Finding Yourself Needing to Connect Virtually?

Image of computer opened to webinar.
Webinars, videoconferences and other technologies help photographers connect with clients and fans.

by Teresa Ransdell, NANPA Membership Director

Countless professional photographers are suddenly having to cancel trips, postpone workshops and reschedule face-to-face classes and presentations.  How do you manage these unexpected challenges and find new ways to generate income or keep in touch with clients? Many are turning to virtual solutions.  But, if you’re unfamiliar with the online choices, where do you start?

I connect virtually with people a lot. For nearly ten years I’ve worked remotely on a daily basis— for multiple nonprofit associations, their members, volunteers, and boards of directors. That means I’m not treading new ground in learning how to work from home or connect virtually with clients, as many people are today.

If you find you need to start offering online courses or webinars, perhaps because your in-person events had to be cancelled or postponed, here is some information that may help you navigate through some of the options for virtual connections. I’m not endorsing any particular ones, because everyone’s needs and preferences may vary. Still, by sharing my experiences, I hope to help others learn new ways of connecting.

Terminology

As you examine the services and opportunities available, understanding the lingo will be helpful.

Teleconferencing: Audio only, no video involved. Participants only need a phone, no special hardware or software.  All participants will be able to hear each other, though each person can mute and unmute themselves as needed. Think of it like a conference call.

Webinars: Typically, one-way presentations with relatively little interaction among the participants. Webinars use more of a lecture-style presentation method. Webinar platforms (or available add-ons and features) include the capability to set up a registration form, which allows you to share a URL which people use to register for your online event. These features also typically include automatic email event reminders to those everyone who registered.

NANPA offers regular webinars to members and posts recordings of those presentations in the Members’ Area of our website. Play a few to get an idea of different presentation styles and what type of presentation might suit your topic and skills.

Videoconferencing: Includes the ability to share your (or other participants’) computer screen with attendees. It does not requirea webcam or built-in camera on your computer or mobile device, unless you want to show your face or other demonstrations/equipment at times during the presentation, which is a major advantage to videoconferencing. Depending on the platform and settings used, attendees may be muted when they join or everyone may be live.

Videoconferencing vs. Webinars: Videoconferencing and webinars are very similar. In talking with a professional nature photographer this week, I explained the difference between videoconferencing and webinars as the difference between sitting in a lecture (a webinar) vs. participating/interacting in a meeting or even being in a classroom discussion (videoconferencing). Yes, you can type questions in during a webinar and get them answered by the presenter, but dialogue isn’t the primary purpose of a webinar or its platform.

Technology Options

This is not an exhaustive list of options, but these are among the most popular that I have used.

Freeconferencecall.com (www.freeconferencecall.com)

NANPA uses freeconferencecall.com for its teleconferencing services. As you might assume from the name, their teleconferencing service is free. They also offer free videoconferencing for up to 1,000 participants and this allows for screensharing and recording so you can share a PowerPoint/Keynote presentation or other documents during the presentation. No separate webinar platform or features that enable seamlessly administering a webinar appear to be available at this time.

Zoom (www.zoom.us)

You can utilize Zoom to host free teleconferences or videoconferences that include screen-sharing. Group meetings with the free version have a 40-minute time limit; one-on-one meetings do not have a time limit. If you need longer meetings, you can purchase a plan that allows meetings to last for up to 24 hours per session for $15/month. You can also add webinar functionality to a pro account (the unlimited meeting time option) for a total of $55/month.

Anymeeting.com (www.intermedia.net)

Free version only allows 4 people to access the meeting from the web. The rest (up to 200) would get audio only via telephone. You can screen-share documents with up to 10 people at a time for about $10/month. A webinar platform with webinar-friendly features can be added starting at $48/month for up to 50 webinar participants.

GoToMeeting/Webinar (www.gotomeeting.com/gotowebinar.com)

GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar are other popular platforms that can meet teleconferencing, videoconferencing and webinar needs. GoToMeeting allows you to screen-share, use webcams and connect via telephone with any people who don’t have the computer capabilities. Their meeting/videoconferencing service starts at $12/month and can accommodate up to 150 participants. GoToWebinar can be an add-on feature to a meeting plan or can be purchased separately. The webinar platform has all of the usual bells and whistles needed for a webinar (registration form, reminder emails) and plans start at $59/month and include GoToMeeting features.

Nearly all of the platforms identified and the many not mentioned here have free trial periods that vary in length from 7 days to a month.

Photo of hands holding a mobile phone watching a webinar.
More and more people are using mobile devices to access content. Make sure your platform works on cell phones and tablets.

Which Service Do I Need?

Ask yourself if you’re doing an interactive class or a lecture. If you want your students to interact with you during something that resembles a class, videoconferencing may be the way to go. It allows attendees to use their webcams so participants can see each other (and maybe even show the instructor the back of their camera if they want to check with you to make sure they are doing something correctly, for example) and still allows you to share a presentation or demonstrate how to do something in a particular program that you may be teaching.

If you want to give a presentation and allow attendees to ask some basic questions about the information you’re sharing, then webinar platforms may be a better option, especially if you need a mechanism for people to register and be reminded of the upcoming event. Think hard about what you need from a platform. If you don’t use a webinar platform that allows you to create a registration form, send confirmation emails with the links to join your event, send reminder emails about your event, and maybe even send some follow up messaging, well, you may end up spending many hours of your time trying to do it all yourself.  

Tips For Whatever You Decide Is Right For You

  • If, as the host, you cannot control people’s microphones through the platform you’re using, make sure attendees are asked to mute their lines. Background noise can be easily picked up and can be distracting to the presenter as well as the other participants.
  • If you’re taking questions from the audience, those should be typed in for you to respond to at a designated time or times during the presentation.
  • Attention spans are shorter when you’re sitting in front of a computer and even shorter still if you’re only hearing a presentation. Break longer presentations into two or more parts to keep engagement high.
  • Nature photographers love to look at images. Include images on your presentation slides – even if they don’t really relate to your message – as it breaks up the monotony of just text.
  • If you have a webcam on your computer, consider turning it on at least during your introduction so the participants can see you and put a face with a voice. It builds some engagement with the audience. You don’t have to have it on the entire presentation but turning it on at times throughout the presentation puts the human element back into it.
  • Delivering a presentation to an audience that you can’t see is different as you can’t use any facial expressions or body language feedback to help you gauge the understanding or interest level.
  • Practice your presentation using the platform. Nothing turns people off like fumbling with the technology. Even if this is a presentation you’ve given many times, have a script or outline so you don’t go off topic or get flustered with the tools.
  • If help is available, having a friend or colleague handle the questions or manage the technology can free all your attention for your presentation
  • Don’t forget to hit the record button! Many of the systems can be set to auto-record, but if you want to make the recording available (or even listen to the presentation yourself afterwards to look for areas you could improve on) be sure to double check to make sure you are recording your presentation when you start live.

Today, it’s the COVID-19 virus, but it could just as easily be a weather event or something else disrupting our lives. At least we have options to keep our lives and businesses going.

Many articles have been written about whether virtual solutions will eventually replace face-to-face meetings and conferences. There’s still a lot to be gained from face-to-face interactions, even if virtual meetings may be cheaper for both the presenter and attendee. Until we can safely have those face-to-face interactions again, navigating virtual world may be necessary for your business.

If you have tips to share about your experiences or questions about virtual education, email us at info@nanpa.org, or share a question or tip on NANPA’s Facebook page or group. We can all learn together.

Teresa Ransdell brings to NANPA more than 20 years of experience in association management, mostly in membership recruitment and retention. She earned her Certified Association Executive designation in 1998 and completed a Master’s program in nonprofit management. Teresa enjoys traveling, reading, walking her dog and spending time with her husband, daughter and son.