Thoughts on a remote Write the Docs meetup

On Wednesday this week, the Write the Docs (WtD) Australia group held a meetup entirely in cyberspace. Or, in the cloud, remote, virtual… whatever you’d like to call it. 🙂 Here are some thoughts on the experience.

Huge kudos to Swapnil Ogale for thinking up the idea of holding a remote meetup, organising it, and running it. It was a great idea and worked very well.

To attend the meetup, we all logged in to a GoToMeeting session. The meetup consisted of a few lightning talks and a couple of presentations. You can see the lineup in the meetup details.

The biggest takeaway for me is this:

People really do want to share their thoughts and experiences with others.

The lightning talks were a great way of doing that. Some presenters had slides, others just spoke from the heart. The variety of topics was intriguing, and listening to the talks was rewarding.

The chat screen was alive and humming throughout the meetup, with people commenting on the topic that the presenter was currently discussing, and on related topics, and on completely unrelated matters too. It was fun and enlightening to be able to watch the presentation and the chat at the same time. This is something that an in-person meetup doesn’t offer. During an in-person meetup, people sit quietly during the presentation, for the most part, and discussion happens afterwards.

It was good not to have to travel. I enjoyed the luxury of going straight home from work, powering up the computer, attending the meetup, then stepping out of the room to join my husband for dinner.

As with all meetups, whether virtual or in person, it was great to see everyone. Especially the speakers who enabled their video cameras so we could see their faces while they spoke.

The remote meetup was also a slightly scary experience, especially for me as a presenter.

I’ve jotted down some notes of what I found scary (I scare easily), primarily so people know they should persevere if they run into technical glitches when connecting to a remote meetup or presenting at one. Things usually work out!

We didn’t know which online platform we’d use until a until a few minutes before the meetup: candidates included Google Hangouts, YouTube streaming, or GoToMeeting. We eventually went with GoToMeeting, which worked well once it was working. I was on a Linux laptop, and the GoToMeeting compatibility checker told me I’d be unable to install the software (eek, but I’m presenting a talk!) but then it mentioned I could use the web interface. Why not just tell me all will be OK and leave it at that? Then GoToMeeting demanded a password, which I did not have. Swapnil was on that immediately, and sent a message to the group saying we should just enter a single space, which worked.

The next hiccup was audio. I couldn’t get mine working with the meetup platform on my laptop, so I dialled in on my mobile phone. All good, but five minutes later the meetup platform managed to find the audio on my laptop after all. Major audio feedback. So I had to decide whether to trust the software and kill the phone call, or mute the software and go ahead with the phone. I killed the phone call, which turned out OK, Luckily so, because by this time it was my turn to give my lightning talk.

When you’re presenting to a remote audience, it’s like talking into the void, You have no idea if people are still there. And I couldn’t get my speaker notes to play well with the meetup platform, so I had to speak without them. That went OK too!

Phew, presentation finished. It was very nice to hear people come back on the audio connection, and nice seeing the comments in the chat room about my talk.

My final thought is:

What a great community we have. Let’s do it again!

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About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 3 May 2018, in technical writing, Write the Docs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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