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Remote Meetings and Talks During Coronavirus

The more typical surroundings for Stretton on Dunsmore History Group's meetings.
Image courtesy of Benjamin Earl

I’m secretary to Stretton on Dunsmore History Society. We had a meeting booked for March 17th so when lockdown happened, I rushed round sticking ‘CANCELLED’ signs on all the posters in our village and put an apologetic note on the hall door. We cancelled our meeting in April, the AGM in June and outings in May and July. I did produce and distribute our society’s annual ‘Chronicle’ in May with a record of the previous year and a request for photos of the effect of the pandemic.

We had hoped to restart meetings in the village hall in September, once the village hall re-opened, with a Zoom option for those not willing to come in person. However, the rules for using the hall are fierce, and numbers restricted to 20, so we decided to try a purely Zoom meeting instead.

Discussing options

Our committee discussed various options by e-mail and consulted our autumn speakers. Zoom seemed the best option because I’ve not found Microsoft Teams user friendly and I have a paid Zoom account, used for various purposes, so can host a meeting for as long as needed. The disadvantages of a Zoom meeting are obvious: it excludes those without digital access or the confidence to try Zoom, though I did offer to help anyone set it up if needed. Also, there is no social meeting over drinks and biscuits at the end of the talk. The advantages are that it enables people to hear the speaker, and to feel part of the local society again. We intend to continue delivering talks by Zoom for the next few meetings, and hope to get more than the 15 who joined us in September.

From a speaker’s perspective

I give talks myself, and delivered a short presentation via Zoom to a research group in June, and once I worked out how to share my PowerPoint slides with the other participants it went well. This gave me the confidence to offer my talks to larger groups and I did the first of these recently to a history group in Cropredy. Some people were in their village hall, and they could see me and my slides on a large screen – others were at home. There were initial problems with the host at their end, but then it worked well, though I found it difficult to judge how things were going without feedback from the audience, who were muted during the talk. I did ask for questions at the end, but only got one – less than normal.

If you are going to try Zoom meetings here are some thoughts:

  • Find someone with a paid Zoom account to host it
  • Have a practice with the speaker beforehand
  • Allow multiple people to share screens
  • Explain to the audience briefly how things work at the start (and ask them to mute till the end of the talk)
  • Questions can be asked either in person or using the ‘chat’ function.

Comments about this page

  • Yardley Gobion History Group like many others such groups has now had to adapt to using virtual methods of holding meetings. For the first few months – we did very little, but like Stretton on Dunsmore, we hoped to be able to recommence face to face meetings in our village hall. The hall did reopen, but with very strict rules and regulations, so much so our Group felt that we could not ask our members and friends to sit in a hall with open windows and doors, no curtains and no tea and biscuits. Several members encouraged me to try hold virtual meetings which we have now done. These have provided a virtual meeting, which have generally been well received by not only our members, but by friends and residents that have moved away from our village. We haven’t yet had our usual type of speaker led talk, but much more of a fireside chat about some wonderful old photos, and some that are ‘not so old’. This week we will hold our AGM, after which I have permission to screen a programme that ITV made of our village in 1993. Yes, some of our older members have struggled to join us in this way, but we have had so many younger residents join us and have become fascinated by the stories and photos that some of our older members can still remember. I would urge anyone thinking about doing this for their group or society to embrace the concept of virtual meetings in these rather difficult times. I wish you all well.

    By Rob Westlake (02/11/2020)
  • Wadhurst History Society has not tried this (as yet) most of our members are 80+ and many don’t even have email addresses, so we have a problem. No halls are available for any meetings at the moment. With 130 members I guess it would be virtually impossible for a zoom anyway???? Your thoughts please on this . We have bi monthly sent our members a Covid Letter with what the committee are doing and we have brought out one Newsletter with another to follow next month. Plus we gave members a paper quiz – so, we have kept in touch. It was most interesting to read your post.
    Rachel Ring
    History Centre Manager

    By Rachel Ring (14/10/2020)
  • Thank you for this. We are just looking into doing some Zoom talks in the New Year and it is a bit daunting! Many thanks for your tips.


    Beaconsfield & District Historical Society

    By Clare Bull (12/10/2020)

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