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Virtual Presentations That Work
Executives of Fortune 100 companies are directing their organizations to hold more meetings using electronic conferencing software (eg, Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, WebEx). Technical communicators worry that the limitations of the medium will greatly reduce the effectiveness of their presentations. They want to prepare themselves to develop and conduct electronic meetings that are engaging, interactive, and motivating.
I believe that it is not the medium that creates compelling communication; these are the communication strategies used. Electronic meetings have many inherent disadvantages (for example, lack of visual feedback, more difficult social interaction), but also have strengths (for example, the ability to collaborate over large distances without limitations in time). Flexibility and creativity enable technical communicators to duplicate all the benefits of a physical meeting with a virtual meeting.
Following are several useful ideas for organizing virtual meetings.
Start your virtual meeting with a well thought out introduction. Introduce yourself and, if time permits, invite the participants to introduce themselves. Ask them to share background information, including professional and personal interests and hobbies. Post your photo and, if possible, photos of the participants. Use innovative methods to gather and share participant background information (eg, matching unique experiences with appropriate participants).
Poll participants to find out their background and interest in the topic. Use a variety of media. This may include animations, background information, current events, cartoons, articles, thought-provoking questions, quotes, and stories.
Include the same types of multimedia presentations that you would in a face-to-face presentation. Use different types of media such as text, graphics, animation, video and multimedia presentations, illustrations, diagrams, schematics, models, audio presentations, and concrete objects. Always refer to the meeting schedule you presented at the beginning of the presentation and provide summaries of the content of the entire session. Present information in short chunks and in a logical flow while varying the pace and format every five to six minutes.
Include persuasive communication strategies that include:
o Presentations by guest speakers, which can be virtual
o Case studies
o Learning to discover
o Examples and non-examples
o Graphical representations
o Notices and announcements
o Physical models to describe relationships
Support your main ideas with graphics whenever possible. Keep the information simple, especially if you are using PowerPoint. Be careful about colors, white space, and fonts; limit your use of different fonts and colors.
Tell the participants what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. It should be easy, because you have a lot of media to play with. You can set the stage with a multimedia presentation, then present the topic through a whiteboard presentation, and finally review the topic in a discussion using chat or a poll feature.
Enable participants to download documents instead of forwarding them. Be sure to use PDFs, as they display and print more predictably than other document formats. Use the whiteboard as you would a flip chart. Point, highlight, draw, and write on the whiteboard. Check out websites and other resources; use it as a valuable source of information, references, and exercise materials. Present information from another point of view (eg, customer, competitor, user, and engineer). Wait and be prepared for the participant’s questions. Build job aids that eliminate relevant information.
Use case studies that relate to real-life situations. Ask participants to examine controversial issues. Ask participants to share their own experiences related to the content.
Show photo or video presentations of key parts of demonstrations and use drawing and text tools for highlighting and labeling. Use screen sharing to display computer applications and drawing tools to mark and highlight sections of the screen. Choose examples and activities that reflect the situation in which participants will use their new skills.
Practice speeding up
Include practice to maintain participation and interest. Assign participants to groups and ask them to work together on specific tasks. Group size should not exceed four participants. Assign and rotate roles within each group to ensure sharing and cooperation. If possible, synthesize the activities completed outside the meeting. Encourage lively presentations of no more than five minutes in length. Encourage participants to use the whiteboard. Use case studies, role-plays, and simulations that mimic real-life activities.
If participants cannot interact with real systems, provide links to training databases or test sites. Show screens to participants when you want them to demonstrate their use of applications or share information as part of interactive demonstrations or exercises.
Prompting and Managing Discussions
Open discussions with offensive comments. Plant ideas by asking a leading question on the whiteboard or in the chat window. Conduct structured discussions by including the suggested discussion outline. Continue the course discussion by explaining the topic of the discussion and the topics you expect to cover. Strictly manage discussions. Use a microphone, whiteboard, chat window, or email as the discussion media. Give students “interesting” roles during discussions. Always end discussions by restating the goals of the discussion, summarizing the results, and pointing out how the results relate to the next topic.
Evaluation of Participant Engagement
Use frequent polling questions to verify understanding, stimulate participants, determine their level of engagement, or determine where participants stand on particular issues. Ask questions that are clear, relevant, concise, and challenging. Use the polling capability to ask true/false or multiple-choice questions and see how many participants chose each choice. You can keep these results to yourself or share them with all participants. Include questions with a level of difficulty that matches the level of the audience. Avoid feedback that is short or abrupt. Participants may interpret such feedback as angry. Have the groups use the materials and assessment instruments located in a shared folder to complete the exercises in the basket (eg, completing customer service transactions in different situations).
Developing and Conducting Interesting and Inspiring Activities
Create constructive conflict or “creative abrasion” by:
o Ask leading questions
o Represent other points of view
o Examine the content in a new context (for example, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the author uses the metaphor of a farm to describe the dangers of unbridled capitalism)
Get positive results out of difficult situations by:
o Directing the question to the group
o Asking the group for solutions or ways to find solutions
o Calling specific participants to help
Create suspense by creating activities (eg, discussions, games) where the outcomes are unpredictable. Also feel free to change the rules while the activities are still going on. Do this using chats, selected emails, and multiple shared folders to give different groups different rules and instructions.
Enhancing participant collaboration by conducting group activities. Enable groups to communicate using chat areas or email. If you’re brave, you can even have teams set up their own virtual meetings to collaborate. Be sure to appoint a leader for each group.
Good luck and enjoy!
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