How to create an interactive workshop with mmhmm and Zoom

posted by:

Howard

Over the past couple of years we’ve run a bunch of 90 minute sessions to help people develop their skills in workshop design and delivery.

The first one of these took place in a small room in Brooklyn back in early 2019 as part of an experiment Creative Mornings were running called ‘Field Trips’.

As the pandemic hit, we ran a few more 90 minute sessions online for small groups. Then, the wonderful Tina at Creative Mornings suggested we host another Field Trip - this time online of course.

Why not?! We're big fans of Creative Mornings, and the opportunity to connect with their community of generous creative humans was too good to turn down.

The first session we did was a big success, so we began hosting Field Trips every 2-3 months.

However, we quickly had several hundred people signing up each time, and our fast-paced multiple breakout approach (4 breakout sessions in 90 minutes) was fun but also kinda frantic. It also threw up some important questions around accessibility, so we decided to make some adjustments.

The 4-breakout room version remained, but only for smaller groups. For larger groups, we created a version with 1 breakout that focused more on individual iterative work with a couple of worksheets. We kept iterating on the material - but realized there were some iterations we could make on the delivery, too.

Uh-huh, oh yeah, mmhmm

I’d been meaning to try out some new software, so after the first run with the 1-breakout version I added that new piece of kit into the mix.

Next time out, I was zooming around the screen; dropping in GIFs; resizing things; changing the backgrounds on the fly; and even inserting a wacky commercial break thing halfway through. It added a whole new element to what we were doing.

The piece of kit enabling all this is called mmhmm. You may have heard of it - it’s the latest product from AllTurtles, a studio run by Evernote founder Phil Libin.

In our most recent 90 minute session we had a bunch of people ask what gear we were using, so here’s a brief behind-the-scenes view.

Note: We are not affiliated with mmhmm, we just like the product. No cheap sales tactics here at Wavetable.


Wavetable In:Session Express - featuring mmhmm


Howard's kit list for this workshop (originally broadcast 9th June 2021)

Hardware

  • 2012 iMac (somehow still alive)
  • iPhone (with bendy arm bracket thing)
  • Audio Technica ATR2100 mic
  • Neewer green screen

Software

  • Mmhmm
  • Reincubate Camo Studio (phone and desktop apps)
  • Zoom
  • Google Slides


Disclaimers

- It’s worth mentioning that mmhmm have a decent number of guides on how to setup for Zoom, so we won’t get into all the nuts and bolts in this post. Instead, this guide is intended to give you a quick and easy step-by-step on how to get set up using mmhmm to deliver an interactive workshop that works.

- Although there are a few tips on how to use mmhmm effectively, we don't get into too much on the 'creative' side of things. For more on that vibe, sign up to the Wavetable newsletter ;)


1. Play

When it comes to workshops, we always advise to never start with the slides. Same goes for using new kit.

Our recommendation is to crank up mmhmm and just have a poke around. Don’t worry about refining your presentation or practicing transitions - instead, play with it a bit.

There is a bit of prep before playtime though. First, you’ll first want to set up your camera.


Camera

If you have a plain background in your room, mmhmm will do a good job of knocking out the background so you appear to be sitting in a virtual space. However, for best results you’ll be wanting to use a camera that’s better than the built-in computer one, ideally plus a green screen.

mmhmm works pretty nicely without a proper green screen.

I typically use a Logitech Brio camera, but recently started using my iPhone rigged up with Reincubate Camo. The picture is much sharper and if you’re using the pro version of Camo you can do all kinds of whizzy stuff with the lens. Most webcams should work pretty well though.

Note: In this post I'm using my Logitech with no green screen so you can get a feel for the quality without having to invest in extra stuff.

As for the green screen, I used a Neewer one (I had to get the new 7ft version - all the others were 6ft tall, and at 6ft 6 I didn’t want to be permanently squatting). Play around with the green screen threshold level until you get a nice clean output.

Rooms

Once you’ve got your camera set up, try a few Rooms. These are effectively virtual backgrounds. mmhmm comes with a bunch pre-loaded, and you can also upload your own. I must confess I let out a yelp of delight when I dragged in an animated GIF and it worked perfectly first time.

Rolling with a custom Wavetable room + a selection of other mmhmm rooms ready to roll

You may be thinking this is a little passé - Zoom and Teams do virtual backgrounds, right? What’s different is Mmhmm Rooms can accommodate different slide and presenter layouts, and you can also easily switch rooms at any point when you’re live.


Presenter

So, Rooms are cool, but let’s be honest - Presenter mode is where the action really is.

The most obvious presenter tools are fading and sizing. You can fade yourself in and out, resize yourself within the frame, or both. Mmhmm also lets you create a frame around yourself - which can be nice if you want to have a clean, crisp circle to sit yourself in. These tools are really useful when working around content you’re delivering.

Speaking of content, if you want to highlight something then mmhmm has a drawing tool that’ll let you sketch on top of the screen. Zoom has one of these built in but it’s awkward to get, and because with mmhmm you’re effectively playing in just one screen it tends to be a little easier to use.

The Anchor tool is also worth getting familiar with. If you use the resizing tools, especially when presenting live, it can be easy to find yourself in a position that isn’t helpful to the audience (e.g. blocking important information). The Anchor buttons pop you straight back a corner of the screen, while maintaining the current sizing.

There are also various effects you can play with. I used a couple of these in our session, but would suggest using them sparingly - they can be distracting and borderline annoying if you use them too much.

To help get familiar, choose a simple story: either your own or a favorite from others - kids’ stories are fertile ground here. Use some of the Room and Presenter controls to augment it. Will you fade out as you change the room? How about resizing to full screen at a moment of tension?

Yes, this will feel incredibly stupid, but it’s a great way to get comfortable with mmhmm.


2. Slide setup

Ok - slide time!

I gotta be honest. I’m a creature of habit. Although I’ve poked Canva, Projector, Pitch (plus a year or two on Keynote), I'm still on Google Slides for most decks I create.

We can spend a ton of time getting into slide best practices, but for this post, I’m going to assume you have your slides ready to roll.

You can use mmhmm’s in-built slide creation tool, but this time we’re going to work with the Import function.

To do this, export your slides as a PDF. Mmhmm allows for Keynote and Powerpoint files, but the formatting can be a bit wobbly, so I prefer PDF (for now at least). All I did was export my Google Slides to PDF, then import them to mmhmm using the import function.

You’ll notice mmhmm has a few creation tools at the bottom left of the screen. You can add Text, import images and GIFs via a GIPHY integration, import slides and even set up a second camera if you’re that way inclined (there are potentially some fun use cases here).

me using two cameras - there are some good use cases here, but this is not one of them.


For this post we’re going to focus on importing slides. Select your file, and mmhmm will create a new file, importing the slides into the timeline at the bottom of the screen.

Once that's done you can resize the slides to the proportion you prefer, and also use the Off / Shoulder / Full option to change if and how the slides display. This is a small feature, but really handy when you need to take the focus either on or off the content.

That's really it for this step - you've got your presenter setup sorted, and the content is in place - it's time to bring it all together!


3. Integrate

Let's start bringing everything together into a wonderful, action packed workshop extravaganza.

Now, in this example, because the file is a PDF the interactive bits in the slides won’t carry across. This isn't reason to be sad, though: it's a good opportunity to bring in other stuff like GIFs (as mentioned above). You may also want to delete some slides that don’t serve as much of a purpose anymore.

It’s worth taking your time here as it’s really easy to underestimate how long you’ll need to get everything rigged up and feeling smooth. I found I needed to edit and re-run my slides from Google a couple of times, and created a couple of fresh slides to help communicate points more clearly.

One other little trick you may want to try is mmhmm’s Record function. You can pre-record some bits of what you’re doing in your presentation and drop it in as a slide. A good example of this is setting the instructions for a Breakout Room. You can also have some fun having your ‘second self’ reference the first self that’s still in the room (well, I would anyway).

Once you have things feeling good, practice loosely running through the slide deck and nailing a couple of transitions - whether those are between bits of content or changing the setup of the screen through resizing yourself, using the pointer, or other features. It can also help to get a friend involved - either on a dummy run just using mmhmm, or in a simulated live session... which is what we're going to do next!


4. Going live

It’s time to launch! This guide focuses on Zoom - and the integration is surprisingly simple (note: mmhmm’s website has some guides for how to use it with Teams and other video communication tools).

Here’s how to get started with Zoom for your workshop.

Start up a new meeting in Zoom, then change your camera. There should be one called ‘mmhmm camera’. (Note: Make sure you do this before continuing!)

Select it, and you’ll see your mmhmm layout. Sweet!

However, select one of your slides in mmhmm, and when you jump back to Zoom you’ll see it’s all weird. Yikes!

Don't be like me. Don't freak out.

Fear not, you won’t need to manually mirror every single one of your slides - mmhmm does it for you.

The logic behind this is that you’re using mmhmm to present something - i.e. you’ll be sharing your screen. In this case, you’ll be sharing your mmhmm screen.

So, go ahead and try that out.

Hit ‘Share Screen’ and you’ll see ‘mmhmm camera - SHARE THIS’. Nice and self-explanatory.

Select it, and you’ll see your desktop again, with the Zoom screen share controls sitting at the top.

(mm)hmm… did it work?

You should be able to tell by looking at the small window that gives a view of the attendees. On this you’ll be able to see a mirrored view of your own screen. Again, this can feel a bit strange, but if all’s well you can see the same stuff that’s on your mmhmm screen. This is what the rest of the Zoom attendees will be able to see (just mirrored correctly!).

Basically, if that small window that displays your view shows the stuff on your mmhmm screen, you’re good. Nice!

Primary Tool

Ok, that’s the confusing bit out of the way.

To actually run your session, you want to use mmhmm as your primary tool. Think of Zoom primarily as the delivery mechanism (which to be honest, is what it’s best at).

You’ll also see that the mmhmm presenter view is way better than Google Slides and a fair bit better than Keynote too. It’s easy to see what’s coming next, and you have all the rooms and presenter effects at your fingertips.

Get comfortable running through your deck with the Zoom screen share switched on - it’ll feel a bit weird to start with, but after a while it should begin to feel pretty comfortable.

To do this for real with your group, just follow the same steps! That's all there is to it.

My Desktop when running a live session: Zoom attendee view, chat pop out + mmhmm



5. Additional tips

Here are a few other quick tips that helped bring this particular session to life.

  • In Zoom, display the chat in the main window, then choose ‘Pop Out’ under the arrow at the top left of the chat area. This will (surprise) pop out the chat. Drop it next to your mmhmm screen so you can keep up (we had 300+ attendees so the chat was busy!
  • When you want to focus on a particular point, or even hide something that’s come up too early - make yourself big! Scale yourself up and stick yourself in the center using the anchor tool. This is a good way of covering up mistakes in the slides too :)
  • When you’re done presenting material (e.g. you’re entering a Q&A section), stop sharing your screen, or at the very least turn your slides off. It can be distracting to have all the whizzy mmhmm stuff going on.
  • If you’re unsure of your positioning or layout, take a quick look at the attendee view as mentioned in Step 4
  • If in doubt, keep it simple. It’s really easy to get excited by all the potential of new tools, but the last thing you want to do is lose people or turn them off with too many bells and whistles. It’s best to use the software as a tool, not let it run the show and box you in.


In Summary

Mmhmm is a really cool piece of kit. There are a few limitations (limited slide interactions, and it can be tricky to keep on top of rooms, presenter setup and slides all at once), but it’s a wonderful tool to use to elevate a live session.

There’s plenty here we haven’t covered, and plenty in their roadmap too - likely we’ll have a part 2 to this guide coming soon ;)

In the meantime, we’d be very curious to see what you create. Get in touch - we’d love to hear from you!