Ah Counter Experiment and Report Summary from February 6, 2017

Technology Setup

I experimented with a visual setup for the first time as the ah counter in our online meeting. Here is a summary of what I did on the technology side:

  • Set up a green screen background in my physical space
  • Used streaming software (free version of XSplit in this case) to alter the video feed using text, images, drawings, etc. In particular, I used a digital whiteboard to tally the items of interest and display them on screen in real time.
  • Fed the streaming software’s altered video (rather than my direct camera feed) into our meeting software
  • Captured screenshots of the final result for sharing after the meeting

Ah Counter’s Report

I kept tallies for our group as a whole. This focused on the use of ah (46), um (16), and so (24). The major thing I noticed in the overall group was that almost everyone says ah and/or um the moment they first engage with the group. Coming online from being muted is a bit of an “awakening” that leaves us uncertain of our connection (ah = “testing 1, 2”) or flustered and searching for what to say.

I also kept individual tallies for the presenters of prepared speeches. These were more detailed than the whole group. Ironically, compared to the group, there was very little use of ah and um.

  • Carole’s speech was generally quite clear with minimal use of filler and unnecessary connection words. Ah (0), So (8), Um (2), And (4).

  • For Paul, I noted the use of a few additional transitions. Ah (2), So (5), Um (0), And (19), Double Clutch / Restarts (6), Now (1), Well (4), OK (1), Needless to Say (1). Notably, Paul made heavy use of the word “and” to start thoughts and fill gaps.

Online Presenters Toastmasters Meeting Software Tips

I prepared this tutorial to cover the basics of how to mute / unmute, select a specific video feed, and show “timing lights.” These tips apply to Zoom (we’re using RingCentral Meetings, but it’s based on Zoom). The timing light tip should also work with other platforms.

At our kickoff meeting, Arlene Jayme showed how she uses a program called SparkoCam to superimpose a timing light image on her video feed. I suggest checking whether your computer came with any pre-installed webcam software. My HP laptop came with a program called CyberLink YouCam that I found fit the purpose.

Low tech solution for timer: green, yellow, and red pieces of paper you hold up in front of your webcam.

How to Keep the Video Fixed on the Speaker

Our online meetings platform is RingCentral Meetings, which is based on the Zoom video platform (thank you to RingCentral for sponsoring our account). By default, the software decides which video to feature on screen based on where it detects sound. This works well during a conversation or an interview, but when someone is giving a speech we do not want the view to be shifting away from the speaker to an audience member who may have coughed or made some other noise.

On a desktop computer, you can “pin” the video feed you want to be featured.  Each viewer needs to take that action (it’s not controlled by the meeting leader).

Here is the explanation from the Zoom documentation:

Pin screen allows you disable active speaker view and view a specific speaker only.  It will also only record the pinned screen/speaker. Pinning another user’s video will only affect your local view, not the view of other participants.

  • Right-Click on PC or Left-Click on Mac the users video to bring up options
  • Select pin video

Proposed Policy and Procedure for Recordings, Use of Stills and Video

I added a notice at the top of the agenda that reads:

THIS MEETING WILL BE RECORDED. Stills and excerpts from the video may be used by the club in its public relations and social media outreach.

At our kickoff meeting, I asked if anyone objected to me recording the meeting, and no one did. I followed up later to ask permission to use stills and video from the meeting. I would like to establish a standing policy that we will provide clear notice of intent to record the meeting up front and deal with the exceptions as necessary.

My intent is to duplicate the educational and social media marketing advantages my (offline) home club enjoys from regular video recording of speeches. At Club Awesome, we typically record all the formal speeches and sometimes also table topics and evaluations. The majority of the videos are never shared beyond the club, but the speakers have the opportunity to review them for educational purposes.

When lightning strikes, and someone gives a particularly good speech that they allow us to share, that is a nice marketing asset for the club. We don’t necessarily know ahead of time which speeches will be the exceptional ones. I can also extract still images from the video, which makes it much easier to capture essentially “candid” photos from speeches and presentations.

In an offline club, the way we deal with the etiquette is that during the introduction of roles the videographer announces the ground rules — that the recordings are primarily made for educational purposes, meaning for the speaker’s own review, and we will ask permission before sharing them more widely.

There were some questions about the video policy when we first started, but by now it is part of the culture of the club. Visitors see the camera in use during speeches before they join, so it is not a surprise to them.

We also routinely take candid photos during our meetings and share them on Facebook or the club website without feeling the need to go through some legalistic photo release process. Again, it’s the accepted culture of the club that we operate this way. Our website and our visibility on social media are stronger and richer as a result.

In an online club, I believe the best way of accomplishing something similar is with a clear statement on the agenda, which everyone sees when signing up for roles or registering to attend as a guest. People who feel uncomfortable with this policy can find another club with a different policy.

In practice, the blanket policy should allow for exceptions. The person in possession of the video recording (which in the beginning will be me) should use good judgement about what gets shared and how. We can have some reasonable ground rules, like these:

  • Any member can request that the recording be stopped or paused for their speech or their table topics talk.
  • As a rule, speech videos will be shared as unlisted posts to YouTube, with the links emailed to club members. The email will contain a disclaimer saying the videos should not be shared without the speaker’s permission. Only if the speaker gives permission will they be shared more widely.
  • Sharing stills from the meeting will be treated as the equivalent of sharing candid photos from an offline meeting. It is permitted in this club. Stills should show members in a positive light.

The goal is to be respectful of members and take reasonable precautions to protect their privacy, dignity, and professional image — but without imposing an undue burden on the club. Occasionally, we may have a misfire, where a video is shared inappropriately (the method of publishing YouTube videos as unlisted is not completely secure). We may publish a still photo where the speaker but someone in the background has a funny expression on their face.


My argument is the fear of what could go wrong should not prevent us from taking advantage of what could go right with this approach.

Examples of Professional Internet Video Shows

I’m gathering a few examples of professional video webinars that I am studying in the process of improving my skills to host sessions like the recent Taking Public Speaking Online: Secrets of the Geeks on Tour program.

CXOTALK – Interviews with CEOs, CIOs and other business and technology leaders.

DisrupTV – a YouTube Live show sponsored by Constellation Research, a tech analyst firm.

More along the lines of my Geeks on Tour friends, here is a painting tutorial from thefrugalcrafter, Lindsay Weirich — another small business online video success story.


Scenes from the Online Presenters Toastmasters Kickoff Meeting

gallery view
The cast of characters.

Online Presenters held its kickoff meeting on January 23. While not everything went smoothly, we solved our initial technical problems, got to know each other, and started to work out some of the details about how the club will operate. The next meeting should run a little smoother.

This video excerpt from the kickoff features speeches from Phyllis Harmon, George Marshall and Paul Finkelstein (video recording and stills shared by permission). You can see a few miscues where the video switched from video to audience member, based on a software algorithm. Next time, I should be able to hold the virtual camera steadier (after looking up how to do it).

Phyllis Harmon
George Marshall’s presentation on Pathways
Paul Finkelstein
Carole McCulloch

Preliminary Thoughts on Dues

Dues for this new club have yet to be established. In order to meet our goal of chartering this club in March, we will have to elect officers and make a decision on dues sometime in February. Meanwhile, as long as we’re officially unofficial, participation is free.

As a baseline, I can tell you members will need to pay $33.75 in dues to Toastmasters International (a slightly lower fee than for members of a club that is part of a traditional district). Club dues are still TBD, as we figure out what the club needs to budget for its own operations. I’ve proposed that charter members be charged a total of $48 to join (assuming we charter in March) and $41.75 to renew in October and every 6 months thereafter. Again, that’s not a final decision, but I think you would be safe to assume the expense will be no more than $100 per year.

Not included in the above is a $20 new member fee for anyone who is not already a Toastmasters member.

Where to Find Mute, Video Off on Our Online Meetings Platform

RingCentral is allowing Online Presenters to use a free RingCentral Meetings account for its meetings. RingCentral has a technology partnership with Zoom, so those of you who have used Zoom for other online meetings will find it very familiar. The main distinction of the RingCentral version is how it integrates with other RingCentral products.

One of the most important things to know for proper etiquette with any audio or video conference tool is how to mute yourself when there is background noise at your location or any sort of problem with feedback or an echo on the line. With video, you may also have occasion to want to turn your camera off.

Here is where to find those controls on the desktop and mobile clients for RingCentral Meetings.

Desktop Computer

The online meeting controls appear at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t see them, wiggle your mouse around at the bottom of the screen, and they should appear.

You can mute and unmute yourself by clicking on the microphone icon. The video on/off icon is right next to it.

Or use the following shortcuts:

For PC:

  • Alt + A : Mute or Unmute

For Mac:

  • Shift + Command + A: Mute or Unmute

Mobile Apps

The mobile app is pretty similar, with mute / unmute and camera on / off buttons in the lower right of the screen.

Here is what that looks like on Android.

Mobile app muted

Telephone (dial in)

*6 : Mute or Unmute

Organizer’s Manifesto and Preliminary Agenda for January 10

This document was prepared in preparation for the January 10 organizational meeting.

I would like to start this meeting with brainstorming and end with a few decisions on how to move forward. I’m looking for agreement on the mission of the club, setting a schedule for the first few demo meetings, and a plan for recruiting 20+ dues paying members and chartering the club.

Organizer’s Introduction: My concept for this club is that it will specifically cater to members who speak or present in webinars or online meetings or who have a professional interest in learning those skills. This special interest will be important to the identity of the club. The goal is not to replicate the model of Netizens or other online clubs who provide a location-independent alternative to a traditional club but otherwise operate as general purpose clubs.

On the other hand, we think the Toastmasters format of practicing among friends and getting immediate feedback on areas for improvement has just as much relevancy to improving online presentation skills as it does for giving in person speeches or presentations. Similarly, Table Topics conducted online ought to be good preparation for participating in a business meeting conducted online. Online Presenters might not be the right place to complete a Humorous Speaking manual. On the other hand, learning to use humor to warm up the crowd at the beginning of a webinar could be a very valuable technique for getting people to actually watch the webinar. (According to Roger Courville, survey research shows a boring presenter is the main reason people stop watching a webinar after the first few minutes).

I hope to attract professionals who present online and want to improve who may not necessarily be Toastmasters. As a result, I do not think this should be classified as an advanced club where we require that members have already completed their Competent Communication manual.

Agenda for Organizational Meeting

Organizer’s introduction (based on the manifesto above)

Participant self introductions:

  • Any non-Toastmasters in attendance? They get to introduce themselves first
  • Toastmaster self-introductions. Relatively new member or advanced? Any previous experience with online clubs? Experience chartering clubs?

Discussion of specialty club mission. Any areas of disagreement on the basic framework?

Market potential. Reasonable to expect we can recruit 20+ dues paying members?

Meeting schedule – one of the big decisions

  • Frequency: weekly to build the habit (even if not all members can attend every week)
  • Proposed time of day: 8 pm Eastern time / 5 pm Pacific time in the U.S. to cater to a target market that includes employees of U.S. based technology companies, outside of work hours.
  • Proposed duration: 1 hour
  • Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday
    • I have a recurring conflict on the 3rd Tuesday of the month. Can’t do Thursdays.
    • George Marshall, who offered to help and previously helped charter Netizens, has a regular conflict on Wednesdays and also the 2nd Tuesday (which is why he is not at this organizing meeting).
    • Monday could work for both George and I. But do we think we would get the attendance we want on a Monday night?
    • I’m not necessarily opposed to sticking with Tuesdays if someone else can open the meetings on the nights when I can’t attend.
  • No schedule is going to work for everyone in a busy group of professionals, every time, but we should pick a schedule that will work for most of us most of the time.
  • We should schedule the first few demo meetings intended to lead up to club charter, starting next week or the following week.

Ideas about format of meetings.

  • How much to follow the standard formula (3 short speeches plus Table Topics as the default) and how much to vary it.
  • How much to stick to a standard online meeting platform, versus experimenting / giving people experience with different ones.
  • Ways of evaluating members who give presentations in other formats outside of the meeting, for example Facebook Live (or whatever is new and novel in the coming years)

Choice of standard meeting platform

  • I plan to use a version of Zoom resold by RingCentral as RingCentral Meetings. RingCentral is a client of mine for marketing writing and related projects and has allowed me to set up an account that can be used by whoever is acting as the host of the meeting (it should not be used for anything other than Toastmasters business.
  • This is essentially the same video chat / screen sharing platform being used by Netizens for their meetings (Zoom).

Club dues

  • I would hope to keep them minimal. We’re getting the online meeting platform at no cost.
  • What else do we need to budget for?

Club charter process

  • Toastmasters with experience chartering a club are invited to give their input on how to proceed

Forbes.com: “Improving Skills for Webinars, Online Meetings”

Giving a presentation or leading in a meeting online requires many of the same skills as speaking, presenting and leading offline — except for all the ways that it is different. One mistake is to let the technology of webinars and online meetings can easily get in the way of the basics of clear and compelling communication. The other is the failure to appreciate the differences and make them work to your advantage.

Roger Courville, the Chief Content Officer at EventBuilder, appreciates both challenges as someone who has worked as a trainer, coach and consultant to people wanting to learn better online presentation skills since the late 1990s. “The medium always changes the message,” he says, and you have to understand the nature of the medium to be effective in it.

At the same time, he thinks it’s telling that the burning question people most often have for him is what technology platform to use, rather than the techniques they can apply regardless of whether the platform is WebEx, GoToMeeting, YouTube Live or Zoom (to name just a few options). Using the best available technology will not save you if your message is boring and your presentation is uninspired.

Read the rest at http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidcarr/2017/01/09/improving-skills-for-webinars-online-meetings/

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