Why and How to Use video or Web Conferencing

by Kevin Martone, Technology Program Manager, JCamp 180

When JCC Ranch Camp was considering ways to re-engage their alumni last summer, they realized that while getting alumni back to camp is the best way to reconnect, they could reach many more alumni online. So they decided to host a Virtual Campfire, allowing former and current song leaders to lead alumni in song from locations across the United States: at camp in Elbert, Colorado as well as in Chicago, New York, and other cities. Alumni from around the world could see (and sing along with) their favorite songs and song leaders. It was incredibly successful, with alumni and current families tuning in from all over the country.

Why Use Video or Web Conferencing?

Your camp can leverage the power of online video and web conferencing tools to help people feel closer to Camp, too. Current tools can vastly improve conference call meetings, or be a dynamic platform for programming that can reach more Alumni, parents, staff, and community members.

As with any technology, first consider your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Here are some possible goals these technologies can help you reach:

  • Engage your alumni. JCC Ranch Camp used Google+ Hangouts On Air to broadcast their virtual campfire online and host the live stream on their own website. You can have up to 10 people visible and audible; there is no maximum to the number of viewers. Google+ Hangouts On Air are free.
  • Make virtual board meetings more engaging and efficient. A web conferencing tool like GoToMeeting (which we use at JCamp 180), Zoom, or Join.me allows everyone to see the same document or presentation in real-time. It may help keep everyone focused on the work and not distracted by other things at home, at work, or on their computer. Depending on which tool you use and which cost structure, you can have up to 26 people on a web conference like this and can pay anywhere from $0-$49/month for the service.
  • Provide value to current and former staff. Camp Ramah in Wisconsin provided a free webinar for current and former staff and their parents about how to leverage their camp experience in their college applications. They used GoToWebinar (a tool JCamp 180 also uses), which allows as many as 1,000 people to view a presentation and (optionally) video of the presenters. Other tools allow this functionality as well. GoToWebinar costs $99/month.
  • Host a parent orientation with the Camp Director.  First-time parents can be very nervous and unsure of what to expect during the summer. Camps can provide a video or web conference for camp staff to discuss what parents and campers can expect, what to pack, and what to leave home. It can also provide a forum for new parents to ask questions.
  • Interview far-flung potential staff without the travel costs. Many camps now interview potential staff 1-on-1 using tools like Skype. They may also interview multiple candidates at once using Google+ Hangouts (videoconferencing with up to 10 people). Both Skype (for 1-on-1 videoconferencing) and Google+ Hangouts are free.
  • Offer virtual staff training before they arrive. Any of these tools could allow your camp to give basic staff training over the internet in advance of the hectic camp season.

Making Web and Video Conferencing Work

At JCamp 180 we've run dozens of Webinars, countless online meetings, and helped facilitate a number of online board meetings.  We use Google+ Hangouts to live-stream and record video and either GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar for online discussions and training. Through it all, we've realized three things:

  1. Pre-planning prevents poor performance.
  2. We're still learning in every web or video conference we lead!
  3. While use of technology can greatly improve outreach and be a huge convenience to your participants, it requires additional planning and effort to execute with excellence.

If you are thinking about running your own web or video conference, here is our best advice for you:

  1. Prepare. Create a script for your session. Prepare and send out an agenda and any other materials participants need to review beforehand.  Help everyone feel comfortable with participating using the technology by preparing tips for your participants (click here for sample tips you can modify for your needs) to make sure they get the most out of the session.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. Running a webinar or board meeting online? Make sure everyone involved has a chance to review the agenda or script and practice. Here at JCamp 180, we always do a dry run of our webinars to make sure the content is ready for prime time.
  3. Get help! It's very difficult to deliver content in a webinar or board meeting and also resolve tech or audio issues and monitor participants' questions. A co-pilot will help you get through any turbulence safely.
  4. Pick the right tool. There are many tools out there that allow you to communicate with others via the web. They differ in functionality and price. Make sure you use the right tool for your needs. For example, Skype is great for one-one one video interviews or discussions. If you want more people in your videoconference, Google+ Hangouts are a great choice. However, these tools aren't ideal for showing PowerPoint presentations; GoToMeeting and Join.me are optimized for displaying slides. There are many other options available - find the one that fits your needs (and budget). Contact us if you would like help picking a tool that's right for you.
  5. Test technology in advance, and show up early. Planning on running a board meeting or a group interview? Ask participants to sign into the tool days in advance to make sure it is working for them. This is a good idea for guest speakers of webinars, too. Make sure everyone is testing the same setup they'll use during the live session: same computer/tablet; same internet access; same physical location. The last thing you want to do is spend the first 5-10 minutes of your session resolving technology or audio issues…or figuring out how to explain the strange artwork hanging behind your presenter!
  6. Don't lecture. Use best practices for meeting management. It's way too easy to lose your audience when you aren't together in the same room. Find ways to get your audience engaged. Ask questions. Call on individuals. Run polls. Be creative!
  7. Promote it! Make sure your target participants know about the session. Be sure to communicate to your audience where they are likely to see it…and send reminders. For example, Reshet Ramah offered a webinar for staff about using their Ramah experience in their job search. They promoted it widely, including social media and email.
  8. Be flexible. Issues may come up. Be prepared, but also be flexible enough to go with the flow. For example, it's possible to use a conference call as a back-up plan when using GoToMeeting.

Do you use web or video conferencing in other ways at your camp? Do you have tips you can share with your peers? Please let them know about it on our Facebook Page.