Take a (virtual) detour

When people ask, “how do technology and the internet help you to do what you do?”, I usually find myself going down the usual route and say “well, I do a lot of my research online, and technology helps me to connect to people and reach out…” blablabla … but I only recently went beyond my existing tools of skype calls/meetings (which I do for supervision), the good old email, and the occasional online course: vlogging software meets academia!

I’ve always disliked virtual talks. Almost all of them make me re-live memories of trying not to fall asleep during over-head projector presentations at school. That was the latest technological kit at the time (yes, I know, I’m old…!), and almost no one really knew how to use it well. From everything on one slide, to layering slides and ploughing through the material no matter if students were able to follow or not – we’ve seen it all (perhaps in its more recent incarnation: ‘death by powerpoint’). Virtual talks brought those memories back to me… and not in a good way. Often I’ve found myself having to look at slides upon slides, none of them terribly well designed, and hear a voice mumbling somewhere in the background – while I’m fighting the mad urge to go to sleep.

That was until a couple of months ago, when someone thoughtful had the idea to use what is almost standard elsewhere (read: outside of British academia), and apply more current technology to his academic talk. Not only did that person win the best virtual presentation prize, but we were also all on the edge of our seats – despite it being an after-lunch presentation!

What had changed? Well, for one, it was an engaging talk, which would have been pleasant as a live talk, but secondly, we were able to see a talking face and the slides at the same time – and then add some extra effects that are possible in pre-recorded talks but not in live talks. It was rather like a Vlog on Youtube – very engaging! It made me wish for an opportunity to create a virtual talk myself – and I had the opportunity not long after: my very first virtual talk played at my graduate study day a few weeks ago.

Creating a virtual presentation of my work enabled me to talk about my results without having to drive (or take the train) for three hours. It also spared me from having to lose my two subsequent days of work to bed rest (my usual recovery time after a short journey). It’s perfect for everyone with a similar condition, or for people with anxiety issues, or other issues that make it hard for them to talk to a bigger crowd in person.

Not everyone is a great public speaker, and sometimes pushing yourself and doing it is the only way to learn it. On the other hand – you shouldn’t feel trapped due your body/condition in our day and age. Live talks aren’t the only way forward. In fact, YouTube shows that they aren’t.

Software packages like Camtasia (Mac and PC) or ScreenFlow (Mac) are great tools to do interesting virtual talks. The interface it pretty similar for both, and both have free trial versions to play with and figure out how to use them.

I’m not particularly tech-savvy, and also – as it appears – not flexible enough in my mind to draw links from what is around me in virtual life to use and apply in my academic life.  Never mind, better late than never!  These programs opened up a new (presentation-) world and opportunity to me. So far, I have only used ScreenFlow, but Camtasia is pretty similar.

So, I had the opportunity to show that despite me not being able to travel (especially in the winter, when a cold gets me down for weeks), I am not invisible and can present my work! I am far from being a pro, but I will definitely keep on trying out and playing with the software. There will be another opportunity soon, I’m sure.

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