Choosing your best option for virtual meetings
Photo of Holly Lewis, adjutant of Post 557 in Wintersville, Ohio.

Choosing your best option for virtual meetings

As social distancing guidelines continue, American Legion departments, districts and posts face challenges with conducting meetings. There are many options for holding virtual meetings where participants can join in remotely, contribute to the discussion, vote and participate in other ways as they would if they were in the same room.

Holly Lewis, adjutant of Post 557 in Wintersville, Ohio, researched options for her department and post. The Ohio governor has mandated stay-in-place orders so Legion posts are unable to conduct in-person meetings.

“We have been using Uberconference for the past few years to allow those who want to dial in to our meetings to do so,” Lewis explained. “This was perfectly usable at the time because we always had fewer than 10 people dialing in. Now that everyone is going to have to dial in, we had to find a different technology to meet our needs while still being cost effective — meaning free.”

Post 557 had various requirements for the technology, including a free service that would allow all members to participate. Members also wanted to make sure that meetings could last at least an hour, that people could raise their hand to vote, and that our members without computers or Internet access could call in. They also wanted options for video conferencing and the ability to share documents such as agendas.

Lewis researched various options and created a chart for the post to consider. Other American Legion posts might have different priorities or preferences but the following breakdown can be used to give them an idea on what a good fit might be.

Uberconference: Number of participants (10); Length of meetings (40 minutes); Ability to raise hand (No); Ability to call in (Yes); Video capabilities (Yes); and Ability to share documents (Yes).

FreeConferenceCall: Number of participants (1,000); Length of meetings (6 hours); Ability to raise hand (No); Ability to call in (Yes); Video capabilities (No); and Ability to share documents (No).

Zoom: Number of participants (100); Length of meetings (40 minutes); Ability to raise hand (Yes); Ability to call in (Yes); Video capabilities (Yes); and Ability to share documents (Yes).

Webex: Number of participants (100); Length of meetings (Unlimited); Ability to raise hand (Yes); Ability to call in (Yes); Video capabilities (Yes); and Ability to share documents (Yes).

Slack, Go To Meeting, Google Meet and Amazon Chime do not offer free versions or their free options expire on June 1.

Post 557 chose Webex, Lewis said. “It met all of our requirements. Freeconferencecall was the runner-up and would work fine for any post just looking for the basics.”

For members who have not participated in a conference call previously, Lewis recommends the following etiquette guidelines:

1. Do not use audio on your computer and dial in from your phone. This causes an echo. You only have to do one or the other.

2. Mute your phone or PC audio when you are not speaking.

3. Be in a quiet place while on the call. Mute your TV, etc.

4. Don’t interrupt others when they are speaking.

For post leaders that have not previously hosted a virtual call, Lewis offers the following suggestions for a successful meeting:

1. Send out an agenda ahead of time.

2. Test all technology before the meeting. Ask a few of your members to help you test it. Make sure you test the features to mute all participants and to unmute specific speakers.

3. Remind participants to not dial in on both PC and phone, to mute when not speaking, to be in a quiet place and to not interrupt others.

4. Take roll call during the meeting to acknowledge who is present. People who call in via phone are not always recognizable by name in the software.

5. When feasible, specifically ask each member if they have anything to add to give them a chance to contribute.

6. Encourage the use of the raising of hand features for members to request to speak, discussions and voting. It’s important to follow Robert’s Rules of Order.

Lewis encouraged other posts to find what works best, given their unique needs and circumstances.

“Each of the vendors does a nice job with videos that demonstrate how to use their software,” she said. “This technology allows American Legion posts to still hold professional meetings and complete our business even while adhering to social distancing.”