Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
One good thing to come out of the pandemic was the increasing use of Zoom. I used it for family get togethers when meeting in person wasn’t possible. (I still regularly meet up with family members abroad this way too).
A number of writing related activities transferred to this medium so I was able to join in with workshops, listen to talks etc. In the past eighteen months or so, I’ve been invited to run workshops via Zoom on flash fiction. It has been lovely to have paying gigs too! (Would always welcome more of these!).
So I thought for this post I’d look at how to make the most of Zoom workshops if you’re running them/likely to run them in the future. I hope you find this useful.
Preparation is key here. It helps clarify your thoughts (and as a result I’ve found it helps against the inevitable nerves too because you know you’ve got useful material ready to go. That helps with confidence a lot!).
I run workshops once a month for the Association of Christian Writers’ Flash Fiction Group (where the members could never get together in person as we live too far apart) and I often prepare a short PowerPoint presentation. I used to use this years ago, then stopped, but PowerPoint has come into its own with Zoom.
Why? Because you can share screens with Zoom so people can follow the slides with you. That alone makes the experience more interactive. I know from being on the other side of the desk that interactive workshops (a) engage more with people and (b) you remember more of the topic you’ve been learning about, both good things!
So one way to prepare then is to familiarise yourself with what Zoom can do. I practiced sharing screens until I was confident in doing it. I made sure I knew how to set up and end meetings. I made sure I knew where the Chat function was (great way of getting messages to people where necessary without disrupting the presentation).
I discovered if you set up a meeting with yourself and record it, Zoom turns the file into an mp4 file for you and you can play that back at any time. I’ve found that so useful for getting timings right and I could also listen to what I’d come up with and “spot gaps”. Equally other ideas for material would occur to me so I could then write those in.
I’ve also found in recording my meeting if I stumble over my words a lot, it probably means I’ve been too wordy (author’s curse, anyone?!) and it’s time to get the red pen out and simplify things. That pays off.
Rehearsal always pays off. Again it helps with nerves knowing you have put in the prep work and the rehearsal time. Nobody expects a Zoom event to be fluff-free. There will be stumbles over words etc but the rehearsals help you minimise that. Again, I see this as a useful confidence booster.
Think about the focus of your presentation and hone in on it. What topics could come from your main “stem” here? (Could be future workshop material here, worth noting on the just in case principle). Think about what you want your guests to get out of your session. How will this give value to them and help them improve, in my case, writing techniques?
Don’t over complicate it. For my ACW Zoom sessions I focus on one aspect to writing and leave it at that. Also focus on timings. How long do you want your session to be? There is such a thing as Zoom fatigue.
My workshops always come in at about the hour mark. (I usually finish a little while before this to give time for questions. It pays to do that too). My ACW sessions are two hours but these involve catching up with member news, discussing homework set by me last time, news of competitions and markets which may be of interest, and then into the PowerPoint presentation.
I would also prepare questions you think people are likely to ask and have answers ready. If you don’t use them, that’s fine. If there’s time for questions but nobody comes up with any, you can bring them in to your presentation to wrap things up nicely.
I find here it pays to “pretend” I’m going to be one of the audience for this workshop and think well, what would I ask if I could? I usually find a couple of ideas occur and I can prepare some suitable answers.
Mixing Up Your Material
Odd though it sounds, you don’t want one “straight” lecture. With my workshops I give an introduction, I usually read one or two of my published flash pieces to illustrate by example what flash fiction is, and then go into my topic.
I use a mixture of text and pictures on my presentations. The images are useful for illustrating my points and for breaking up the text. That is useful on screen. It’s more entertaining too. I tend to finish my presentations with a Q&A session. That encourages discussion amongst the audience and that makes things more interesting for everyone too.
Much to my amazement, ClipArt is still around and can be very useful for presentations. I thought that had gone the way of the dodo some time ago!). ClipArt is defined as “simple pictures and symbols made available for computer users to add to their documents” and years ago, when I first started using PowerPoint, they were pretty much the only thing available in the way of images.
Now, of course, with the smart phone, it is much easier to upload your own photos and add those into your presentation though it pays to size them to a reasonable level before inserting them into your presentation. (Too big a file can slow down your upload time and even for my posts here for Chandler’s Ford Today I limit my size to 640 x 640 (pexels) on Janet’s excellent advice that this gives enough for a good image reproduction on screen but doesn’t produce a file so large it slows the site down!
There are free photo editors out there you can use for basic things like cropping and resizing images. If that’s all you need to do here, it isn’t worth going for a paid plan. I do use Book Brush to help me add captions to my images and because I use this a lot, it was worth me taking out a simple plan with them. I haven’t gone for the “all singing, all dancing” one either as, at this stage, I don’t need those functions.
I’m a firm believer in keeping it simple so I have a plan with them which covers what I need here but if you’re only resizing images, do use a free photo editor for that.
Zoom is a wonderful invention and I find it useful. It has also meant I could give workshops to places I couldn’t get to in person easily. I’ve run some flash fiction workshops for writing groups in Scotland, for example.
If you’re going to a workshop like this, do take time to think of questions to put to your presenter. I also jot down a few notes as an attendee when I’m at a workshop because thoughts inevitably occur as the presentation is going on and I’m ready with a question or two at the end.
It has been my experience most writers are glad when people do ask questions because it shows they’ve engaged with the writer and their material! So do get your thinking caps on here so you’re ready for the next one you go to!
If you’re running a workshop, do put yourself in the attendees’ shoes and work out what they would get from what you’re going to share. Think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end here. I’ve found that helps me refine my material so it is more useful to people.
(It can encourage word of mouth repeat workshops. I know of at least one case of mine where my details were passed on to another group and I got a gig with them too). This is where networking comes in – writer friends can let you know about writing groups who might be interested in what you do etc. They may even run groups themselves.
Most important thing of all?
Have fun with your workshop. You want to communicate that you love writing and you can’t wait to share useful information with people. They do pick up on the enthusiasm and it encourages them to know the writer loves what they’re doing. I’m always encouraged when I’ve gone to a Zoom workshop where the writer presenting it is clearly enjoying doing so.
Creative writing is hard work but also fun. Online workshops are a great way to share at least some of that fun
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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