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Holding Online Meetings - Technical Considerations

Graphic showing a network of people on laptops and smart phones

Family obligations, health concerns, commuting time, inclement weather...these are all reasons that you may want to offer online meetings, faith development courses, small group ministry, or other creative ways of helping to keep your community connected.

Online Meeting and Webinar Platforms

Meeting and Webinar services have improved greatly since the late 2000s when they first became available. Here are a few options and their qualities:

  • Zoom is one of the most popular services, used by the UUA, UUMA and other affiliates. 
    • You can join using computer or any mobile device
    • You can call in on a regular phone (long distance charges apply)
    • There is a Free version that has many features, but limits you to 40 minute meetings. Pro versions start at $15/month.
    • 300 participants, with the ability to see up to 49 videos on the screen.
    • Robust host controls, chat function, breakout rooms, whiteboarding, screen sharing (including audio/video), hand-raising
    • You can record meetings
    • Can also be used to Stream Sunday Services
  • Skype is owned by Microsoft. There does not seem to be a business version available
    • Free
    • 50 participants
    • Screen sharing, messaging
    • Instant subtitles (closed captioning)
    • Call recording

Depending on the size of your meeting, you have lots of options. The UUA uses ZoomSkype, and Google Hangouts for online meetings. Some services provide toll-free numbers for the audio, some provide regular phone numbers, and some use the Internet for audio.

  • GoToMeeting This is a platform that many business use because of the capacity (up to 3000 participants) and extra features. There are only paid versions.

Equipment Needed

  • Everyone needs a device, which can be a desktop, laptop, tablet, or even smartphone. They also need a high-speed Internet connection (wired or Wi-Fi) or at least a 4G Cellular service..
  • People who want to be seen on camera need a webcam. Tablets and smart phones include cameras, as do most laptops. USB cameras can be added to older computers.
  • People speaking need a headset with a microphone. Webcams and most laptops have a built-in microphone, but the sound will be better, and you’ll avoid feedback and room noise, by using a headset or ear buds that include both a microphone and headphones. 
  • Video Conference Rooms or other spaces where you hold in-person meetings work well with a flat screen television, computer and conference cam.

Planning for an Online Meeting or Webinar

  1. Sign Up for a Service: Choose an online meeting or videoconferencing service. Sign up a few weeks ahead so you have to time to try everything out. Some services provide a free trial.
  2. Test Everything:  Get your computers, webcams, and headsets together and try a dry run. Invite a few friends or colleagues to be your audience. Frequently, you’ll find out that you need to download presenter software, or update the software you downloaded earlier. It’s also important to get your hardware (and the hardware of all presenters) working with the service you are using. Also, get familiar with the controls for muting and unmuting people, sharing and unsharing the screen, and other features you plan to use.
  3. Send Invitations: Invite your participants. Some services allow you to schedule a meeting and send invitations with links. For others, you’ll need to craft an email with links or instructions.Some services require your participants to download an app, so warn them to allow time to do so before the meeting or webinar starts. Be sure to specify the time zone when you indicate the time; people may be hours ahead of or behind you.
  4. Get Ready: Well before the meeting or webinar starts, do one more sound and video check with your presenters and helpers. Close other programs on your computer so notifications don’t pop up during the meeting to distract you. Make sure you have your presentation or other visuals ready. If you’ll be on video, check the lighting. Webcams are completely unforgiving about too much or too little light. Get close enough to the webcam that your face takes up most of the vertical space in the window, and point a light at your face if needed. Put something dark and neutral behind you and put your computer and webcam on a steady surface directly in front of you.
  5. Start the Meeting: Start recording, if you want to record. (You can always edit smalltalk from the beginning of the video.) If people are new to the platform, do a mini-tutorial about how to use the chat box, etc. Be sure to introduce all speakers and stick to the agenda. Have an assistant mute folks who aren't speaking and monitor the chat box in case people are having trouble hearing or want to ask questions. 
  6. Following Up: After the meeting or webinar, send out a thank-you email and include minutes, handouts, or copies of presentations. Sending an evaluation will help you with constructive feedback.