By Jim Marggraff, Entrepreneur and Member of the Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise, California, USA
Four years ago, my wife MJ surprised me with an unearthly question. “How can we keep Mars-bound astronauts connected with their loved ones on Earth?”
This question sparked a journey, though not yet to Mars… Instead, I embarked on a journey to understand social isolation on Earth, to develop new ways to connect remote loved ones using advanced technologies, to found another company, my seventh, Kinoo.family, and to become even more deeply engaged with Rotary!
While few Rotarians are likely to find ourselves hurtling toward the red planet, many of us do understand the feeling, if not the risk, of social isolation, and the desire to remain close to our friends and families. Strikingly, within months of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, nearly 80% of Rotary clubs embraced Zoom, or other video conferencing software, to host virtual club meetings and stay connected.
Recognizing both an opportunity and a need, Rotary International commissioned a Presidential Task Force to look at how virtual connectivity can be used in Rotary’s future, and I was honored to be invited to participate. As an inventor and entrepreneur, having created the LeapFrog learning system, LiveScribe smart pen, and most recently, an eye-tracking company, Eyefluence (initially funded by Rotarians) that we sold to Google in 2016, I am comfortable applying cutting edge technology to gnarly problems.
With Zoom meetings came the opportunity for resourceful clubs to recruit world-renowned distant speakers, bringing them into their meetings in a virtual setting. Some clubs even began reimagining meetings, creatively exploring the capabilities of virtual connectivity, rather than force-fitting incompatible, traditional, in-person activities into a small screen of headshots.
Inspired by our discussions within the Pandemic Task Force, I reached out to other Rotarians with an idea. I quickly found support from Rotary International, from my Lamorinda Sunrise Club in the San Francisco Bay Area, and from a Rotary nonprofit I had co-founded, The Global Impact Group TGIG.org. The idea was to produce a video to help clubs see how easy it can be to host a “hybrid,” or virtual/in-person (V/IP) meeting, one that brings people together physically, while giving remote members simultaneous access to the meeting.
We recognized that the emergence from lockdowns, with clubs returning to in-person meetings, would still leave some members uncomfortable or unsafe, rapidly returning to their club venue. Also, in cities around the world, surveys have shown that some Rotarians have embraced occasional remote participation while traveling, or to avert commute traffic. Finally, virtual connection has opened the door to some extraordinary remote speakers, who are delighted to present to Rotarians via video chat platforms, and to field questions remotely.
So my wife and I cleaned out our garage, and with some industrious, masked and socially distanced LSR club members, we transformed our garage into a studio to film a live virtual/in person meeting to show how easy it can be to bring remote virtual participants to an in-person gathering, and vice versa. This allowed us all to have fellowship and real time exchanges!
We quickly realized, however, that our enthusiasm in mentoring clubs on hosting such hybrid V/IP meetings might not attract widespread viewing by clubs across Rotary. We knew we needed another hook to get more Rotarians to view our video and convince them to model our approach in their clubs.
Another spark! What if we could attract some legendary speakers to help Rotarians look in a mirror, to see who we really are at times of crisis, when the world needs us most?
On that thought, I reached out to my friend and colleague, Dr. Sten Vermund, Dean of the Yale School of Public Health, and within weeks, we created a lineup of Zoom interviews with global health experts and Rotary celebrities ranging from Dr. Anthony Fauci to Rotary CEO John Hewko and Rotary International President Holger Knaack.
Two resulting videos are available at TGIG.org. Virtual/In-Person Meeting is a 25-minute video of our garage meeting with the above celebrity speakers – and more, which is designed for you to show to your club. A second short 2-minute Quick Start Video shows you how easy it is to run an engaging Virtual/In-Person (V/IP) meeting. Thanks to Rotary International, this video is now available in eight languages!
So you need not be planning a trip to Mars, but dreaming of reaching the stars may spark a Rotary moment, and help you begin your own next Rotary journey!
Learn more about holding engaging online meetings.
Our Club is at a crossroad about Virtual/Inperson meetings. Many senior members miss the face to face contact and the resulting fellowship and camaraderie. Zoom served a purpose during COVID but the concern is that our Club may not be able to return to the strong fellowship that we had. We have not even met some new members in person. Virtual meetings may destroy the whole ambience of Rotary. What do others think?
I define a Hybrid Meeting as one where Rotarians can attend either in person or remotely online. The online participants can hear and see the in-person attendees and vice versa.
This requires, in my estimate, at minimum –
– a large video data screen, alternately, a beamer, big enough for the in-person group to see all online participants
– one or two good loudspeakers so that the in-person attendees can hear the remote attendees
– At least three (wireless) microphones – one for the meeting chair (club president), one for the speaker (if s:he speaks in person) and one to pass around for questions and discussion contributions. BUT better would be FIVE, an additional one for the secretary/moderator who directs contributions, another pass-around micro.
– I know there are compact control/mixing panels for such arrangements ….
– Can someone provide a detailed list of devices to procure, maybe some tips about software etc…..?
Rotary Club Moedling, Austria
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This is first rate. The V/IP meetings have allowed our Rotary Clun to stay connected throughout these very challenging times
Conrad D. Breece President 2020-2021 Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise
Really, really well done! I’ve been working on our hybrid meetings for several months now, and I’m quite aligned with how you create an engaging experience for everyone.
As a business owner of a virtual assistance company, I feel you on the aspect of engaging people remotely. We have been fully remote sine 2018, so when the pandemic came, everyone was just chilling out.
Setting it up for rotary clubs may be a different story. With some clubs whose members dread the use of technology, attendance is still an effort.
Rotary clubs should consider demographics to determine how members can participate more. Glad that you picked your brains further to make this happen!
Thanks for this insightful information
Fantastic innovation there, my Rotarian
This is quite enlightening.
Proud to be a Rotarian by helping the needy people who were in need of essential commodities during natural calamity, during covid 19 and still the service projects in progress.
Asst Governor RID 3160
I have never seen the Rotary Club in South Sudan but is almost every where in Uganda. Do you have a plan to come to south Sudan or are you here already?
This is wonderful. With pandemic, we have no choice but to hold zoom meetings. Our club also pioneered the virtual students exchange ( RYE) this year. But, always a problem, to get the attendance of members for weekly meetings. Will keep looking for more guidance on this, please.
In an African setting
Where majority of Rotarians are old folks change is hard
Fabulous resource, much needed! i will share with my Rotary E clubs of World Peace and my wife’s Rotary Club of La Mision, Mexico. Jim, I’m interested in how your skills in remote connection using advanced technologies might help in the development of the PeoplePoweredPlanet.com See our Salute to Rotary and RIPE Shekhar Mehta’s interview about building a future beyond the borders that divide us. And see the movie he loves at TheWorldIsMyCountry.com/Rotary Then please email me, my full name at gmail. — ArthurKanegis
As I quipped when we began to use Zoom for our meetings: “well, we are all e-clubs now.” And so we are. Ironically, a year earlier I made a presentation to the Club to begin live-streaming our meetings with a view to growing satellite communities with the ability to create what is now called a hybrid meeting. Our club is isolated from other small communities within a radius of 250 km. COVID-19 forced the technologically adverse to get on board. I’m glad to read RI has seen the potential in such meetings. I know the Dryden, Ontario club has the issue on a survey we have just completed.
What nonsense. Afraid this does nothing for Rotary . Words like this is not positive for the future of Rotary.. Look back 15 years .
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Great and by using virtual media we can cut rotaries travel budget by millions of dollars