Best practices for conference/webinar-style Zoom meetings?
October 20, 2020 7:54 AM   Subscribe

What is your advice for setting up meetings in Zoom that are more like panel discussions rather than open meetings, but not large enough to require a Zoom Webinar?

I'm a librarian at a university with Zoom, and the library is planning some events that are too small for Zoom's webinar service (Zoom recommends using webinars for more than 300 people), but that are not necessarily designed as open discussions (Zoom offers Meetings for discussions such as classes and Webinars for larger online events).

We're planning some panel session-type events, with three speakers, plus a moderator, which could have as many as 50-75 attendees. We'll have someone provide introductions, speaker talks, and the audience will submit questions via chat for panelists to answer at the end (or maybe we could just unmute everyone for live questions?). All attendees will be from our own institution, which should help to prevent Zoom-bombing (events will have passcodes that will be supplied automatically for people at our institution).

I'm wondering whether it's worth it to try to set up the Zoom meeting to work like a webinar, with a limited group of co-hosts who are given screen-sharing privileges in the meeting settings.

It seems like this could be done by designating some speakers as Alternative Hosts, which will give them co-hosting privileges, and then setting meeting sharing as "Host only" (as this guide from USCB recommends).

On the other hand, Zoom doesn't provide great documentation for this use-case, and I worry that trying to configure things in this way could lead to unforeseen glitches. So, maybe it would be better just to hold a regular Zoom meeting and appoint someone to mute people if necessary.

I'm pretty sure I'm overthinking this, but I'd like to avoid major technical problems in the midst of these events, and so I'd welcome any advice on setting up Zoom meetings for panel-type sessions with around 50 or so participants. What would you recommend, and/or what has worked or not worked for you?
posted by washburn to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've run large webinars on various platforms and currently am in Zoom hell running martial arts classes using meetings.

I've found with Meetings it works best to have a dedicated producer who controls the spotlight on the screen, and also controls who is muted and unmuted.

You can certainly limit your screen sharing to co-hosts, but I would want someone who is not one of your speakers to control what everyone is seeing for a number of reasons, plus being available to deal with the scrolling chat window.

DO NOT UNMUTE EVERYONE at question period unless it's a very controlled environment, because it's not just people talking that will switch the audio around - dogs barking, children entering, etc. will have an impact. The best practice I've seen is to take questions in the chat, call on the first person and let the next person know they will be next -- "And now I'll go to a question from John Smith, and Gloria Fitzgerald, yours will be next in the queue" -- so that everyone is ready to go when you switch the spotlight over to the questioner.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:22 AM on October 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

maybe we could just unmute everyone for live questions?

I recommend having questions submitted via private message and a moderator who either reads the questions or says something like "We have a question from Firstname Lastname; go ahead and unmute yourself and ask your question". But as between those two approaches I find that having the moderator read the questions works better. It avoids the time lost waiting for the asker to unmute, and presumably the moderator will have a good A/V setup and clear delivery.

Letting people ask their own questions means a wide range of microphone quality, background noise, speaking clarity, and general ability to get to the point without meandering. It also means that they may not remember to re-mute themselves, which creates distractions and more work for the moderator.

There are some representation and engagement reasons to let people ask their own questions, but honestly I'm not sure the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
posted by jedicus at 8:35 AM on October 20, 2020 [6 favorites]

The way you're proposing (multiple co-hosts with screen sharing limited to hosts) is how we do our large webinars and it works pretty well.

You definitely want to have at least one person who isn't a presenter acting in the moderator/air traffic controller role. If the presenters are trying to monitor the chat window, turn off people's video sharing*, etc. it will divide their attention in a way that's clearly perceptible to the audience. I agree that it's better to have the moderator relay questions rather than unmuting people.

A minor tip: it can be helpful to have each presenter update their display name to add "PRESENTER" at the end; same for the moderator. This makes it clear to the audience who they should be submitting questions to.

*Regarding video sharing: even if you set your meeting options to "participants are muted with video off when they join", there's no way to prevent people from sharing their video. (I asked Zoom about this directly and was told that this is working as designed.) In the early part of the meeting, the moderator may need to stay on top of this and stop participants from sharing video if you want only the presenters to be visible.
posted by Lexica at 9:30 AM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been a part of a bunch of these since March, both as a presenter and as an audience member.

The solution that seems to work best is to have on the presenters and moderator on camera or on mic, and to have audience questions submitted as text to the moderator. There are very few advantages to having audience members on camera, and as others have pointed out above, it can cause many many problems that make things more exhausting and less pleasant for everyone involved.

Several events I've participated in have been organized such that only the moderator, panelists, and support staff are on Zoom (with cameras off for support staff) and then the video is streamed to another service where folks can watch it.

If you want to explore tools that are a bit better set up for pubic-facing events, I'd look into Crowdcast.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:12 AM on October 20, 2020

I regularly use Zoom's Webinar feature for sessions exactly like this, with 25-75 participants. It's a lot easier to do than having someone have to constantly mute people. Only panelists and moderators appear onscreen, you can enable a Q&A function and also monitor the chat (though some of the ones I've attended disable attendee chat to sort of force people over into the moderated Q&A function).

Honestly, with the Webinar feature being $40/month for up to 100 participants, I would just use that. It's a lot easier than trying to force Meetings to do what Webinar already does.
posted by bedhead at 11:24 AM on October 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Meetings suck and online meetings prove it.

Recommendations to improve EVERY meeting

1. Agenda topics are set and circulated before the meeting.
2. Participants need to list which topic they are going to speak on. If they are not speaking on any topic - why are they at the meeting? Can they just get the minutes? Or be viewer only, ie. muted for the entire meeting. Or record the meeting (especially useful with different time zones)
3. Time is allotted to each speaker. Same amount to EVERY speaker - whether that is 5 or ten minutes - no more than ten minutes and you DON'T have to use up all the time
4. NO INTERRUPTIONS to the speakers. Questions at the end of EACH TOPIC or if there are multiple speakers - after THREE or FOUR speakers. If the answer is more than "yes"/"no" - it becomes an agenda item.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 3:30 PM on October 20, 2020

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