Best Practices for Aviation Association Virtual Meetings

Planning and organization are key to successful group video chat events.

The current situation involving the COVID-19 outbreak—when social distancing has shuttered many businesses and the vast majority of Americans are under some type of “stay at home” order—has created a problem for every aviation association and nonprofit that typically hosts regular meetings, seminars, and other events. Organizations like EAA, NBAA, AOPA, WAI, HAI, the Ninety-Nines, and others have had to quickly come up to speed with the concept of virtual (online) meetings. Not only have association management and lead volunteers had to learn on the fly how to use the many video-chat platforms available today, they have had to walk their membership and others joining their video chats through proper use of these online applications.

Many of our readers may have at some point possibly used popular group video-chat services in our jobs, and the use of Apple’s FaceTime or Skype allows people to easily chat in small groups. But the concept of organizing a larger, scheduled, online-group video chat event can be daunting, and there are several ways the entire process can go sideways.

Recently, I “attended” a virtual online meeting of my EAA Chapter 1457, with about 17 members signing on to Zoom for the scheduled meeting. Chapter President Hannah Neill organized the event well, first by gauging the member interest in conducting our meeting virtually, and then communicating specific instructions on how to download the Zoom app and log into the meeting.

Around the country, other EAA chapters are beginning to embrace the concept of holding virtual meetings online, says Charlie Becker, EAA director of chapters, communities and homebuilt community manager. “We live in a crazy time right now, and our chapters didn’t get a lot of lead time to figure this out,” Becker said. “We developed a page on EAA.org dedicated to this topic, and while we do not have hard data on it, I’d say probably 20 percent of our chapters are trying something online, either regular business meetings or full chapter meetings. One of the things that have served these chapters well is that they had a practice session for anybody that had never used the software before earlier in the week. This also allowed the meeting host to learn how to mute people, because, with virtual group chats, one person with audio issues can degrade the entire meeting for everyone.”

If your aviation business, association or nonprofit is interested in conducting your first virtual online meeting, here are some best practices that may streamline the process and give those who “attend” a smoother experience.

Planning and organization are key. The assigned meeting host needs to plan that many potential member users may not be comfortable with using a new group video chat platform. To ensure things go smoothly, before the meeting, the host needs to send out an email to the membership advising how to download the software, with a link to a set-up, FAQ or tutorial page. Included in this email should be an instruction for users to test their audio and video settings before the meeting.

Schedule a lead topic with an interesting guest speaker. To prevent the meeting from simply being a chat with no aim or purpose, the host should schedule someone as the lead speaker to offer exciting and actionable content. Our EAA chapter president lined up Jim Bourke, an unlimited-category competition aerobatic pilot and airshow performer who flies an Extra 330SC unlimited-class composite aerobatic monoplane built in Germany. Bourke has been a member of the Unlimited U.S. Aerobatic Team since 2017 and holds more than 75 flight medals and 26 first-place finishes. He gave an entertaining presentation with a Q & A session afterward.

Have a strict agenda. The host needs to plan a normal agenda for the meeting, and explain in their emails to the membership that they will be following that agenda as if it were an in-person meeting. When the meeting starts, explain to users how new speakers will be called upon so people do not talk over one another. Some platforms like Zoom have a “raise hand” feature so the host knows someone wishes to speak.

Remind attendees to find a distraction-free environment. In the instruction email, the host needs to remind users to find a quiet place to log into the meeting, free of distractions like background noise. The host needs to be familiar with the mute functions of the host’s interface so any users that are experiencing audio issues can be silenced to not disrupt the overall meeting. And if you are logging into the meeting from a mobile device, do everyone else a favor and find one place to sit down, as walking around during the meeting is extremely distracting.

Hold a practice session before the actual meeting. EAA’s Becker advises that hosts need to be aware that the interface for group video chat platforms can change depending on device. “A mute button might be in the lower right corner on a Mac desktop, and another location on an iPad or Windows PC, so having new users log on for a practice session really irons out the bugs before the actual meeting,” he said.

While there are many popular group video-chat platforms to choose from, the most popular are Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and Skype. Each has its own particular feature sets, and many are offering free options right now during the pandemic. There are also many paid group video-chat services available today if the free options are not suitable. A comprehensive guide to all the popular group video chat platforms is available here.

Hosts need to check the numbers of allowed participants for each platform as some restrict that number in their free service. And while an app like FaceTime is fine for catching up with family or friends, be aware that the platform is operating system-dependent, meaning only users on Apple devices could participate.

One note on Zoom is that the news is filled with articles referencing multiple security issues with that platform. My EAA chapter president researched this extensively before our first virtual meeting and found a scheduled group video chat can be password-protected to eliminate unwanted “zoombombing” or uninvited people crashing the meeting. As with any online service, all users should be advised by the host to be extremely aware that it is dangerous to offer any sort of personal data or contact information while in an online virtual meeting.

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