Lessons learned after being a Zoom host in a global event

Zoom call in progress

Toastmasters virtually hosted the global event over a 24-hour Zoom call on 12-13 December. Clubs around the world joined and talked about “Holidays around the world”. It all started over in Japan and was rolling over through all the time zones until it reached the end in Hawaii.

Irish Toastmasters club in Killarney got the honour to represent its timezone and more generally - Europe. Multiple people from nearby clubs (Ireland and UK) joined and helped. We had to host the call for a given timeslot of 2 hours after taking over from Kenya, and then pass the reins to Brazil when finished.

Toastmasters is a public speaking club; therefore, the whole event was circling it. We assigned roles to each other and fulfilled them as we would in our regular meetings. There were speakers, evaluators, timer, grammarian, topics master, presenter of a literary corner, people running Zoom, and others. I’m the Zoom host in our usual meetings, the same was here except I got the necessary help from 2 more co-hosts. One of the co-hosts acted as a mentor and took much weight, stitched the details around preparations for the call.

Zoom call

The call lasted for 24 hours and had to be managed by a single Zoom host (there could only be one). The host would change along with a change of the club according to the agenda. Zoom host would wait until the agreed person appears in a call, would chat and then make that person a “host” effectively removing this role from themselves.

The meeting was open for anyone to join, provided they had a link or a meeting ID. There was no password requirement but only the waiting room. The microphone of every newcomer was automatically disabled. Zoom host and co-hosts would monitor the waiting room and let people in one by one. At the time when I was a host, there were 120 people connected on average, including our members.

Co-hosts

The role requires monitoring of chat and waiting room, making sure that everyone’s microphone is disabled when someone is speaking. Furthermore giving permissions to someone who needs to share their screen; highlighting the speaker for everyone. It is manageable when hosting a call with 20 people in your club, but not in a more significant event. What is more, it would be normal to have breakout rooms in the competitions, but we chose not to do it here.

Zoom has a concept of a “co-host” who can look after the meeting, which is invaluable when you need someone to help you with the tasks mentioned above. Two experienced Zoom masters joined and helped. As soon as I got the “host” role, those people had to be found in the list of participants and assigned a “co-host” role.

One of the first tasks for co-hosts is to make sure that all “our” participants that have a role in a meeting have identifiable names. Identification needs a name change, and its structure has to be agreed beforehand. You could ask participants to rename themselves before joining, but as a rule, not everyone is going to do it.

After we were able to distinguish “our” participants from guests, it was a matter of following the detailed agenda. We made sure the correct participant got the right to share their screen at a specific time as that involved making them a co-host and then removing such a role. We did split the responsibilities before the call to make it easier down the road.

Lessons

To run the meeting smoothly, you have to prepare for it. Not just give high-fives to everyone and tell “everything is going to be fine”.

Communication

One of the most important things is the ability to communicate with everyone (who has a role) before the call to gather the required information. Here the host needs to take a strong position which I have failed to do, and it caused issues down the line. Remember that other participants look at Zoom hosts as just another role. Take the lead.

Access to contact details

I had no access to all contact details, which has caused a very peculiar issue. By delegating the spread of my messages to main organizers, I failed to get the answers like do people need a spotlight, or do they need a breakout room. Multiple issues probably caused the communication failure. Firstly the overwhelming amount of communication organizers receive and then miss my email, secondly the second-guessing of my intentions and even misunderstanding that those answers are essential.

Be sure to have everyone’s email and even phone number which will allow you to gather answers to what people need in a call.

Private chat

We have been successful in setting a chat group for main organizers and participants, and Zoom host and co-hosts. Chat was invaluable at the time of the event when we were double-checking if the next speaker is ready and if we’re on time.

Who will make you a host?

In my case, I did initiate a separate conversation with responsible people in Kenya and then in Brazil. We had to make sure the transition of hosts was as fluid as possible.

You should have your detailed agenda ready to make sure you know the specific time when you can make that switch. The same applies to a host you’re taking over from as they probably want to be until the end. Still, at the same time, you need some time to rename your participants and assign co-hosts.

Detailed agenda

It is necessary to have a minute by minute agenda of the whole meeting. One of the Zoom mentors took the lead and explicitly requested it from organizers. It helps when you have other things in your head at the time of the meeting. It is crucial when you need to make someone a co-host to allow them to share the screen. Another use for it is the ability to track meeting progress.

Letting people in

You have to be careful before letting people in from the waiting room into the meeting. There needs to be an explicit agreement on this among co-hosts. Because there are speakers and presenters, you’d probably want to wait until they finish before letting in everybody who is waiting. Waiting mitigates a possible risk of someone getting in and starting to “hello”. Another small issue is the grid view speaker is possibly looking at which gets reordered when someone joins, thus making it a bit distracting.

Use online tools for documentation

We did share agendas and other details in our email threads, but this is error-prone. You need an up to date versions before the meeting, and it is cumbersome to figure out which is which by going through emails. It would be much better if we did the documentation in Google Docs or similar. People asked for documents in a chat, and it would have been more convenient to drop the link to an up to date copy in a reply.

In the end

Despite some of the mistakes, we did a great job. Everyone was mostly on time, presenters presented, and speakers spoke.

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