In light of the recent the COVID19 pandemic, a number of pastors, teachers and trainers have been considering streaming online services/training/classes in place of meeting in-person. My wife and I ran gatherings and teachings for Christians for about three years. We were able to serve, connect and reach thousands of people. I’ve hosted more than 200 classes/gatherings. We tried some things that were a hit, others failed. These are my suggestions for anyone thinking of moving to an online environment for a while.
1. Make it as interactive as possible.
Here’s the question: If you are going to stream something live, why would you turn up and live stream something that is non-interactive and then stop streaming? You might as well send people something pre-recording via Youtube. People come to classes and church services to gather, meet, interact and chat. Give them this opportunity online.
We found using ZOOM’s web-conferencing service the best. Open up the webinar/class/session for people to join by webcam via a simple link and use the Break-Out room feature. This means that you talk/teach for 20 minutes and then break people into organised or random rooms to interact, chat, discuss. This means that you need to think like a workshop. 20min talk. 10min breakout. 20min talk. 10min breakout etc. Perhaps have a Q and A! Get creative, baby!
It’s time to move from the Sage-on-the-Stage mentality to being a master of creating an online place where people’s interaction matters.
Is this risky? Perhaps. But so is going shaking hands, right now.
Do you need a bit of tech knowledge? A little, nothing you can’t learn and test in a few hours before hand.
What if people don’t want to go a break-out room, like you suggested?They can just sit around for 10min and wait. Think of it as a big ad-break.
Hint: If you are going to have a ‘join with your webcam’ option like I’m suggesting, start the gathering with some simple ground rules. We screen-shared and read this out at the start of every interactive gathering. Works a treat and give you the right to record and enforce protective measures if needed LIFE COURSE TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT – Read-Only
2. Use a reliable / webcasting / webinar streaming service.
I’m not sure how some of these webcasting service providers will cope with the demand, but all-things-going-well, use something like ZOOM.us or GoToMeeting or something that is going to give people the option to join via webcam or audio at home. These services work on all computers and devices with little issue. You can use a powerpoint slide with the webcasting screen-share to share your material. Again, Youtube vids and the service provider website will have all the info you need to get started.
Cost?: I doubt you’d be up for more than $150 p/m for a 100+ attendee capacity. When you’re back to normal gatherings, cancel the subscription. Easy.
Hint: Have a tech person on hand to act like a moderator to mute, kick or assist people new to the environment. We did this with people from all over the globe. Most people are more competent than you think. By the way, if people miss the LIVE broadcast, these services allow you to record the message.
3. Pay attention to lighting and sound.
Confession: We used to shoot from a converted walk-in wardrobe in our master bedroom. We had a clever $40 backdrop, $60 lighting kit from eBay and a $130 logitech webcam. The most expensive component with a good i7 MacBook. (An entry level PC may not cut it. ) In the end, it looked good, was soundproof and worked a treat.
Get creative, but for the love of all that is good, make sure your lighting is bright. Dimly lit, noisy and poorly shot streams are the worst .
Well that’s it. It’s by no means an exclusive or exhaustive list – just advice from a guy who stopped travelling the country and moved his entire efforts online for years – at the same time, reaching thousands of people across the globe and making a living.
Again, my biggest takeaway would be the IMPORTANCE of making your classes/services INTERACTIVE. Give people a good reason to join you LIVE. Give them SOMETHING beyond a recording. Give them the PERSONAL INTERACTION they come to your classes/gatherings for. For this, it’s hard to beat webcam.