Last month I spoke at a hybrid meeting for the Denver SQL Server User Group. This was an experiment, and I’m putting together some notes here on the event from my perspective.
Once we agreed to try a hybrid meeting, I met Todd Kleinhans at the venue, which is his church campus. We have held SQL Saturays there in the past, and they have been allowing different civic groups to hold meetings in a large room upstairs.
Todd had a large TV set up at the front of the room with a podium. There were tables and chairs against the wall, and we talked about spacing out some tables with a few chairs each.
The venue follows county health guidelines, which is something that we planned on following. In this case, that meant that full vaccinated people did not need to wear masks, and non-vaccinated people had a recommendation to wear masks and distance from others.
I tested my laptop with the screen, which worked fine. We then discussed the audio setup. For some of the other hybrid meetings, they’ve used Zoom and allowed the speaker to use their laptop mic for online attendees and a wireless mic for the people in the room. Since I typically haven’t used a mic for user group talks, and I do like to walk around, Todd suggested I find a USB wireless mic for the laptop.
I ended up purchasing the FiFine Wireless USB Mic and testing it at home.
We hadn’t gotten organized quite early enough and the notices from Meetup went out between 1-2 weeks before the event. The Meetup meeting actual says online event, which is a challenge. However, the emails also didn’t highlight the hybrid portion of the event at the top of the email.
The lesson I learned here is that the important part of moving back to live meetings is that you note this at the beginning. The title and speaker of the event, but then the format (virtual or hybrid or physical only) and the date/time/location need to be first.
The Meeting Night
I arrived early and setup my system by connecting to the projector and connecting my mic to the laptop. We logged into Zoom and were able to see my screen in the share. However, despite me logging in as the host, I couldn’t get my speaker inset video to appear. When Todd logged in, his video appeared. The oddities of Zoom.
A few people logged onto Zoom, and they were able to see and hear us. Todd connected a USB webcam to his laptop, and pointed that at me, so people could see me. However, I couldn’t hear them. We worked with a few combinations of muting and unmuting my mic, Todd’s laptop, and his speakers. We got feedback a few times, and finally decided to have the virtual attendees on mute, and use chat.
I think 7 or 8 people showed up in person, spread across 3 tables, and they were able to chat amongst themselves. As a speaker, I was trying to decide when to mute my mic v have it on as I tried to engage with people in the room. Having a conversation that spans multiple people in a room and online is definitely a challenge. We did use Todd’s camera to show the room, so people at home could see who had come into the room.
For the presentation, we left my mic on, the camera pointed to me, and everything else turned off. We agreed I’d pause in various places for questions, and Todd would monitor the chat. For our setup, we had duplicated my screen, which meant the Zoom toolbar was on the large TV for everyone to see. Not a big deal, but when chat messages came in, they popped up and the audience would raise a hand and point things out.
The presentation went well, though some audience comments bled through my mic and the online group couldn’t hear. The wireless mic also seemed to drop connection at times, which was strange as I was always close. I also didn’t repeat everything said live into the mic.
A few lessons for me, which are mostly around audio.
- The USB mic was good as I walk around, but a hard wired one is probably better.
- A camera /mic from a second laptop might be better, as this would allow this login to be the Active Speaker and appear on screen, reduce the need for me to use resources on my laptop, and possibly cause issues.
- A way for people online to hear and be heard is a challenge. A separate computer might help here, with a webcam, external mic, and speaker.
- It’s really, really nice to see people in person
I’m hoping others will give this a try and see how it goes.