University of Missouri Extension

CM1225, Reviewed October 1993

Videoconference — Site Facilitator's Guide

Joanne S. Heisler
Extension and Agricultural Information

Experience and evaluations show that on-site facilitation of videoconferences, or videoteleconferences, is critical to their success. (See the glossary at the end of this guide for definitions.) More preparation is needed, because in addition to meeting the usual needs of any program, the facilitator must become familiar with videoconferencing equipment and with the exact timing of video, while meeting the needs of an audience that often is not sure what to expect. When done well, the technology becomes transparent, allowing conference participants to interact with national experts.

One person should be clearly responsible for site coordination. In addition, you may need some or all of the following: event host, content experts, technicians, and help with catering, marketing and registration. One person may fill multiple roles depending on the complexity of the conference.

Preconference activities

Select room
Determine the size and location of the room in terms of the audience you expect. However, if a satellite dish is wired into a room, that may well be the determining factor. Secure the room as soon as a decision to receive a videoconference is made.

Equipment requirements
Besides the "satellite receive" dish, you will need either television monitors or a video projector and screen, plus adequate cables to connect all the equipment. When permission has been purchased or granted to record the program, you also will need a video recorder. A telephone must be available, preferably in the back of the room, for the phone-in question-and-answer segments. For some conferences, a Fax machine or email access may be desirable.

If the room and audience are large, supplementary amplification may be needed. Do not use a built-in public address system, because all sound should come from the front of the room, where the monitors or screen are located.

To determine the size and the number of monitors you need, figure that each one-inch diagonal serves one person: That is, a 25-inch screen serves 25 people. Place monitors high so they are above the heads of the audience. When using multiple monitors, it is important to adjust the color so all pictures look alike. When a large screen and video projector are used, the room will need to be darkened (but not totally dark or people can't take notes).

The National University Teleconference Network suggests a maximum depth of five or six rows for a monitor.

To determine the size of the large screen, divide the distance to the last row of seats by eight. That is, if the last row of seats is 64 feet from the screen, dividing 64 feet by eight means you need an 8-foot screen. No one should be seated closer than 12 feet from an 8-foot screen. Again, place the screen high so no one has to look around anyone else.

Because equipment is so important to a videoconference, make certain someone is in charge of it — someone who knows how to handle it and will check it out before the conference. You may have to sweep snow off the dish in a snow storm!

Local wraparound
A wraparound usually is a local segment that complements the video segments of the program you receive. Wraparounds generally are seen as essential for a videoconference to really reach its audience. Many experienced teleconference producers consider it the most important single element. Depending on the time, length and organization of the satellite portions of the program, wraparounds may take place before, during and/or after the broadcast. Videoconferences often originate in other time zones, so the local timing isn't always ideal.

The local host plays a critical role. Have the audience arrive at least 15 minutes before the broadcast begins so the host can welcome the audience and give them an idea of what is going to happen. This is the time to tell them what they can expect from the broadcast, including a rundown of the national presenters and the conference agenda. It is also the time to hand out any materials, explain how the phone and Fax question-and-answer segments will be handled, give information about breaks and refreshments and introduce any local sponsors and presenters.

One popular wraparound activity is to invite a small panel of local experts on the topic to react to the broadcast and respond to local questions. The length of the local program, of course, depends on the length and structure of the broadcast. Some videoconferences are designed as workshops with local activities built in. These segments need careful on-site management.

Budget
On the expense side, costs may include fees to the conference originator, downlink dish rental, equipment rental (monitors, recorders, etc.), marketing and publicity expenses, duplication of conference materials, room rental, refreshments, conference supplies (name tags, folders, signs, office supplies), local speaker expense and staffing.

On the income side, consider looking for co-sponsors. Depending on the topic of the conference, local chambers of commerce, banks, hospitals, co-ops and malls are all possibilities. They may provide money, services, local experts, brochures, mail lists, credibility, advertising and a variety of other kinds of assistance. Be creative. Call them early and keep them informed every step of the way.

To arrive at a fee, after you have estimated expenses and subtracted available underwriting, divide the balance by the number of people you expect to attend.

Promotion
All of the usual marketing tools can be used for videoconferences, including direct mail (letters, brochures, fliers, newsletters), posters, signs and the media (press releases, radio spots, television spots, talk shows, columns). Be careful not to overemphasize the videoconference aspect of the program. Focus on the topic as a workshop or seminar with a satellite-delivered component.

The most popular single marketing tool is the brochure. Brochures can be designed with a tear-off preregistration form to help learn how many people will attend, so handout materials and refreshments can be gauged accurately.

Program materials
The program originator may send handouts or an original to be duplicated at the site. Co-sponsors may have supplementary materials available, or the local wraparound may generate some handouts.

Have an agenda and a program evaluation for each conference participant. These may come from the originator or be generated locally. Some evaluations are designed to cover content, others to cover satisfaction with the delivery mode. Some to do both.

Refreshments
Light refreshments are always appreciated. Depending on the time of day and the length of the conference, something more substantial may be required. Finger foods are best. If a lunch is needed, a box lunch can be offered or people can be asked to bring a brown-bag lunch with beverages provided on site.

The day of the conference

Room set-up
Classroom-style seating is preferred for most videoconferences, because it allows for reading handouts and taking notes. For videoconferences with a workshop component, workshop-style seating (around three sides of tables) will encourage interaction within the room. In all events, be sure each seat has a clear view of a monitor or screen.

Equipment needs to be set up and checked out well in advance of the start of the broadcast. Always be prepared with "Plan B." Without the satellite reception, there is no program. The person responsible for the technical set-up needs to be there throughout the entire program, from test pattern to the end of the transmission.

Registration
Be certain to have enough people to handle registration activities so that everyone can be seated in time for the local welcome and be ready for the start of the broadcast. (Satellite conferences are timed to the second!)

Registration staff will need to greet registrants, handle registration income and name tags, and distribute handout materials.

Question-and-answer segments
Interaction is a vital part of every videoconference. Hand out index cards with the program materials so participants can record their questions. When it is announced that the phone lines are open, ask people to hold up their cards, so one person can collect them, place the call and ask the questions or Fax them.

In lieu of using cards, people can hold up their hands and accompany the facilitator to the phone. The facilitator places the call. But the questioner asks the question.

Whichever method is used, the caller should give the name of the calling site and the questioner's name, and should keep all questions brief and pertinent. Callers should be aware that they will hear an echo of their own voice. The distance from them to the satellite and back causes a quarter-second delay. The program sound may need to be turned down to avoid feedback.

Local wrap-up
Either the local moderator or another person familiar with the topic being discussed can be the on-site host.

At the end of the program, thank the local presenters and participants and ask them to fill out and turn in evaluations.

After the conference

Site coordinator's planning checklist

(Copy this checklist for each conference.)

Three months before

One month

Two weeks

Day of videoconference

After conference

Glossary

References

CM1225, reviewed December 1993

CM1225 Videoconference — Site Facilitator’s Guide | University of Missouri Extension

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