Monday 10 May 2010

3 Tools for Exploiting the Wifi During Presentations

Coming as I do from a background in language teaching that emphasises that the teacher should shut up and get the students to do the talking, I often feel uncomfortable doing conference presentations, many of which still follow the format of; speaker gets up in front of audience with presentation - does presentation - audience listen (try to stay awake) and desperately try to think of a few questions at the end to prove they were awake and listening.

One of the gifted- Jamie Keddie.

There are of course a few gifted speakers who can hold the audience’s attention for a full hour and keep most of them listening and awake. If like me you’re not one of those, then here are a few tools that, thanks to the increasing availability of wireless connectivity at conference centres these days, might help to turn your passive listeners into a bunch of multitasking audience collaborators.

Set up a backchannel
One of my favourite tools to use during presentations is Today’sMeet . It’s a great tool for setting up backchannels. A backchannel is basically what your students create when they talk among themselves or text each other during your lesson.
  • The advantage of setting one of these up to allow your audience to do this is that you can capture and share what your audience is saying while they are listening to you and enable them to collaborate and share with each other what they know about the topic and links to any relevant resources.
  • It can also help them to type in questions as they think of them rather than waiting for you to ask at the end, and for me it’s a great way to pass out URLs to interesting websites to give the audience some hands on participation during the presentation.
  • It’s also a good way of getting the audience to brainstorm and do tasks together, just ask a few questions and get them to type in answers, and they’ll appear in the backchannel window for everyone to see.

Setting up a back channel with Today’s Meet takes about 60 seconds. You just type in a name for your channel and launch it. You can select how long you want the channel to be available (from two hours to a year) and if you have people in your audience posting updates to Twitter, you can select a hashtag (#) specific to your talk so that their ‘tweets’ appear alongside the backchannel chat window.

Live polling
Getting audience response during presentations can be done quite easily by getting a show of hands, but I tend to find that pretty unsatisfying in terms of capturing and sharing data, so I’ve started using a polling / survey tool called Urtak during presentations.
  • With Urtak you can prepare a number of short online polls to to get your audience to do during the presentation.

  • Just send the URL to them using your backchannel and then you can show and capture your audience response live during your session, as Urtak collects and shares results as soon as people vote.
  • If you are logged in during your presentation it’s even quick and easy enough to create short polls on the fly and pass out the URL through your backchannel.
Here’s an example one I created for a presentation on digital teaching skills that you can look at: . Urtak even enables the audience to add questions if they register and log in.
Make note taking collaborative
Many listeners at presentations do their best to keep notes during presentations, so if your audience has wireless connectivity why not get them to do this collaboratively? A great tool for doing this is .

  • It has a desktop launcher that your simply click to create an online collaborative note taking pad. You then share the URL for each pad with your audience and they can then work in groups to assemble notes and comments on your presentation as you go or work on collaborative tasks that you can set them.
  • The texts can then be saved by each person at the end of the presentation or they can even continue to refine the notes after the presentation is over. also has a handy text chat room which runs alongside each document that’s created, so collaborators can discuss things and ask questions as they work. See Collaborative Text Editing Tool for more information on
Of course these tools aren’t just useful for conference presentations, but can be used for online training webinars as well as classroom teaching if you work in a wireless enabled classroom environment. Be sure to practice with them one at a time first for short tasks as you gradually build them in to your presentation skills repertoire.

Good luck and I hope you find these tools useful and soon have your audience multitasking as well as listening.

Related links:

Nik Peachey


Wendy Cotta said...

I love these ideas. I am actually wondering if they can be applied to a small classroom setting. I am at a private school with a 1:1 program and teachers struggle with classroom management a great deal of the time. It will be interesting to try these tools with our traditional teachers who more of a lecture format teaching style.

Nicky said...

Great useful and practical ideas as always, Nik.I have tried using twitter as a back channel during a talk, but I find it incredibly difficult to be speaking in front of the audience, and at the same time to keep an eye on the back channel and assimilate what is going on in there, especially as tweets tend to fly by. I suppose it's a bit like walking and chewing gum at the same time -- I'm not very good at that either!


Nik Peachey said...

Hi Nicky

Today'smeet lets you combine the chat room and Twitter if you select a specific tag for people in your sessions to use. I tend to use it for parts of the sessions when I want audience response and audience to share ideas, then when I'm doing 'my bit' I ignore it and just let the audience communicate with each other through it and share any ideas or comments they have.

It's always interesting to go back afterwards and check the chat log to see what went on there during the session. That's something that's really difficult to do when you use Twitter.

Anyway, hope some of these tools work for you.



Unknown said...

Thanks Wendy - that's exactly what sprang to my mind too!

Anonymous said...

Does that mean every single person who attends these things nowadays has something Wifi enabled on them? I deliberately have a non Wifi laptop so I don't get distracted when I should be writing, and my mobile is strictly for emergency contact. I'm scared to go to IATEFL now, as I'll feel less involved than sitting at home at my desktop with internet!

Like the instant polls idea though, even if I'd be excluded...

Alex Case

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Alex
No, not everyone who attends these conferences brings along their laptop, but it is something that I would encourage. At the last presentation I did I think it was only about 15% who brought them along, mainly because the others didn't expect to use them.

I think anything that can get more active and constructive collaboration and participation into my presentations is great, but I plan for some people not to be connected.

Anyway, how about getting a wireless laptop and just turn the wireless off when you don't want to be distracted. That's what I do.



Israel 2023 said...

I have used poll everywhere - which will make a powerpoint slide of your question and people use their cell phones to answer. I have used "today's meet" with the kids while watching a movie such as Remember the Titans (which most of them have seen) to discuss issues like discrimination, desegregation, and to check for understanding. I am almost afraid to see the conversation while I am talking away at ISTE! I am going to take a look at the urtak site. funny the site that I do my presentations is!

HeadwayAdvanced said...

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Longing to read your new posts.

Miss Vera said...

Loved the idea of live polling - seems like magic to lots of people ;)

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