It is important early on to make some initial decisions about the format and the platform through which the event will be held. Potential online platforms include: Zoom, Meetings, Google Meet, Go To Meeting, and Microsoft Teams among others. This section will outline three potential formats, but it is worth considering the feasibility of each suggestion for your own context, as a hybrid (or completely alternative format) may be best suited.
Option 1 – A live, all online meeting
Arguably the simplest option, and likely the most familiar to church communities, you could simply host an online meeting. This can be conducted in much the same manner as a traditional in-person hustings would be; with the Chair acting as ‘Host’ and the candidates ‘pinned’ or so they remain in the centre of the audience’s screen, like a panel. Questions can be submitted by the audience through the chat function, or, if the Chair is comfortable through spoken contributions.
Option 2 – Livestreaming an in-person panel
If local regulations and restrictions allow, you may wish to use a slightly adapted online meeting, whereby the candidates and the Chair are present in person and join the audience in an online meeting. Think BBC’s Question Time with its virtual audience. As with option 1, questions from the audience can be submitted through the chat function. Candidates may be more comfortable with this format, and the conversation may be more fluid as candidates are addressed in person.
With these options it is worth considering the following:
- Numbers: How many people will attend? And does the online platform that you are using have a limit on the number of participants allowed in a given meeting?
- Subscriptions and time limits: Do you need a subscription or membership for your chosen online platform? For example, on Zoom Meetings, the host will require a paid account to run a meeting longer than 40 minutes, so consider if there is a paid church or community account you can use or purchase. If moving online allows you to collaborate across a bigger area, it may be possible to pool resources for a more professional or effective event.
- Facilities: If considering a hybrid approach, do you have a building set up with filming or live-streaming facilities, and a strong internet connection?
- Registration: How widelydo you want your event to be shared? You may wish to create a registration page for your event, to allow people to register to receive the meeting details. This will allow greater security, as you can control the sharing of your meeting password. Registration pages can be made on Eventbrite or other websites can provide registration pages easily.
- Hosting: Appointing a coordinator or moderator to act as a technological host is essential. This person can manage the attendees, monitor a chat function, respond to any IT issues and keep on top of questions or comments. This allows the chair to focus on managing the meeting and engaging with the candidates, rather than responding to IT crises!
- Time keeping: Without an in-person audience, it can be difficult to remember to keep to time. Creating a schedule that the host and coordinator are aware of will help to ensure your event is timely, and that all candidates are given equal time to speak. Make sure that candidates are made aware how long the meeting will be, and outline this for the attendees at the beginning. If you plan to take audience questions, make sure you outline how these will be submitted – through the chat etc. – and when they will be addressed.
- Online etiquette: Though many of us are now entirely acclimatised to online life, it is worth agreeing ahead of time a set of house rules to share with attendees at the beginning of a meeting. This could take into account remaining muted or sending messages into the chat.
- Accessibility: Some online platforms have captioning functions that can be used to improve the accessibility of meetings. If you choose to share recordings of your meeting, or produce a pre-recorded resource, consider subtitling it to ensure it can be used by as many members of your community as possible. You may also want to consider translating the husting into an additional language if there is a predominant language in your area.
- Security: Depending on the circulation of your meeting’s details, you may have security issues with unexpected attendees or indecent messages. Ensuring you have a moderator who can respond quickly by removing people or posts if necessary will help to manage this. Alongside house rules, you may wish to agree an ‘action plan’ on how they will manage a security breach, to minimise disruption.
- Recording and permission: You may choose to record your meeting and upload it for sharing with people who were not able to attend: if you are intending to share recordings of any meetings, ensure you make this clear, and allow people to turn off their camera and microphone if they are not comfortable being recorded.
Option 3 – Share pre-recorded clips
This option would involve the organisers either conducting a series of separate interviews, or sending all the candidates the same questions and ask them to video-record their responses and then the church can post them online. Perhaps a church leader may also like to add a comment reflecting on faith, the democratic context and the current context.
This may be an option if there are a large number of candidates, or in areas with unreliable internet connection that may make hosting an online meeting difficult.