A version of this blog was originally posted on Sarah’s personal blog, link below.
At a recent Aurora event, I hosted a Zoom Pro meeting for 150 participants. This virtual session aimed to provide an alternative event to delegates who would have normally attended a face to face event. This face to face event is designed to be a mix of delivered content, small group conversations, and self-reflection. Therefore, it was important for this online version to retain as much of the small group conversations and allow for engagement with the facilitator with questions and answers as the day went on.
This advice is intended for those that are supporting the facilitator/presenter on their event but also for the facilitator/presenter. So they are aware of the challenges involved when managing a large interactive group online.
Please note that Zoom Pro has different functions to Zoom Webinar. Which is designed for a large scale audience and to be less interactive.
- Check your license in Advance Settings.
- Install the Zoom App on your computer.
- Do not use an iPad. As the functionality is different. That might be adequate for small meetings.
2. Tweak the default settings within the App
- In Video I recommend that it is set to automatically turn off when joining a meeting.
- In Screenshare I recommend turning off the maximising of the screenshare when a participant shares their screen. As a Host, that can change your view. And when you are trying to manage a large number of people, quite distracting.
3. Timings and schedule of the meeting - For an interactive session, when people are working from home. I recommend no longer than half a day and to include a break in the middle of that.
4. Adjust the settings
- Enable password protection
- Enable Telephone and Computer Audio. This will always default and include a USA number. Select the additional countries as appropriate.
- Disable Join before Host.
- Enable Waiting Room function. Only allow Host & Co-Hosts to allow entry. This is managed manually. Individuals can be allowed in one at a time. Or in bulk. Ideal if you want to allow your direct team in before the participants.
5. Appoint Co-Hosts - If your internet connection drops one of them will default to become Host.
- They can assist with troubleshooting and responding to messages in Chat.
- They can also turn off people’s videos as they enter the room. It is important to do this quickly. As not to detract from the facilitator/presenter.
- If you are the Host, appoint the facilitator as a Co-Host as they will need to see some of the additional screens that the Host does as well.
- If you are the main facilitator, you will need additional support to manage such a large group of people and to allow you to focus on delivery.
- Have your co-hosts contactable via another method, such as WhatsApp. If your internet drops you might need to scramble who is managing what. And also to get the new Host to let you back into the meeting. As they will now have taken control.
6. Use Interactive Tools - Before the session begins introduce the participants to these tools and explain how they will be managed.
- Breakout Rooms. Participants can be allocated randomly or to a predefined group away from the main room. I recommend you allow it to be random. As you won’t be sure 100% all those invited have logged in. For a smaller group, this is much easier to manage. If the same groups are required to meet again later on in the session. You can allocate people to the same group they were in before. In breakouts, participants will have to turn their microphone and video back on. When they re-join the main room, they will need to turn those off again.
- Raise a Hand. This is a good tool for the facilitator to use to check-in with the group and for quick votes.
- Polling. Simple multiple-choice polls can be created in advance.
7. Communication to participants
- If they have not used the platform before. Ask them to download the App in Advance and provide them the direct link.
- Recommend using a laptop. iPads do also work but the Chat Box appears in the middle of the screen and can’t be positioned to the side.
- Attach a copy of the slide deck.
- Attach a copy of the schedule of topics and breaks.
- Request that they turn off their videos and keep microphone to mute. As Host, you will be able to control the mute for all. But when setting up you might need to be talking to facilitators as people come into the room. And once the event has started you can’t leave it as All Muted.
- Explain how Breakout Rooms will be managed.
- Set a date for when the recorded version of the event will be available.
- For on the day, instruct participants to login five to ten minutes before.
- Include some basic troubleshooting advice and what to do if scenarios. For example, if their connection repeatedly drops out. Recommend they dial in and refer to the side deck.
Another of the facilitators at the event was Jenny Garrett and she parted with these pearls of wisdom from the experience:
1. Keep the Energy Up - Rather than sitting at my desk, I stood up and visualised myself on stage with the audience in front of me. It helped me to keep the energy up and project my voice. I also kept my video on most of the time.
2. Don't do it Alone - The Advance HE team and in particular Sarah McSorley were fantastic support, organising breakout rooms, and responding to the queries in the chat. Large scale, needs a team.
3. Don't get distracted - Usually when you are in front of an audience, they listen intently and save the questions to the end. With online delivery they can send messages and insights throughout, at one point this was very distracting (Imagine an audience of 120 people all talking to you at the same time) I would close the chat box until you want to see it.
Whilst not the 100% ideal solution, I would recommend using Zoom if you had to host an online meeting for a large group of people. My main bugbear with it was I couldn’t stop participants turning their video back on (which would then appear by the presenter’s) and that after a breakout room session, participants would come back into the main room with their microphones still on.
Sarah McSorley is a Visual Communications Consultant and Programmes and Events Executive at Advance HE.
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