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A few tweaks can improve remote meetings

Last spring, the Pacific Northwest Conference purchased a video camera and laptop used at the 2012 Annual Meeting and to be used again this year to communicate with those present and who cannot come through blogging, live streaming video and live feeds.

JOhn Eisenhauer

John Eisenhauer used PNC’s new video camera at the 2012 Annual Meeting where it was to live stream the program.

“We don’t yet have mechanisms in place to use the equipment as we would like to use it for video conference and live streaming other events,” said Jim CastroLang, pastor at First Congregational UCC in Colville and a volunteer assisting with PNC technological communication.

He, John Eisenhauer of Eagle Harbor in Bainbridge Island and others covered the 2012 Annual Meeting with the equipment.

“Effective use of PNC’s equipment to involve people in remote sites requires more staff and planning,” CastroLang said.

PNC committees now use a combination of Skype, Go-to-Meeting and conference calls to include people unable to be at meetings. The quality of those connections varies with the quality of internet connections.
Video quality on Skype can range from clear to blurry.

Jim CastroLang

Jim CastroLang checks the stream on the laptop.

“We need people trained to share using these technologies and to facilitate meetings with some in a room and some remote,” CastroLang said.

He said if people participating in committee meetings on conference calls sit quietly and listen, no one knows they are there, CastroLang said, because no one sees them.

“We are in the midst of cultural transition in using this technology,” he said. “Some day, video conferencing will work as well as if people are in the same room.”

CastroLang said the national UCC purchased video-conferencing equipment to connect people at the Justice and Witness Ministries Office in Washington, D.C., at Franklin Center and at the national office in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Its sophisticated video camera senses motion and voice, and moves to focus it,” he said, adding that staff need to know how to operate it.

“Most businesses use Go-to-Meeting software and train users in different sites,” he explained. “Still, 90 percent of communication is one-way, with a leader presenting in a lecture style. It works best if those watching turn their mikes on and off, when they are speaking or not.”

CastroLang participates in a Tuesday lectionary study of an Ohio Disciples minister who has college or seminary professors share biblical expertise.

“When we want to talk, we use the chat function and write in our comments or questions,” he said. “The software lets there be 16 on the video.”

He explained that there’s need for a cultural shift, because people do not act the same as they would if everyone was in the same room.

With most people in one room and the rest elsewhere, there may be issues of inclusion and exclusion, he pointed out.

He offers suggestions to help committees improve their experience at meetings where some people connect remotely:

• In using a speaker phone, it’s important for those who are not talking to mute their microphones, so extraneous noises—washing dishes, a dog barking, someone talking in the background—do not interrupt and distort the sound.

• Distortion can also be prevented by those connecting remotely using headphones.
• A good internet connection also makes a difference.

• To improve the quality of video, the camera or computer with a video needs to be placed so people are in good lighting with no back lighting or people’s faces are not clear.

• Those connecting remotely should sit two to three feet back from the computer video to give some space for background content and depth.

• Wide-angle lenses can be added to the computer’s video lens, plugged in to the USB connection, so everyone at a meeting is visible.

“Many little things add up to build a better experience for meeting-goers,” CastroLang explained. “Every year improvements in technology make it easier.”

Limited staff and turnover on committees make it hard to implement the full communication plan, he explained.

For information, call 509-998-7203.


Copyright © April-May 2013 Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News


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