Balancing Act

This is my work life now. I run. I run from event to event. I try to squeeze in lunch. I try to rest for a moment in-between events and obligations.

I have no idea where I am going. My calendar is my Sherpa guide. I go where it tells me. I go when it tells me. I show up. I hope I’m ready. I hope I have everything I need.

I usually do. And no one notices. No one complains. No one cares. No one takes note of me when I show up ready to make their event great.

But the moment I let something slip.

I fear that moment. I fear the failure. My failures are public. They are quite literally broadcast in front of people, to people all across the country.

If I falter, it will not be in private.

But I do not often falter. I work twice as hard and I
spend double the time preparing. I practice. I practice and I practice more. I work hard to assure my events succeed. I delight my customers.

When an event I run succeeds, it fills me with pride. When I am able to do a great job, it makes me happy. And when I do an almost-great job it bothers me.

I notice the little things. No one ever mentions these things. No one ever complains or asks about them. But if I notice them, other people have too.

For instance, running an event recently, the slide deck was excellent. It looked perfect to our 131 remote participants. It looked excellent to the presenter. It looked good on the two large LCD screens for the local audience. But the projector was slightly cropping the right side of the slides. It did not cut off any words, but parts of some letters were lost. And it bothered me.

Most of the events I run use a webcam. I have access to a pretty good one that will allow for some panning and zooming so I can set up shots. I like to get a tight-cropped view of the presenter at the podium. I like to have my view of the panel nicely framed. I think about the camera angles. I think about remote participants and what their experience will be during the event.

And that’s the biggest take away I have for running events. There are two audiences.

The first audience is sitting in the room. They’re the ones who see me. I see their quizzical looks when something goes wrong. I can see their dismay when there’s a hiccup. I can see them and they can see me. I need to keep them happy because they’re in the here and now.

The second audience is not in the room. They’re around the country or around the world. They are everywhere. And they can often outnumber the people in the room. Their needs must be considered. Their experience is just as important, if not more important, than those in the room.

It’s a balancing act. To run a great event, both audiences must be not only appeased but delighted. That means thinking about everything. Or as much as I reasonably can.

Before I started running events full-time I had planned and executed a few of them in my time. But this is a whole new level of detail.

Before an event, I start out with a simple list. The basics I need to know before I can even plan the event.
Here is my short list.

Name of Event:
Will you be using a Webcam?
What will you be sharing? Video? Slides?
Will you be taking questions?
Remote participants?
Local participants?
Are we recording the event?
Do you need Closed-Captioning?
Approximately how many remote participants do you expect?

This lets me know not only what options I need to enable in WebEx, but what will be presented. This informs any recommendations I make.

I do not only need to know the technical requirements for an event, but to be an advocate for the platform and consult on events. I have experience running events large and small for all sorts or audiences. Most of the time I am working with someone who has been tasked by their office to put on an event.

When they come to me, my role is part technical, part advocate for the platform and part consultant. I play the role I need to in order to help my customer the most.

The biggest hurdle to a successful event is behavioral.

The presenter of the event needs to set expectations. Will there be a Q&A session? How will questions be asked, both in the room and remotely? The presenter needs to set any expectations before the meeting starts. That way, the audience knows what to expect.

Dry Runs are practice

For every event I run, I recommend doing a dry run before the event. This serves two main purposes. First, it’s to allow myself and the Events staff to work out any kinks in the setup. We can test our audio and video setup. We adjust the microphone levels. We make sure the video is clear and the angles are good for everyone who will be on camera.

Second, it allows the presenter to get a feel for the space. Where will they be presenting from? What tech is in place to help them? Will they be driving their own slide presentation? Will someone else do it for them?

How is the lighting? Does it wash them out on camera? Is there a light shining in their eyes? There are tons of variables which can make or break an event. The goal of the dry run is to practice.

What about sound? How many microphones will be used? Will they be wireless, wired or a lavaliere attached to the presenter? Once I know what how many people need to be heard, then the I need to test the sound levels on the microphones.

The microphones need to all be loud enough to be heard. Both for the people in the room and the people out in the field. If the sound is poor, the event is going to be a mess.

Acts of God

No matter how much practice I have or how many things are considered, things can still go wrong. At that point it’s not a matter or how well I prepared. It’s a matter of how I respond to the problem.

What could go wrong?

  • Phone lines can drop
    When we’re not using VOIP, we a teleconference line which can support a few hundred people. Sometimes the phone drops. In those situations, I dial back into the meeting. The only times it has happened, has been in smaller sessions with under a dozen remote participants. I was able to dial back into the conference line in a few seconds and we were back up and running.
  • There can be noise over the phone line
    I work very hard to offer alternatives to a wide-open conference line because even when lines are muted, people can unmute their phones.

    Dogs barking, typing, papers rustling, hold music and other phone conversations broadcast to a couple hundred people can be a disaster.

  • Presenters can put remote controls in their pockets
    I was running an All-Hands meeting for a group at work. We had a couple hundred people in the Auditorium and a few hundred more online. Everything was going well, then the slides up on the projector screen and LCDs in the room started changing randomly.

The person running the slides locally turned to me in confusion, I realized someone had the remote for the slides and was pressing buttons. So I unplugged the USB dongle from the laptop and for the rest of the event, we manually changed slides.

Afterwards, I learned one of the presenters put the remote in their pocket, and it was there, where the buttons were getting pressed causing the slides to dance.

These are both good lessons. No matter how much you plan, something can always go wrong. Communication can be missed or forgotten, something can make a mistake. I can forget to schedule closed captioning. The webcam can malfunction and refuse to work. The information received from the event organizer can be incomplete, or plain wrong.

Perfection is never a guarantee. It is a goal to strive towards.