A first-hand account of what it's like to present online at the Futures Festival
Here are some thoughts about presenting online at the Futures Festival. As an online festival, it lets futurists from around the world engage and explore relevant ideas. The volunteer team organizes the operations and the logistics of the event while the presenters are given a virtual floor on which to develop a topic in less than an hour. That floor is yours, but you aren’t alone. You’ll get a technical support person and a facilitator for your session so that you can concentrate on what you want to share with the festival goers.
It is important to state from the start that this is not a conference directed to insiders and experts. It is a festival for futures conversations to happen at. It is a chance to get to know the people around the globe who are working to build a futures mindset with their work. Some of the topics veer towards an academic understanding of concepts, and theory. Some are neatly practical. All are futures-oriented and open for discussion. It does not lend itself well to long-winded lectures, or tongue-twisting technical terminology. The challenge is to find the right amount of context needed to spur an interesting discussion in a short time.
Presenting online requires an extra effort to engage with participants
When I presented “Making the Futures Present” in 2018 I was concerned that the online format and virtual platform would be constricting. Virtual audiences tend to be much more quiet than people in a room together and you don’t get the luxury of eye contact with each participant. It’s hard to judge if you are connecting with your audience. When I present online, I’m painfully aware of myself as a talking head, laughing at my own jokes, terrified of awkward silence.
I opted to interview my business partner Maggie Greyson and present her four minute video on working with experiential personal futures. We designed together which questions would be most engaging, put together a slideshow, and even rehearsed our interview beforehand. Having someone to practice with made it much easier to cut down the number of ideas and questions we thought necessary when presenting online.
Watching our session video, I see that we are not 100% natural in our delivery but our pace is good and our framing was visually compelling. It really helped to have a quiet room on a bright day. I also see myself staring at the screen and not the camera during the presentation. It’s hard to avoid that but it is just a little less engaging as a result. But most of all I think we we chose the right amount of content to present, with as many real-life examples as we could fit.
During our presentation we asked for questions to be typed into Zoom’s chatbox rather than unmuting the participant to ask outloud. This way, I could read out the questions for Maggie to answer. This approach felt a little bit formal and didn’t allow for very personal dialogue. But it did allow us to get to a few more questions than we might have otherwise. Yet, it was rushed.
My strongest advice for future presenters is to give more than the last ten minutes for engaging with the participants. Best, is to find ways to engage with the audience throughout the presentation. Worst, is to have to cut someone off mid-response because you are out of time. Time online goes very fast as a presenter and if you can end early you can receive the questions from the audience which may be as illuminating for you as it is for them.
Oh, and be accepting if the whole festival goes a little behind schedule. It happens.
David Buwalda: Making the Futures Present
David Buwalda is a group process facilitator and learning designer working in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He’s had the privilege of working around the world leading grassroots social change projects. Recent clients include pastoral communities in East Africa, the Toronto Public Library and UBS bank. David’s background in urban planning and community engagement come together in his current project to bring strategic foresight practices to diverse people in diverse places.