A View from My (Virtual) Pew

For some time now, we’ve been doing lots of online meeting and greeting. Recently, for instance, some of my siblings and cousins did an online video call with five states represented. This morning, my wife and I in Nebraska joined a worship service in Washington, D.C., and weren’t the ones from farthest away. All of this got me to thinking about my experiences over these past few weeks along with my experience of online events of various sorts over the past several years. So, here are some observations, offered from one perspective. You may not agree, but that’s okay. Share your perspective.
First, some general comments.
1) Practice with the technology before you go live. I’ve been the one with the technology that wasn’t behaving. How embarrassing! It’s also a waste of time for your audience.
2) Check your picture. Your face might not be in the screen, you might be a dark silhouette, or you might be so far away that you’re only a distant blur. As nice as it is to see our familiar worship spaces (if you’re broadcasting from or recording in a sanctuary), bring the camera in tighter for the speaking parts. Make sure that the lighting is good on anything you want to show, including faces and backgrounds. Some applications (for instance, Zoom) allow you to choose a background picture or video. That might be a way to have the worship space in view when you’re confined to home.
3) Check your sound. And find the mute button.
4) When you’re reading, the audience still wants to see your face and eyes. If you’re using a laptop web camera, hold the book or paper up beside the screen. If you’re reading from the screen, keep scrolling so what you’re reading is at the top of the screen (assuming your web camera is there). Your viewers might wonder if you memorized the whole thing because you seem to be looking at them the whole time.
5) If you have group reading parts, put them on-screen in large print. There are many ways to do this, but the point is to make them readable to somebody with worse eyesight than yours. As with printing on paper, be aware of white space. If you jam too many words on a screen or page, they will be much harder to read, and many people will give up.
Now some comments about specific platforms.
6) Zoom group calls can be really fun. When you have more than two on the call, yes, it can get chaotic. Being anywhere with more than two people can get chaotic. If you’re hosting Zoom calls where tasks need to be accomplished, find the Mute All button. If you’re on a Zoom call and no one can see you or hear when you try to talk, keep fiddling with the controls until you find how to turn on your camera and microphone. If you’re muted and have something to say, hold down the space bar to unmute while you’re talking. Oh, and the issue I learned the hard way: If you have two devices close together on the same call, mute the speakers on one while you’re talking.
7) Facebook Live can be easy to access, especially if you’re in a group (such as a church) that already has a Facebook presence. Remember the guidelines about no more than ten people and at least six feet between. For most pastors, being in front of the congregation is when you’re at your best. Unlike the Magic Mirror on Romper Room (some of you are way too young to get that cultural reference), you can’t look through Facebook Live to see who’s watching. Here’s a suggestion from this retired Speech teacher. Gather at least some of the other nine people around the camera (keeping six feet apart), and talk to them. You’ll naturally have a much more lively presentation than if you try to simply stare at the camera. Your online audience will have a better time of it, too.
8) YouTube seems to have some excellent benefits, too. One of them is editing. If you’re not doing a live broadcast, cut out the dead time and the mess-ups. You’ll have a more enjoyable product.
All in all, during this time of isolation and social distancing, many of us have amazing communication technologies at our fingertips. Give thanks for the blessings. Work with the limitations. Learn how to do better. Check in on neighbors, friends, and relatives who either don’t have the technology or don’t want to use it. Humans are a social species. That isn’t likely to change any time soon.