive for the event, especially when they happen frequently. The most challenging part, though, is that of moderating the whole event. Managing the time, handling dead-airs during some technical difficulty or miscoordination, sifting through the many interesting questions in the Q&A box, etc., these are the typical problems faced by the moderator. For those who just shifted to this kind of set-up, moderating could be quite overwhelming. And when the moderator is not able to perform his/her task well, the whole activity would suffer.
Certainly, we experienced the same challenges in Universitas, and it is for that reason that we decided to organize an event on moderating webinars. Thankfully, webinars have already been around even way before the pandemic occurred, and so, there are already in our midst people who have actually mastered the dynamics of webinars, among these being our guest speaker for the event, Mr. Jojo Aquino. A certified project management professional (PMP) Mr. Aquino is in the field of technology project management and specializes in vendor selection and negotiations for application and service outsourcing. He is also in the business of consulting on the implementation of machine learning or deep learning tools to create opportunities or to solve problems.
The whole event only lasted for 30mins, and we did our best to stick to the time we’ve allotted for it since punctuality is one of the points that the speaker emphasized on. To lay down everything that the speaker shared with us is to take on an insurmountable task, but it would be good to highlight some of his most important points.
Mr. Aquino began by defining the role and the goal of the moderator. Many times, problems arise because the moderator is entrusted with tasks that go beyond his/her mandate. It is quite obvious that the moderator should not be the same person who is giving the talk/speech/lecture, and also not the person opening and closing the activity.
The moderator is the lead player of the meeting, he starts and ends the session, and causes the transition to the next part of the activity. He/she (1) introduces the speaker, (2) manages the time, ideally using the warning bell, (3) acknowledges the guests, especially the special ones, (4) thanks the staff and organizers, (5) moderates the Q&A session, (6) asks the speaker for last words, and (7) paves the way for the closing of the activity. The main goal of the moderator is to ensure the smooth flow of the whole activity, while being as invisible as possible.
But oftentimes, we expect the moderator to also attend to the technical questions and difficulties of the participants. The speaker made it clear that there should be a separate technical support person to handle these issues, because such a task requires a great amount of attention and time that it will certainly impede the task of moderating.
Moreover, even the whole task of ensuring the smooth flow of the activity could be too much for the moderator, that is why in an ideal set-up there should be a session assistant whose task is to be an all-around support for the moderator. It would be helpful, for instance, to have someone closely monitoring the people who are joining the channel so he/she could immediately inform the moderator if ever some important personality suddenly joins the activity and needs to be acknowledged. It would also be helpful if there’s a person in-charge of warning the speakers about the time. And lastly, it would save so much time if there is someone in-charge of selecting and summarizing important questions for the Q&A session. In this way, the moderator could devote all of his/her attention to making sure that everything goes according to plan.
All this tells us that organizing a webinar is not that simple, and that it is certainly not done and managed by only one person.
Mr. Aquino ended his talk by sharing some tips for a successful and smooth webinar. We could mention here three points. First, there must be a script for the whole activity. This is not just a series of ideas in bullet points, but rather a comprehensive word-for-word script for everyone who’s going to take an active role in the event, and thus it includes even the speaker. The second is to rehearse the whole thing with all the active players at least a day before the event. In this way, we not only address possible technical problems in advance, but we also get the chance to revise the scripts in such a way that everything will hang together and flow smoothly. And lastly, it is very important to have a separate chat group (e.g. Viber, Slack, Whatsapp, etc.) where all the active players during the event are present so that the moderator could advise or remind them about things to be done in light of the plan.
The whole event was successful, but certainly not without flaws. These errors, however, turned to our advantage, because for one, Mr. Jojo was able to point them out and used them as concrete examples for his talk, and it also served for the moderator as a good opportunity to practice the newly learned tips on handling unexpected interruptions. In the end, they even reinforced the credibility of the things we picked up from the same talk, and of course, became a first-hand learning experience for everyone.
 The Conversation. “Zoom Fatigue, how to make video calls less tiring.” Link: url
 BBC Worklife. “The reason zoom calls drain your energy.” Link: url
*The featured image was taken from pexels.com
NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.
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