Amping Up Your Sync Session with a Guest Presenter

by Dolly Lemke

[This post was originally titled “Amping up Your Blue Jeans Session with a Guest Presenter.” As of June 15, 2020, Blue Jeans is no longer a supported web conferencing platform at Northwestern University.]

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on Active Learning Strategies for the Online Classroom. This week, I’m continuing that discussion by focusing on how to make sync session presentations more active and authentic. One way to accomplish this is to invite a guest presenter from your vast and ever-growing network of awesome professionals, alumni, and friends.

Benefits to Students

There are several ways students benefit from a guest presenter. In addition to your expertise, a guest presenter can share additional or varied industry knowledge and insight. They can help feed that growing spark of excitement your students feel about their professional future. You get to show them a real life, passionate professional working in the field they want to work in.

A guest presenter sync session is a great opportunity for professional networking or mentoring, as it gives students direct access to a professional. A guest presenter is also simply a change of pace: a new voice and face keeps students excited and interested.

Now that you’re thinking about how fantastic and invaluable you and your network are, who would you invite? What would you have them talk about? How do you go about getting all this done? Just like the course development process, planning ahead is the best way to ensure this is a successful learning experience. Let’s walk through some of the big things to consider.

Contacting a Guest Presenter

Who to contact?

That’s up to you as the instructor. Do you have an industry friend doing something really cool and innovative? Do you know alumni working in the industry who want to share first-hand career knowledge and advice? Is there an expert you’ve been meaning to connect with? What about a fellow SPS faculty member? When opening up your online classroom to new voices, these are all great options!

How much prep time?

You’ll want to prepare the guest and the students, so plan out as much preparation time you think would be appropriate. Planning about 6-8 weeks out is a good range. That leaves time for phone calls, emails, and follow ups with the guest to make sure everyone is on the same page. This also leaves time to develop and share any pre-work for the students, as well as testing and setting up the technology. Make sure the guest prepares enough content and leaves plenty of room for questions at the end.

Motivate Students to Participate

The best way to get students to participate is to make sure they understand what topics will be discussed and why it’s important to the class. Below are some ideas on how to prepare (yourself, your presenter, and your students!).


Create an agenda and try to stick with it. Share the agenda and presenter biography, website, or publications ahead of time so the extra interested students can do some prepping on their own time. You could aldo include a topic teaser of the guest presentation in your agenda.


Remind students why this is an essential part of the course by keeping the focus on outcomes. Post a reminder of what learning objectives the presentation content will help students achieve. Make the alignment among the objectives, materials, and assessments visible so students can easily make connections and actively participate.


Assign videos, readings, or activities that add important context ahead of time so precious time is not wasted during the presentation. You only have this fantastic guest for so long!

Students will likely be more prepared to discuss and ask questions if they have time to get familiar with the topic or revisit materials assigned in the course. Provide guiding questions or ask students to submit 2-3 questions ahead of time that they want to ask during the presentation.

Make it Interactive!

Live Polling

Guest presentations can easily become a passive experience for students. To make it more active, use a live polling tool, such as Poll Everywhere to make sure students are engaged and understand the material. BlueJeans does not have polling built in, but Poll Everywhere can be integrated into Google Slides and PowerPoint, or students can submit poll answers via the web or text message.

Many of the Distance Learning team members have used this tool during conference presentations, and it works really well! Poll Everywhere offers several question types. Check out this example of Engaging 100 Radiology Students with Innovative Polling for more ideas.

Chat Feature

Another way to make the presentation more interactive is to encourage students to use the BlueJeans chat feature to post comments and questions. Either you can monitor the chat or assign one of the students. You can use polling or the chat feature to conduct a pause procedure activity asking students to reflect or check their knowledge.

Do you have a different favorite polling or chat tool? Let us know about it!

Troubleshooting Tips

  • Create a Plan B: You never know what kind of technical difficulty, illness, or other issues might come up. When you send the invitation, be sure to include numbers for BlueJeans Support and NUIT support.
  • Test the Technology: Plan a dry run with the guest to make sure they know how to use the technology and that the length is just right.
  • Join Early: Allow everyone to join early so they can test their audio and video. Encourage audio and video to be turned off if not needed to avoid bandwidth and background noise issues
  • Hit Record: Then you can share the recording with those who could not make it or if students want to revisit portions of the presentation later.


Thank the Presenter

Send a thank you to the guest to let them know how much you and the students appreciate them taking the time to share their expertise. Ask if you can also share the presenter’s contact information with students so they can connect later.

Make Connections for Students

Send an announcement with a link to the recording when it’s ready for students who could not attend. Create additional learning opportunities after the presentation, such as reflecting on or providing feedback on the experience, or have the students complete a survey on what they liked/didn’t like or what they learned/wish they learned more about.


How have you used guest presentations in your online classroom? We’d love to hear about your experience! But if you have not used this active learning strategy before and you want to learn more about it, contact Distance Learning.

Additional Resources


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