Scottish Liberal Democrats trial new virtual conference – 3 top tips from me

I spent most of yesterday glued to various screens. I went to Social Liberal Forum’s leadership hustings in the morning and in the afternoon, we had the Scottish Lib Dems’ virtual special conference. Thanks to Paul McGarry for the screenshots.

Here, Willie Rennie and Alistair Carmichael are interviewed by Environment spokesperson Rebecca Bell, watched by convener Sheila Ritchie:

Chair Jenni Lang watches while LGBT+ Exec member Fraser Graham speaks on the diversity motion:

And here are John Ferry and Katy Gordon putting Layla and Ed through their paces:

We had a couple of items of actual business – a motion on diversity for the elections next year and the report on a reference back from a policy motion, which couldn’t wait any longer. We haven’t had a proper Conference since Spring last year. The election did away with our Autumn Conference last year and the pandemic scuppered Spring Conference in May.

We were the pioneers for the Lib Dems in using the platform Hopin, which the party has acquired for the Federal Conference due to take place from 25-28 September.

Massive thanks are due to Paul McGarry, the Scottish Conference Convener, Megan Wiseman and Paul Moat from Scottish HQ who set everything up. Federal Conference will have people to do that professionally, but they did a great job. Though there were a few testing problems with the tech, they got them sorted and we got all the business done.

The chairs and aides were based in Scottish HQ, all appropriately socially distanced bar the two from the same household.

The agenda provided two debates and two keynote events so there was a good mix. We had one procedural motion, a suspension of standing orders, and an amendment for each motion.

We used a separate voting system called mi-voice, but I think that for Federal Conference we’ll be voting in Hopin. That was a bit glitchy, but we got there.

As we were all attending from our homes, there was bound to be some background noise at some point. Usually it’s my dogs causing various sorts of mayhem, but on this occasion, it was the gorgeous Thor and Bella who did what every self-respecting dog does when a delivery driver turns up at their house.  They didn’t realise that their mum, Cllr Fiona Dryburgh,  was making her debut conference speech.


Top Tips

From yesterday’s experience, I’d say that there were three top tips for attendees to the Federal event in the Autumn.

Firstly, Paul and Megan had prepared a detailed document outlining the process and how the tech worked to everyone. I presume we will get something similar in September. Make sure you read it. I only discovered that I’d have to download a new browser when I did that. Apparently Hopin and Safari aren’t that in love with each other so they recommend Chrome or Firefox. I hate doing tech stuff like this but it worked quite smoothly – though I had to change my passwords for my email because I couldn’t remember them.

Take time to play around with the system ahead of time. There’s a demo here. We didn’t have any fringes or an exhibition at Scottish Conference but there will be the usual glittering array of alternatives in September.

Secondly, if you are interested in speaking, I am presuming that there will be some dry run sessions in the few days before. If I hadn’t taken part in that on Friday, I’d have been pretty confused on Saturday.

Thirdly, familiarise yourself with the process for speaking. You fill in a speakers’ card online. You then have to watch your email when the debate starts to see if you get called. There will be a special link in that area which gets you to the backstage area. You can still watch the Conference from there, but you need to close down the tab you are already watching on or you’ll get a dreadful echo as there is a time delay between the two. You will be asked to share your video and audio in the backstage area, which you need to allow it to do. Once you have done that, you still can’t say anything until you are called. When you can see yourself on-sceen with the session chair, you can just launch into your speech.

I have to say it was quite weird launching into a speech without knowing how your comments are going down, or being able to gauge the mood in the “hall” or make eye contact with people. I think that it would be useful to have a separate chat stream where you can kind of get some idea of what people are thinking. Understandably, the staff and volunteers running the event need the “official” chat to only be for important procedural motions and points of order. If we’re all commenting on events, they could miss things that they need to see.

Perhaps one useful thing that we could do is offer to listen to each other’s speeches ahead of the event in September just to so we can get comfortable with the format.

Normally, after Conference, you just want to head to the pub or for a cup of tea to chew it all over. The social element is really important. I set up a Zoom link and invited everyone who was not fed up of staring at a screen to come for a chat and a few did. Maybe we want to think now about setting up those sorts of social events. I think I might set up a Lib Dem Voice virtual bar on my Zoom account for you all to nip in and out of as you choose. One of the great things about Conference is catching up with commenters and contributors in person and I don’t want to miss out on that.

All in all, having seen yesterday’s event in operation, I am really excited about how Federal Conference is going to go. Federal Conference Committee met yesterday to select the motions for debate and we’ll have the news on here soon about which motions have made it on to the preliminary agenda.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Daniel Walker 12th Jul '20 - 12:59pm

    I would add to Caron’s top tips the suggestion to get a headset if at all possible—they were in short supply at the start of lockdown, but that may have changed—especially if pets/family/domestic appliances are likely to interrupt. You may feel a bit of a wally in a headset, but it really does help with the audio quality.

  • Kay Kirkham 12th Jul '20 - 3:33pm

    Headsets are invaluable if you have hearing loss. Turn hearing aids to the T setting and off you go. The sound quality can actually be better than normal face to face ( especially if masks are involved!)

  • Any chance of the main sessions becoming available online?
    I’d particularly like to see how the diversity motion and the refer-back (on religion in the Scottish education system) went.

  • Jennifer Boag 13th Jul '20 - 6:36pm

    Agree with all of Caron’s points. I missed being able to chat to other attendees over coffee, or something stronger. And don’t underestimate how tiring an online conference is. Sounds like an easy option, lounge around your own home, listening to the debates, but you need to concentrate harder on what is being said and that is quite hard for four plus hours. You need to take breaks for coffee etc but on your own.
    However, it was an excellent experiment, much appreciated by those attending.
    I wonder if we could have more of these, shorter sessions of opportunity for debate, perhaps before me finally make policy at conference

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