What a difference a week can make. In the course of that week, the content of this column has changed multiple times. Before shelter in place went into effect across most of the country, I had a solid idea, I thought. Then, as it was looking like working from home was going to be a reality, I retooled my idea to do something along the lines of must-have items to work from home. Now that most of us have been living in that world for several weeks, it’s a little late for that.
As I sit here from my home office and watch tons of chambers adapting to a new way of doing business, I’m encouraged at both the adaptability and the creativity many have exhibited. It all led me to believe that what is new might now become normal. So I thought I might put together an essential toolkit of items I think will be instrumental in the way we operate going forward.
Dare I say it, but everyone must have Zoom by now. Certainly there are other products out there, but Zoom gives you a quick and easy way to host virtual meetings and webinars for the age of social distancing. True, W.A.C.E. has been using this for a couple of years now for our fall webinar series, but the capabilities make this probably the first item I would add to my toolkit. Prices range from free for a basic account to $19.99 a month.
Microsoft Office 365
This is another no brainer to most chambers, but what I think is overlooked by many is the ability to access your Microsoft software from virtually anywhere if you subscribe to Office 365 Business Premium. All you have to do is go to www.office.com and you can access Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint remotely without needing your office computer. Plus, if you save your files to your company’s OneDrive cloud solution, you have access to all your files on any device.
If you haven’t been doing video messages already, now’s the time to start. I’ve seen some great, authentic videos that are from the heart. That’s what was needed at the time, but there is a time and a place to be professional and polished as well. I recommend a good digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera, maybe a mirrorless camera because that’s the way each manufacturer is going now, and a quality microphone.
These items are nothing new based on articles I’ve written in the past, but I would also add a tablet/iPad with a teleprompter app downloaded on it and then a teleprompter kit purchased on Amazon or through a photography store. They’re surprisingly inexpensive and will make it look less like you’re reading a script. Remember, just because you get to read your script doesn’t mean you are allowed to sound like a zombie. Be sure to show some emotion.
Another item I would look into is a video switcher to allow you to use more than one camera during a recorded or live presentation. Blackmagicdesign makes a four-camera switcher (ATEM Mini) that retails for $295. That would be top of my list if I needed to go this route—and with social distancing enforced, it’s hard to get too many people in one camera shot when they are so spread out.
If you haven’t figured out the power of a podcast yet, maybe you will now. Amid this crisis, when information needs to get out immediately because it seemingly changes every hour, podcasts are a great way to disseminate info. E-newsletters are great, but I can’t tell you the number of email updates I’m getting in response to our latest crisis. Rise above the rest by using a platform that doesn’t require reading.
The added benefit is the ability to basically interview anyone remotely. In a past column I wrote about a software called Squadcast, which does remote interviews. I wanted to bring to your attention another software called Zencastr. I have actually made the switch to Zencastr since Squadcast changed its pricing structure. With Zencastr, I get up to two guests per recording session and up to eight hours of recording time per month for free. The other cool thing is Zencastr has actually taken those two limiting factors off free accounts during the coronavirus outbreak to help get information out.
It’s anyone’s guess when things will return to normal, but then again, what’s considered normal after being told to practice social distancing? Regardless of how things look, take this opportunity to consider new ways of communicating and serving your members without events. Hopefully this toolkit will be a good start moving forward.
Russell Lahodny is vice president of W.A.C.E. and vice president of local chamber relations at the California Chamber.