Making the Most of Virtual AA Meetings

Many AAs are finding themselves coming to grips with changing their behaviors during this pandemic. With many (or all)  meetings canceled, AAs craving the sobriety meetings offer are going virtual. Most challenging to this shift is that many are doing this for the first time.

This post is about good news and bad news about video conferencing for AA and some of the simple things you can do as a newbie to make these meetings great!

The Good News

The good news is video conferencing is not new. It’s a mature business. As a seasoned business, the competitors now have very little differentiation. The features are almost the same for all. So, if you are using WebEx, Zoom, Skype, MSTeams, or other video conferencing software, you’re experience is likely to be similar. And it will be, generally, a good one.

The excellent user experience is because these platforms work seamlessly across devices and operating systems. New users can typically get onto a platform easily, navigate the controls quickly, and literally within minutes be up-and-running with the software.

For people like me who have been remote workers for decades, we have come to rely on these platforms for everyday work. Team meetings, client discussions, and even conferences all work well with video conferencing.

So, the good news is, if you’re worried about virtual meetings sucking, don’t. They won’t. And, once you understand and follow a few basics, you’ll find these meetings almost as good as an in-person one!

The Bad News

The bad news for virtual AA meetings is many attendees will show up utterly ignorant of the best practices. Best practices, learned by veterans like me across years and multiple platforms, can help make a good meeting even better. All you need is an open mind.

Unfortunately, some AAs are notoriously close-minded to taking direction. As a result, eager newbies to this technology will show up and add an unintended level of distracting “noise” to the meetings. These distractions are similar to someone showing up late, on their phone through the meeting, and when called on, says, “uh, what’s the topic?” All easily avoidable if the person was a bit, ahem, more conscientious.

There will also be a bunch of new meeting leaders foisted upon us. There are folks with little or no experience leading web conferences. But, eagerness, willingness to help, and enthusiasm are not a straight line to technical competence. Good leaders are those who understand the application and have a bit of the nuanced skill required for online facilitation.  Facilitation and technical skills can be developed. But, if you’re coming to this for the first time, your road to mastery can be a bumpy one—both for you and all the people in your meeting.

Attendee Best Practices

Most people will be coming to virtual meetings as a participant. So, let me start with a few best practices you should consider if you’re attending a virtual meeting.

  • Be early.
  • Download software (if required) in advance of the meeting.
  • Go to the software vendor’s website and look for “tutorials” or “getting started” guides. Make use of them.
  • Pay close attention to controls for “views” “mute” “start/stop video” “audio connection” and “preferences.”
  • Connect from desktop or laptop if possible, not all these features work on these devices.
  • Use your computer for video. Again, smartphones and pad devices are not ideal.
  • Connect audio through phone (you will see a list of dial-in numbers when you first log in, dial into one of them).
  • Use a good pair of headphones with a microphone through your phone. “Use computer for audio” is an option but often creates echos, and the built-in computer microphone is typically inferior quality.
  • Conduct the call from an office (or location with a door). Dogs barking, people walking in the background, are highly distracting.
  • Be vigilant with your “mute” and “start/stop video” controls. We don’t need to see you walking around. Turn off the video! We also don’t need everyone yelling, “you are on mute!”
  • Take the meeting seriously and behave like you would at a live session.
  • Don’t multitask while doing the virtual meeting. It’s rude and disrespectful. Isn’t sobriety worth your full attention?

Meeting Leader Best Practices

Never led a virtual meeting before? Just doing your “AA thing” and volunteering anyway? Well, good for you!

But, this could be unintentionally bad for everyone who is attending your meeting. The attendees are counting on you to know what you are doing.

So, until we all become experts with video conferencing software, I thought I would provide a  shortlist of best practices.

  • Prepare in Advance – Go to the website of the vendor you are using. There are tutorial videos there. Watch them. Then, have some friends try it out with you before your first meeting. Make sure everything works. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did! There is nothing worse than being frustrated on a call with lots of attendees witnessing your frustration.
  • Provide a quick “technical orientation” at the beginning of the meeting. “I know there are some new-to-video-conferencing folks on the line today. Welcome! Let me point out a few buttons!” Then you might point out, where the controls are, and what some of the key controls do. I think the aforementioned “view” “mute” and “stop video” should be mentioned at the start of every meeting.
  • Remind everyone to “mute their lines and unmute their lines if called on.”
  • Know where the “mute participant” controls are and use it.
  • The same goes for “stop video!”
  • Headphones with microphones are best for leaders to listen with and being heard. So use them. 
  • Ask for help. If you are unsure how to do anything, reach out in your group to someone experienced. Maybe you let this experienced person “drive” on your first couple of calls until you get comfortable.
The Guiding Principal

The guiding principle here is to be considerate of others to make the best possible meetings during this challenging time. This global pandemic, no matter how complex, shall too pass.

Until it does, let us all take a bit of self-responsibility and make it work!

We got this, AA!

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