On Building and Using

Google Slide Boards

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9th May 2021 by Steve Holyer

Thanks to Frank Eiffert for sharing their work on Unsplash.
Frank Eiffert

I rarely use boards like Miro™ or Mural™ when I host online meetups and sessions. I think they are too complex for shorter meetups. Sometimes an online, collaborative whiteboard supports engagment and connection. When it does, I usually build one in Google™ Slides.

In online meetups, I invite people to work collaboratively in the Slides document. Everyone edits the slide(s) in real time to provide a white board. I find this is simpler. We need to use simpler tools when we are supporting complex remote interactions.

Theoretically everyone can access to the Google Slides tool.

Building your whiteboard with  Google Slides? Know these 5 accessibility issues and how to plan for them.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind when you use Google Slides as a realtime collaboration tool or whiteboard. Being mindful of these 5 accessibility issues will helps you become a more engaging hosts

  • Plan for restricted access. Not everyone can access Google's apps over the network. Many orgs (especially government agencies and financial institutions) block access to Google apps.
    • To work around this you can ask people with access to pair with people who are restricted.
    • We lean into good hosting skills. You can too. Use your facilitation to narrate what is happening on the board, and find ways to include everyone into the process.
    • You can also help those with restricted access follow along by frequently sharing snapshots of the current slide on another platform - email, twitter, etc. You'll probably need a co-facilitator, or a meetup producer to help with that. But then (partially inspired by Yves Hanoulle who also inspired this post), we try to host all of our online meetups in a pair.
    • We are thinking of meetups where most people hae access to Google Apps.  If you are working in an organisation or an industry where most people would have restricted access, then Google Slides may simply not be the tool for you.
  • Accessibility is challenging for people with different physical and neurological needs.
    • We try to take accessibility guidelines into account when we design our Slide "boards" (if we use them at all). I feel like we always fall short of that mark, and I appreciate feedback from our guests on improving if you are effected. (And of course, I will keep working to improve here without relying on ya'll to tell me how to.)
    • The above tips on access for restricted users can also be helpful for creating this kind of accessibility.
  • Network access can be an issue anywhere. All over the world people have bandwidth challenges at different times. These challenges limit access.  We always keep in mind that video sessions are not possible for everyone, and real time apps like Google Slides require even more network bandwidth.
    • We try to let people know how our meetups will flow in advance. We invite them to join with a high bandwidth connection when they came.
    • We also strive to use our hosting skills to hold space for people with reduced bandwidth. We hold space for audio only participants. And we look for creative ways to increase the communication bandwidth even when the actual network bandwidth is constrained.
    • Google Slides can be slow to load, and Slides can require a lot of bandwidth while loading. There is only so much you can do about this, but first be aware of it and create space and time in your meetup for people to allow the slides to load.  Allow time for people to load slides by facilitating a light activity to “arrive” in the space (while the  with slides arrive). This might be a light mindfulness activity that doesn't require much interaction. Since audio and video may lag a bit while slides load, make complicated instructions and explanations before providing the link to download slides, or after you've held the space while the Slides download.
    • You can improve Slide load times by deleting unused layouts in the master slides.
    • Also compress the graphics you put on your slides (and in your master layouts)  before including them in your document.
      • Most images can come in at a size of 100K or less. But today as people become rich in bandwidth, it's common to find and use stock images that are over a megabyte in size. This is ok if you're privileged to operate on a high bandwidth connection. But this is still a problem for many. You can usually use an offline tool to compress the image, and sometimes you'll reduce one image's size by a factor of 10 or more!
  • Device access is always a concern. Google Slides are best used on a device with a pointer (like a mouse). Google's Slides are not so usable on touch devices like mobile phones. People may not even be able to open your slides if they are using a iOS device.
    • The tips on holding space for access given above will help here too.
    • We invite touch device users to install their Google Slides app on their device before our meetups.  Without the app they may not be able to engage with the slides at all. With the app they may not have full engagement, but they have more options.
    • As always we strive to host meetups to allow people to engage with the whole group even if they are not using the Slide "boards" on their device.
  • "Flying boards" or "Flying Slides" are an accessibility problem in Google Slides if you have multiple slides in one document. On some operating systems, browsers, and devices it seems that the Slides app just moves to the next slide all by itself (or the slide/page after that, or 2 before, or 5 later, or something...). It's not actually a random flying slide. It's related to the browser's support and Google's app support for pointing devices, and trackpads, and other technical issues. You are triggering the move unintentionally, but even experienced users encounter this frustrating issue. Even if the slides aren't "flying" at random, it feels like they are. It can be maddening. (And of course, when people are mad at the tool, they aren't engaging with your meetup and the problem you'd like to solve in the meetup.)
    • As the host, let people know about this "feature". You don't want to make a big deal of it (and magnify the problem). But, you can make space for it gently and simply. Be gracious. As you hold space, your way of being here will calm your guests and co-workers, so that the frustration is not an issue. (This applies to every other tip as well!)
    • When you design your Slides "board" you can often eliminate this problem by creating a single Slide document.

This sounds like a long list of challenges.  And there are more challenges, you'll learn to work with over time. With such a list you you may think it's best to just avoid building boards in Google Slides. But, I every tool brings challenges— even the tool of language and speech spoken around a real world campfire. My job when I host a meetup or a session is to hold space for the flow of engagement and connection. That means I'm prepared to dance with these challenges when I need to.  I also think that the advantages of  using Google Slides as a tool that promotes engegement, can be greater than the challenges.  (Now I've just got to right that post about the advantages.)

What Guides the Way We Build and Use Our Tools?

We ask at least two questions when we choose tools for online meetups.

  • Is this tool simple enough for the complex space of online meetups?
  • Does this tool help us engage in a more "real" way with our guests?

We look for balance between engagement and simplicity as we answer those questions.

A gracious host who holds space for a meetup, will consider these challenges before building a tool using Google Slides as a whiteboard.

Keep it Simple, and ...

As an online host you are actually building the space you hold for your meetups. As you build, I invite you to remember two of our simple guiding principles:

Keep it simple.

and

Focus on individuals, then interactions, then processes, and then tools - in that order.
-- simple guiding principles of Coaching Cocktails