Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Guest post by Rob Brunet

Rob Brunet writes stories that find humour in the dark, the twisted, and the criminal. He’s the author of Stinking Rich, and if you haven’t read his debut novel, you’re missing out. His short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Noir Nation, Crimespree Magazine, and Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, among others.

Rob’s also a digital media producer who is prone to overindulge in travel — especially where dirt roads are involved — and he’ll will never pass up a chance to swap tales by a bonfire.

And he's here this week answering the question: Do you have any tricks/advice/hacks/best practices for effective video conferencing? 

by Rob 

It seems almost funny to be writing about video conferencing at a time when we’re finally able to get back face-to-face. Has anyone else noticed how hugs are bigger and longer than ever now? But, Zooming is gonna be part of life from here on in, and that’s probably a good thing for a host of reasons.

I’ve been lucky to avoid most of the online calamities recounted the last year and a half — though I was on one call where a fresh-from-the-shower husband made an unexpected appearance — but by now we all know most of the faux-pas of video meetings, and now that we’re allowed back outside, we probably don’t need to be reminded to put our pants on anyway.

Apart from regular bi-weekly or monthly family calls — why weren’t we always doing that?— and cocktails with friends who live across the country and around the world, most of my Zooming has been with my co-host Hope Thompson on Noir at the Virtual Bar Toronto and giving my online novel writing classes through George Brown College. Both were among my favourite pre-Covid activities, and both made a happy transition on line. In fact, regarding the classes, I doubt I would return to in-person delivery, but more on that later.

I say Zooming because that’s the platform I like working with. I’m sure there are better, and depending on your requirements, I’d encourage you to check them out. Better yet, talk directly to someone hosting on a platform you’re curious about and hear what they have to say. For me, the decision was simple. After a career in tech, I knew the easiest platform to use is whichever one most of your audience is already familiar with. Less headaches for the host. 

Similarly, to get people out, tried and true email works well for us, from a MailChimp platform. We also let people know on Facebook, but the email list is the best producer, as it is for our live in-bar events.

For the first couple virtual Noir at the Bars, we did dry-runs and had things scripted out tightly. Especially with two hosts, making the delivery appear casual (as befits a Noir at the Bar) means practice and preparation. We got it down smooth enough that I was able to co-host from Thailand, for which the only hitch was forgoing a shot of Maker’s Mark, given the time difference. Irish coffee made up for that.

I’ve always considered live reading to be a performance art. I think that’s even more important on line, both in terms of my own work and when inviting people to read for us. It takes a particularly strong reader to hold audience attention on line. As much as I find casual works best for me, don’t let the comfort of your living room lull you into a lacklustre delivery. This isn’t the time for a fireside story. I find myself using more hand gestures than I usually would, and like that I can see them reflected on-screen while I do. 

I like to read with a typist’s stand holding my pages beside my screen. Some people read from the screen itself. Both help build better eye contact than looking down into your book. I guess the point is, it ain’t radio. 

We added Q+As to our format, which isn’t something we do live in the bar. We wanted to create an opportunity for people to mingle a bit at the end of show, much as they would in-person. Most of our audience stay on line the extra 20 minutes or so. All-in, our run-times are about 75-90 minutes.

A much longer format is my 3-hour classes, which went on line mid-semester in March 2020. I want to mention them because the experience I’ve had underlines one good thing the pandemic has brought us.

The first thing I noticed was that the quieter students would provide longer, more in-depth comments than they would be able to deliver in-person. That brings up the quality of the learning for everyone. But there’s more.

When I taught in-person, I found that by about halfway through the 12-week course, people would start seriously opening up and our WIP discussions unearthed personal stories from both writers and those providing critiques. With online, that happens by the second Zoom session. People discuss their sexuality, family trauma, huge life choices — whatever drives them, or does the opposite. They go further, sooner, and share back and forth in ways that I feel must be brought on by a combination of being comfortable in their homes during class, and knowing that while they have the mic, they have the full attention of their peers. When the focus is on writing as close to the truth as one can, it’s pure gold. And for me, it means I’ll likely continue to teach online. Never mind that I can appear from the comfort of my own home, or wherever I may find myself.

So even as we take Noir back to the bar, knowing this virtual business is here to stay doesn’t bother me at all.

Many thanks to Rob Brunet for taking part in Criminal Minds, and if you’d like to find out more about virtual Noir at the Bar Toronto, click the link here.

1 comment:

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Many thanks, Rob, for sitting in and writing an excellent post.