This week about half of the nation lifted stay-at-home mandates. Other state quarantines are scheduled to end by June. But it won’t be business as usual. Social distancing requirements continue to limit the number of people who can gather in one place.
How can utilities hold consumer meetings in this new normal?
Not all public power utilities meet regularly with consumers, but electric cooperatives are required to allow all members to vote at annual meetings. About half of Pioneer electric co-op members hold spring meetings, mainly in April and May. Many of these meetings have been postponed or canceled.
Some utility bylaws allow mail-in or online voting. Pioneer can distribute registration cards through magazine wraps, and our online ballot tool makes the transition seamless. To pair with these tools, we’ve seen several #UtilityPioneers lead social-distance member meetings: online streaming, call-in or drive-by meetings.
The #UtilityPioneers at Columbia Rural Electric Cooperative in Walla Walla, Washington, held an online annual meeting April 16. The co-op’s bylaws were changed two years ago to allow for both paper and electronic ballots.
Columbia REA advertised the meeting on their website, Facebook and April’s Ruralite magazine. Attendees had a chance to win one of 25 electric bill credits, with winners picked at random by Survey and Ballot Systems.
CEO Scott Peters, a member of Pioneer’s Board of Directors, shares four takeaways from the experience:
- Default to the lowest video streaming resolution.
- Get comfortable speaking to cameras.
- Practice connections in advance.
- Pay attention to speaker backgrounds.
“We broadcast the meeting in high definition with the ability for users to dial it down on their end. Lots of people had screens freeze and complained,” said Scott.
If the co-op has to meet online again, the default streaming option will be low resolution.
Scott says to expect a level of discomfort speaking to cameras instead of members. He led the meeting from the co-op’s community room, with only two other people present—a videographer and Manager of Marketing and Member Services Doug Case, who monitored the meeting’s chat channel.
“I’m happy speaking in front of a couple hundred people—that doesn’t bother me at all,” he says. “Standing in front of two cameras? It was a completely different experience. I couldn’t see how people were reacting.”
Doug and Scott ran through the process several times to make sure there were no surprises on the night of the meeting.
“Practice all the connections at least one week ahead of time to make sure everyone is comfortable with the process,” advises Doug.
The last takeaway was to pay attention to speaker backgrounds. Scott spoke at a podium in front of More Powerful Together banners. A neutral background would have worked, too. Make sure there is nothing to distract from the message.
Conference Call Meeting
Members called in on May 2 to hear a report from CEO Doug Birmingham and answer member questions at Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative in Wewahitchka, Florida.
- Voting was done electronically a week before the meeting.
- Everyone who voted received a $5 bill credit.
- Questions and motions were emailed in advance to the co-op.
In Wisconsin, Richland Electric Cooperative opted for a drive-by annual meeting. 130 members parked at the co-op and listened to the meeting on car radios as co-op leaders spoke from utility truck buckets. Members voted by honking.
Need More Meeting Tips?
“When it comes to livestreaming, there are many choices,” says ARC’s Creative Director and Co-founder Gus Wagner. “Google, Facebook, and YouTube all have livestreaming functions built into their programs. These would just fine from a mobile device or camera in small settings. For larger events, you need additional equipment and software.”
To stream large events, Gus has three tips:
- Use one laptop to manage the presentation and answer comments.
- Set up a DSLR camera, or multiples, with the video output run to the laptop through a “mult box” and publishing software.
- Plug microphones into a port or attach to cameras to clearly capture vocals and sound.
“All livestreaming can be done through a mobile device or tablet, but that would most likely require someone to hold the device and move around the room,” says Gus. “We advise against this in all settings.”
If you or your team are not experienced with livestreams, consider hiring a local videographer for support and peace of mind.
Send Us Your Questions!
Some of you asked us how we’re keeping our staff connected, so last week we spotlighted online collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting. If there are other challenges and public power solutions you’d like us to share, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We may be apart, but we’ll get through this together.