Sunday, 17 May 2020

Using Zoom: Some useful lessons learned

Last Friday evening, I took part in a short programme of Masonic talks that were delivered online via Zoom. We had over eighty attendees (the maximum we could accept was one hundred), and we learned some very useful lessons that will be applied when we run VCOW in July.

What happened on the night
  • The presentations were scheduled to run from 8.15pm to 9.00pm, so we set up a virtual waiting room for attendees which opened at 7.45pm ... and we had people waiting to get into it when it did open!
  • Well in advance we had nominated someone to chair the event. It was their responsibility to open the doors of the virtual waiting room at 8.00, and they muted everyone on entry to avoid a cacophony of talking and chatting.
  • By 8.15pm we had 87 attendees, at which point the chair introduced the speakers, and then the first presentation (mine as it happens) took place.
  • All the speakers used PowerPoint slides, which were set up before the sessions started so that when required, all they had to do was to select the ‘share screen’ option. (We had backed up the slides with the chair so that in event of a technical failure, they could still be shown.)
  • Each of the presentations overran slightly, even though the presenters were all experienced speakers who had practised delivering their talks beforehand.
  • We did not allow a Q&A session after each presentation because it would have been impossible to chair, although attendees could make comments or ask questions in real time using the 'comment' option on the bottom of the Zoom screen. We did ask that any questions be directed to the chair after the meeting, and these were then passed on to each speaker to answer.
Lessons learned
  • You have to have someone in charge in order to ensure that things do not become chaotic.
  • You have to be ready to start on time. To do otherwise is not only discourteous to the attendees, but also disruptive if you are putting on a number of presentations one after another.
  • Having a waiting room enabled attendees to get ready to join the meeting prior to it starting, and allowed the chair to control the event.
  • Attendees must be muted, otherwise the slightest unintentional noise could distract from what the speaker is saying and disrupt the enjoyment of the other attendees.
  • A Q&A session would have been nice, but it would have been difficult to control. Perhaps we could have used the 'comment' option so that attendees could have posed questions or made comments during the presentations, and that these could have been dealt with by the chair after the speakers had each finished their presentations.
We will certainly be holding further such sessions of talks, and have plans to try a 'talking heads' session, where several people discuss a topic in front of a live but muted online audience.

I am now firmly convinced that this sort of session will have a prominent role to play at VCOW. I am not sure that you could use Zoom to stage a wargame involving such a large number of participants ... but I suspect that it might be possible if a number of online player 'cells' could be set up using Zoom's 'breakout room' facility. Whatever happens, I think that the use of electronic technology and its associated audio-visual programs/applications has a role to play in the future development of wargaming, not as a replacement for the more traditional face-to-face sessions and games, but as a very useful adjunct to them.


  1. Hi Bob. Very sensible guidelines for using Zoom.
    One more tip that I have only recently found is, when you are having a more interactive session such as a committee meeting, it is good practice for all the participants to be muted but they can unmute themselves when they need to speak. On the Windows version of the Zoom app, pressing and holding the space bar down temporarily unmutes you. You say your bit and then release the space bar to mute yourself again.
    Good luck with VCOW.

    1. Steve Cordery (Steve),

      Cheers! Thanks for your kind comments and the advice about muting and unmuting. That is a very useful tip, which I’ll pass on to the other VCOW team.

      All the best,


  2. Some very useful learning points here, thanks for sharing them Bob.

    1. Brian Carrick,

      I’m glad that you found this Blog entry of assistance,

      All the best,


  3. All good tips and well done on the talk. Regretfully I am finding that zoom meetings (especially masonic ones!) seem to take far longer as everyone seems to want to have their little say and for many it is a new experience. Muting practically everyone throughout is crucial and having a competent chairman who doesn't himself talk too much and sticks to the agenda also helps. You are there to hear the speakers not the chairman blathering on. Having the chairman explain the ground rules right at the start also helps eg how to pose a question using the comment button. 80 odd masonic zoomers unmuting themselves at will does sound like a recipe for disaster.


    1. Guy,

      Cheers! I know exactly what you are writing about!

      Chairing any meeting is an art, and years ago I learned a very useful trick from a very experienced headteacher. He knew that there were always some people who felt the need to say something, regardless of how relevant it might be. He made a simple rule. Anyone could speak to a motion or ask a question BUT HAD TO LIMIT THEMSELVES TO TWO MINUTES, After ninety seconds, he would make a ‘T’ sign with his hands to warn the speaker that their time was almost up. Anyone who overran their allotted times was barred from speaking at all at the next meeting. At first there were protests, but by the fourth meeting no one exceeded their time limit, and the meetings were far more effective and took far less time.

      I’ve been to some Masonic meetings where the WM has not been able to keep things ticking along at a reasonable speed during the Risings because some members - usually those in ‘tutter’s corner’ - insist on saying something, however irrelevant it might be.

      My thanks go to whoever thought that adding a mute button to Zoom was a good idea!

      All the best,



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