Should we, and can we, offer that format to our members?
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Royal City Quilters’ Guild (RCQG) in Guelph, Ontario, promptly moved to a virtual format. Read about our experience in the Autumn 2020 issue of Canadian Quilter magazine.
RCQG thrived in the virtual environment, but adapting to our new normal is more challenging. We plan to offer virtual meetings every January and February, when Canadian weather frequently causes cancellations. But, what about the other months? How can we go back to in-person meetings without excluding members who will not or should not attend in-person meetings? We realize our membership includes those who live far away, people caring for/living with vulnerable persons, people who are mobility impaired, those who no longer drive at night, and those with other concerns.
We opted 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.
There are numerous ways a guild can implement hybrid meetings. We anticipate having a live speaker with a live audience at our meeting venue. We may occasionally need to bring a remote speaker to an in-person meeting. Members may choose to attend a hybrid meeting in the manner they prefer – in-person or via Zoom.
Bringing our vision of hybrid meetings to members requires us to address five key challenges: connectivity, integration, video, lighting, and audio. These challenges are in addition to the usual considerations for in-person meetings including room size, availability, adequate parking, and so forth.
Below, I outline considerations for guilds to make while making plans to upgrade an existing venue, or select a new one. If your guild is considering implementing hybrid meetings, realize that I am describing an ideal. Your goal will likely be to find a venue that is satisfactory, if not quite ideal.
A reliable Internet connection is essential to a hybrid meeting. High-quality broadband service is critical. Arrange to make a wired connection to the venue router or network for the most reliable connection. Long Ethernet cables are reasonably priced.
We intend for any attendee, whether in-person or virtual, to be able to fully participate in the meeting by asking questions, participating in Show and Share, or registering their preferences in a simple show of hands. We want both in-person and virtual audiences to have a satisfying experience when they attend a hybrid meeting. To us, that means the language we use during meetings needs to include both in-person and remote attendees. Someone at the in-person meeting will need to monitor the virtual chat to make sure anyone at the podium knows when a virtual attendee has something to say.
Our virtual attendees should feel they have a front row seat. Yet, we also want to insure our in-person attendees have unobstructed views of speakers and their trunk shows. The equipment we use to stream our meetings cannot interfere with the enjoyment of the in-person experience.
We believe it is important to integrate virtual members into Guild leadership, so their views, needs, and challenges can be heard and understood. We asked the Nominating Committee to recruit, where appropriate, virtual members for positions on the Executive. This requires the Executive to meet via Zoom, but our team was happy to make that commitment.
RCQG needs a minimum of two cameras to stream the in-person events to our virtual attendees. We also require a multimedia projector, screen, and sound system to bring our virtual attendees into the venue. Most smart phones and tablets have Zoom-ready cameras and capabilities. Attaching a small, inexpensive tabletop tripod to a mobile device will display the person at the podium to virtual attendees.
Many digital cameras and camcorders are equipped with adequate features to showcase quilts. If you are considering hybrid meetings for your guild, choose the features you need for your venue and your style of meeting. You may mount your new purchase on a tripod in front of the stage or platform.
At RCQG, we determined that we wanted our in-person attendees to be able to see our virtual attendees. To accomplish that, we plan to use a multimedia projector and screen to show a gallery view of the virtual audience during specific parts of the meeting. Some guest speakers require the same equipment for their presentations.
Numerous churches and faith-based organizations in our community started streaming their services during the pandemic. They have cameras mounted to ceilings and/or balconies that can be controlled remotely. These cameras provide views of different areas of the platform and can be zoomed in for a closer look at a speaker or a quilt. Most of these organizations use multimedia projectors and screens in their worship services.
The better the lighting in a venue, the better the quality of the meeting stream. Look for a venue that has adequate lighting in place. Lighting can take several forms. Spotlights provide illumination to a particular object or space, while floodlights illuminate a wider area. Some venues with stages offer a lighting grid that can illuminate multiple locations on the stage.
If your venue offers inadequate lighting, look for a camera that performs well in a low-light situation. You might also consider using ring lights and studio lights to improve the lighting. Be aware, however, that lights and their tripods may cause unacceptable obstructions for your in-person audience.
The audio system is another important component for a satisfying hybrid meeting. The in-house audio system needs to tie into the livestream computer, so remote attendees can hear what is happening during the meeting. In a similar manner, you may also want to be able to feed the audio from the virtual attendees to the audio system in the venue, so in-person attendees can hear the remote attendee’s questions and comments.
Moving to hybrid meetings poses a few challenges, but the Executive for Royal City Quilters’ Guild believes our members deserve nothing less.
Rebecca Fiedler is the incoming President of the Royal City Quilters’ Guild in Guelph, ON. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.