Thank you for checking in as you prepare for the first annual meeting of your homeowners’ association on Zoom. Here are a few thoughts to help it go well.
Can you meet remotely?
The first thing is to make sure that you CAN meet remotely. Our article, When COVID-19 cancels your meeting, describes the general concerns that are important. I’m impressed with the information published by the Community Associations Institute. Your state chapter will have lots of specific guidance here. I’m sure you’ve checked your state law and your bylaws, and consulted with your attorney.
Get comfortable with how Zoom works
Next you’ll need to be comfortable with the Zoom interface. It’s not always intuitive! Practicing ahead of time is essential so you can monitor participation and run a smooth meeting.
Then you need to help out your homeowners, so they can participate fully. You asked about offering a practice session. I think that’s a great idea. You can also plan on starting the meeting 30 minutes early, to give people new to the platform a chance to connect.
It’s also a good idea to provide tip sheets on how Zoom works. If you search for “Zoom tip sheet” on the Internet you will find lots of choices, one of which might be just right for you. Attendee tips might include:
- Adjust your screen view
- “Gallery” versus “speaker” view
- Find the chat
- Raise and lower your hand
- Mute and unmute yourself
- Turn your own video on or off, hide your self view
- How to participate on the telephone
Preparation is key
It’s great to have a team on your side: someone to work the platform, someone to recognize speakers, someone to answer questions in the “chat.” Too much for one person, for sure! Provide people with a telephone number of a person who can assist if they run into problems.
You want to prepare a thoughtful agenda for the meeting, and be realistic about how much time agenda items will take. Two hours is a good maximum time, I think, for an online meeting. Longer than that, and people will drop off—you could even lose your quorum. (Read more about quorum here.)
Remind people of the rules
At the beginning of the meeting, remind everyone of the rules for participating. No one can speak a second time until everyone who wishes to do so has spoken once. Don’t let people get into a face-to-face argument. Don’t let anyone interrupt. You as chair need to enforce the rules, even though it sometimes feels uncomfortable. Another key point during the discussion phase is to allow for time lag. People hear remarks a few seconds after they have been uttered. Be prepared to tolerate a bit of silence in between speakers, so that voices don’t echo over each other.
Voting can be a problem
In my view, voting at an annual meeting is problematic on Zoom. I’ve seen people use the chat, or the “raise hands” feature, or polling. I don’t like any of them. A roll call vote, which is clear, takes time. You have the additional complication of proxy voting—some members of your association hold the power of more than one vote. Some groups handle the voting as a separate process from the meeting itself, maybe by mail. Your property manager may have good suggestions here.
ZOOM unsettles our normal patterns
Finally, we always have to remember that for in-person meetings, physical proximity requires us to respond to the full presence of the human being next to us. We get lots of information from the body language of our colleagues. We also have the comfort of knowing that we’re all in the meeting together. Each person has given their time and self to address the common concerns of everyone. Sure, we bring our own egotistical concerns, yet we are also open to the fact that we’re not alone.
It’s harder to remember this in an online meeting. We bring only a fraction of ourselves to the experience. It’s easier to disengage, to inwardly criticize, to dismiss others. One way to lessen this effect is to turn off the “self-view” in Zoom. You can set your view so you see everyone except your own face. In my experience, this makes me more engaged with the whole crew, more attentive to what others say, and less inclined to think about how brilliant my arguments are.
Again, I appreciate your checking in. Let me know how it goes!
With warm best wishes,
Ann G. Macfarlane, Professional Registered Parliamentarian