DUNCAN GRAHAM. Normal service will be rezoomed forever

Apr 21, 2020

Witless vandals defacing the odd Zoom chat room have given repressive states (think Singapore) another excuse to stomp on a development they dread: Technology that’s letting a hundred schools of thought contend.

Zoom says it has fixed the intruder problem, though this isn’t praising a brand but a system. Whatever platform is used the blessings beat the condemnations, particularly for those outside big cities.

Sure, we’ll miss the occasional drinkies, nibbles and the chance to swap clichéd greetings with alleged friends, though not the airfares, hotel bookings, taxis and a score of other wallet drainers. On-line conferencing will maul the events business but it will save participants a packet and exponentially expand exposure to ideas.

After taking part in several webinars since the lockdown began some nuggets have been gleaned. Borrowing a clickbaiter trick to lure the naive, here are the Five Top Tips To Zoom Ahead!!!

One – don’t fear the science. It’s rewarding. Watching aloof academics reveal their keyboard incompetence delivers extreme schadenfreude, or as Greeks say, epicaricacy.

This base emotion gets engorged when the mouse fumblers are the same men (almost always) who sneer at sound guys when mikes fail during the old-fashioned stage events.

In the sight of the webinar all are equal. The custodians of exclusive insights aren’t up there staring down like royals; they’re on the same level as the plebs.

Two – abandon PowerPoints. Or if necessary make them so simple even arts grads can follow. That means one short headline and a crisp statement. For guidance watch how the ABC and other TV channels put text on screen.

Trying to decode graphs wrapped with strings of sentences and colored lines forking like frozen lightning across a monitor is a misuse of space. So are pie charts. Leave them in the oven.

Likewise reading aloud the info on the slide, a habit dropped by smart users shortly after PP appeared in 1987 and got embraced by lecturers everywhere. Explaining pictures is best done in the nursery teaching toddlers. Assume participants are adults, particularly if they’re adolescents. They live on the upside of the digital divide.

Webinars demand attitude upgrades to be effective. These are evolving, but here’s a certainty for an uncertain world: Presenters need to be as professional as they were before our assumptions and hopes were shoveled into the Covid-19 cement mixer.

There’s a tendency to treat the technology casually. Because the star turns are sitting at home unshaved in Rudd-era cardies doesn’t mean they can abandon lucidity for ums and errs. Wear what you like, but treat the audience as though you’d spruced up physically and mentally for a speech at a five-star shindig or an appearance on Q & A.

Three – watch your back and background. Press photographers are sly snappers, seeking to frame speakers near EXIT signs, handy when there’s a coup underway.

Another favourite is the halo effect by including a light behind the speaker’s head – a delight to deflate lovers of the bully pulpit.

In media conferences the pros get below newsmakers to snare the scorn shot. If peering down at your device you’ll produce the same effect. The wary put computers atop a box; a bit awkward for keyboarding but they get to eyeball direct.

Laptop cameras can also make the learned who normally feature in book-lined libraries look unlearned at home. If the show gets tedious, viewers will scan furniture, wall hangings and shelves with the same ferocity reserved for TV hosts’ dress and make-up:

‘Did you see that couch and those cushions? No taste, and she’s supposed to be a prof.’

If sitting before a window the lens will respond to the light so a face becomes a dark blob. No problem if that’s the image you cultivate.

Tell other members of the household you’re online so they don’t burst into the scene in dishabille. Correction: Don’t warn others. There’s nothing like a streaker to brighten a boring conference.

Four – start on time. The punctual are put in a ‘waiting room’ while the organisers scramble to get their act together. As tech masters they’re supposed to radiate confidence. If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound then who will to the browser?

Five – Feedback. Presenters whinge about not feeling the mood of on-line meetings, to draw energy. Nonsense. Click on the multiple image button and there we are, hundred of watchers in our lounges and kitchens.

The protocols of politeness, staying awake and concentrating no longer apply.

Is the audience riveted or distracted, stroking pussies, picking noses, wandering out for a cuppa, scratching their crutches, doing things they’d never do in public – forgetting they’re in public?

If that’s what you witness you’re getting feedback in digital spades. The message says: Update.

The CHAT feature allows comments while the preachers are waffling so we can tell them they’re spouting nonsense – or revealing wisdoms. The button marked LEAVE can be clicked without guilt. Asking others to squash up while muttering apologies about babysitters or parking meters is yesterweek.

Webinars let us speak truth to each other in forums that are democratic. We’re no longer onlookers but inlookers, pondering the great issues of our troubled times with like minds.

Duncan Graham www.indonesianow.blogspot.com is an Australian journalist writing from Indonesia.

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