compiled by Ardis Bazyn, ACB Membership Committee Chair
At this summer’s membership seminar, our theme was “How to create a successful virtual or hybrid conference and convention.” The first panel, “Tools for planning a virtual or hybrid virtual and in-person conference,” highlighted many tips and suggestions to ponder when planning a future conference. Kati Lear, Florida Council of the Blind convention chair, and Sheila Young, Florida Council of the Blind president, had the distinction of planning the very first hybrid affiliate conference, inviting both virtual and in-person guests and speakers. They learned the following:
- When signing the contract, remember you may need fewer hotel rooms with a hybrid convention.
- As with an in-person convention, ask members and committee chairs for program topics and possible speakers early in the planning process.
- If possible, have different teams responsible for various aspects of the convention — program, technology, sponsors/exhibitors, etc. Someone from each team should join your initial convention call.
- Florida charged the same registration fee of $25, but the registration form included a meal package for in-person participants.
- They placed their form online and included a number for members to call to register if they needed assistance.
- It was suggested to add check boxes so the registrant could indicate whether attendance would be in person or only on Zoom. Then the in-person choices would be shown to only in-person registrants.
- Additional Zoom hosts will be needed for any concurrent break-out programs held on Zoom. There may be additional costs for additional break-out rooms.
- Florida did introductions at the banquet on Zoom so that Zoom participants would know who attended the conference in person.
- They found it was important to field questions from both Zoom and in-person audience members so everyone would feel that they were part of the convention.
- They held an auction on Zoom before the conference and a live auction with fewer items in person later at the conference.
- Florida also held a hybrid board meeting to include those who could not attend in person.
Sarah Harris, first vice president of the California Council of the Blind, discussed the outreach for sponsors and exhibitors. Her suggestions were:
- When contacting possible sponsors and exhibitors in 2020, they offered to make recordings to be played during the conference as well as ads in the program. Sponsors could also give a presentation during the session.
- At the 2021 conference, recorded sessions were given for sponsors and exhibitors. Sponsors also were able to have a time on Zoom for members to ask questions.
- Exhibitors and sponsors could have longer videos and/or little ad spots to highlight in various parts of the conference. California worked with an organization to create the videos and the exhibitors/sponsors could keep the final copy, which they could use in the future.
- California chose to have an auction on Zoom later in the year instead of having it as part of their conference.
- When having a hybrid conference, you could offer both recordings and in-person exhibit tables.
- In California, exhibitors and sponsors tend to be continuing partnerships.
- Pre-recordings of some speakers and panels were helpful with live question-and-answer sessions after the recordings were played. California also pre-recorded resolutions and constitution and bylaws amendments, then discussed and voted on them during the conference.
- After the conference, the conference committee held an open meeting to discuss the positives and possible changes to be made for the next year.
Gabriel Lopez Kafati, president, Blind Pride International, mentioned the below helpful hints.
- To get sponsors, they reached out to communities outside the blindness field.
- He suggested other special-interest affiliates could contact other companies and communities which served like-minded populations.
- Some affiliates sell raffle tickets. Virtual conferences can ask those listening on Zoom or ACB Media to call or go online to purchase them.
Tyson Ernst, ACB Media, gave tips on how ACB Media could best assist affiliate conference teams.
- It is highly encouraged for the affiliate conference committee to reach out as soon as possible to ACB Media/Debbie Hazelton with the potential dates of your convention, so you can be placed on the calendar and a convention coordinator can be assigned to your affiliate. Keep in contact with this person throughout your planning process with any changes.
- Affiliates and ACB Media work best together to provide a successful event if ACB Media is in the loop from the earliest stage in convention planning. Then, they can best assist with coordination of presenting the convention content to a virtual audience.
- ACB Media has opened up the affiliate conventions to a new audience from across the breadth of ACB and beyond.
- ACB Media provides the vehicle for as many as possible to access the content in as many formats as possible, from media live streaming to podcasting for future access.
- It’s important to have a good ratio of recorded vs. in-person speakers and sessions. The mix and Wi-Fi speed need to be good for the recordings and streaming.
The second panel, “How to hold virtual elections,” provided the steps to take to have member participation in elections. Sarah Harris explained how CCB had changed its constitution in 2019 to enable the council to hold virtual meetings and vote. In 2020, the membership list was given to two staff members who received texts or calls from members for each election. At the 2021 convention, four members of a local sorority received calls or texts. The membership was split into four groups, so each had ¼ of the list in order to know which people would be calling them. Then there was a number where anyone could call if they forgot which group they were in.
For resolutions and constitutional amendments, each one was read and people using Zoom would raise their hand if they were against the position. It worked faster than having members raising hands for yes and then for no.
Maria Hansen, first vice president of Guide Dog Users, Inc., explained how GDUI handled elections and other votes. GDUI investigated several voting systems before choosing one they felt would be accessible. In 2008, GDUI held universal telephonic voting using their office phone company. They made some constitutional changes to allow virtual voting in 2009. With this system, members had ID numbers for voting. The phone system was used for constitutional changes, too. They found the system didn’t have adequate privacy and security for the elections, since the ID numbers stayed the same over the years it was used. There were some time constraints, and it took too long. The cost was modest since it was the office phone system. Another issue with the system was not being able to complete the ballot if you skipped a question.
In 2015, GDUI started using the Vote Now system. It incorporates online and phone voting and offers an assistance line for those having trouble with either one. Vote Now receives a list of current members as of the record date so they have an accurate list of members. Each member is sent a voting ID number in an accessible format: email, print, or braille. It is secure and private since the ID number is only for one election series. It is much more expensive, but the results are returned right away.
The Washington Council of the Blind used various Zoom lines, each having a waiting room. The four rooms were designated a color — blue, purple, red, etc. Each member was given an ID number. Each entered a waiting room where they were allowed in one at a time to give their name and ID number and then their vote choice during the election. There was a phone number to call for those not able to find the right Zoom room. For some special-interest affiliates with limited candidates, the Zoom webinar worked well for voting. When there was a contested election, members could raise their hands for each candidate. The Zoom host was a non-member, so it was a private vote.
If you have any membership issues or questions, please contact a member of the ACB membership committee.