Launching Hybrid Events at Rocktown History

This week has been crazy. There are always ebbs and flows driven by deadlines (programming, holidays, tax schedules) and social patterns (tourist season). Add in the unexpected, and you feel out of control.

During the pandemic, we successfully launched a series of webinars. The response was fantastic, with double or triple the average attendance of in-person events. Reaching members across the country was a huge boost in our service to them.

However, there was also a need for in-person programming to continue. People were eager to gather once COVID restrictions were loosened. How to serve both virtual and physical needs for education and enjoyment?

The solution was a hybrid event. But during lockdown, hybrid programs developed a sketchy reputation. Just contemplating the technology was daunting. Fortunately, Rocktown History’s special event with Carole Nash at the (not) Thomas Harrison House in Harrisonburg provided insights.

Appeal Production offered a sponsorship to set up and livestream Carole’s in-person talk. The technical setup was still daunting, but I learned enough to understand how we could replicate the production.

A key to that understanding was running a parallel slide show on the webinar-connected computer and manually advancing slides as the speaker moves forward with his presentation on a computer connected to the in-person projector. The beauty of the solution is that a Zoom webinar creates a much better recording than our previous efforts simply using a camera.

After that, the Trustees indicated that future programs should be hybrid. Great! On the other hand, great. What do we need for that? Of course, the solution came down to the deadline. With Appeal’s help once again and a Sunday run to Costco by our IT guy David while I was attending a conference, hours of my time upon my return spent on testing, and the humor of the staff and volunteers I pulled in as presenter stand-ins, it all worked the day before showtime. Incredible!

During the testing, I realized the need for a timeline of the events needed for the run-of-show choreography. Turn on numerous switches, mic up the presenter, welcome and coach in the in-person “studio audience,” start the camera recording (forgot), open the webinar to registrants on the title slide WITHOUT FORGETTING TO RECORD, switch to camera feed, read the housekeeping notes and introduce the speaker, and then switch between slides and camera (keeping an eye on phone for virtual comments/questions), until it was time to reverse the process at the end. Whew!

About two hours before TTT time, I sat down to go through the plan. AND SOMETHING WAS WRONG. The laptop had two screens, and I couldn’t set the webinar to view the primary screen. After about 45 minutes of problem-solving, I texted David. He was able to remotely fix the problem (a display setting somewhere), and all was set as the presenter walked in the room. Some people are miracle workers.