Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Royal City Quilters’ Guild has reported on their experiences with virtual meetings. Lately, they have progressed to hybrid meetings, with the goal of ensuring a pleasurable experience for both in-person and virtual members.
Our Experience in Guelph, Ontario
In April 2020, Royal City Quilters’ Guild was an early adopter of the virtual meeting format. (See the Autumn 2020 issue of Canadian Quilter for details.) Our move to Zoom allowed us to book well-known presenters from all over North America. The exposure from this attracted new members from across the country. When in-person gatherings became possible again, we were determined to find a way to meet the needs of both our long-time members and our virtual members. This CQA blog article details the issues we considered.
For 2022-2023, we chose to move to a hybrid format which we define as:
A meeting or event that simultaneously streams a “live” in-person event to an “online” audience via Zoom. The “live” and “online” formats are integrated to provide a satisfying experience to both audiences.
For the in-person component of our hybrid meetings, we rent a space with professional quality equipment and hire a technician to manage the technical aspects of the meeting in the hall. A few of our more technically proficient members support virtual attendees and manage miscellaneous tasks on Zoom.
In August 2022, we had a technical rehearsal to test various ideas for running our monthly meetings. Some of the questions we wanted to answer during the technical rehearsal included:
- How to set up the physical space to avoid traffic in front of the camera?
- How many microphones are needed and where should they be placed?
- Where should the quilt holders stand?
- Which seats need to be reserved so virtual attendees get an unobstructed view of quilts instead of the backs of heads?
- What is the best way to display the quilts so in-person attendees can take a closer look during break?
- How to keep the virtual attendees engaged during break?
- How to integrate remote participants to make announcements or short presentations?
- When to use the “pin” and “spotlight” features on Zoom?
- How will the camera operator (a non-quilter) know what to focus on and what to ignore during the trunk shows?
- Can Zoom’s Gallery View be utilized to make in-person attendees more aware of the virtual attendees who are also at the meeting?
- How to communicate to each other, and to our technical support, the transitions required between in-person and virtual attendees, so these are as smooth as possible?
We’ve now had three monthly hybrid meetings with an in-person presenter and attendees, streamed live via Zoom to virtual attendees. We will be doing virtual meetings during the dark, unpredictable weather months of December, January and February and then back to hybrid to finish out the year.
In our hybrid format, presenters offer a trunk show in-person with in-person attendees. The studio-quality cameras allow virtual attendees to clearly see the work on display, provided they have high-quality Internet connectivity. The virtual audience is integrated using a digital projector and screen to bring remote attendees into the hall to make announcements, ask questions, and participate in Show and Share. That equipment also lets presenters augment their trunk shows with PowerPoint.
The impact of virtual attendees on the in-person experience is minimal. A few seats in the hall remain empty to give the camera unobstructed shots of the quilts. In-person attendees need to use a microphone to ask questions so virtual attendees can hear them.
Our model is a work in progress. Meeting organizers work within tight time limits to avoid cost overruns. If the presenter runs long, Guild business may need to be curtailed. A shorter break means less time to view the quilts in the hall.
Feedback from virtual attendees has been uniformly positive.
The Guild meeting is an amazing production! Love the closeups and I don’t think that anyone who was there in person could’ve had a better experience. Congrats! The new venue looks great.
I meant to email after the last meeting to tell you how spectacularly well you all did with blending zoom and in person participants. WELL DONE! Although I’ve never been to an RCQG meeting in person, I feel welcome and included. Thank you…you guys absolutely ROCK.
The comment about the member feeling welcome and included was especially gratifying. In designing our hybrid meetings, we’ve worked diligently to ensure both in-person and virtual audiences feel they are treated as an important part of our membership. Some of the things we have done to convey the importance of each group include:
- Recruitment of several members from further away to serve in leadership roles within RCQG.
- Some members of the Guild Executive join the virtual audience each month while others attend in-person.
- The in-person venue doors open early to give everyone an opportunity to socialize. The same is true for our virtual doors so attendees have time to resolve any technical issues that might arise and to socialize before the meeting.
- Virtual attendees see what the in-person attendees see. Our camera operator focuses on the quilts, in real time, so that all attendees can see anything the presenter cares to point out or highlight.
- Questions from the audience alternate between our virtual attendees and our in-person attendees.
- Show and Share has two parts: a slide show of work by those who submit photos in advance and a traditional in-person show of member’s quilts.
What next? Like other guilds, RCQG is grappling with the increased costs of in-person meetings. Facility rental, speaker travel, and technical support make hybrid meetings considerably more expensive than virtual meetings. We are looking at a variety of modifications to our current model, including increasing revenue and containing costs, so that we can balance our budget. RCQG is determined to address the needs of all our members, in-person and virtual, while delivering high quality programming.
Visit us online at royalcityquiltersguild.ca to watch our evolution. And, of course, we welcome anyone interested in joining us on this journey!