It is strongly recommended that a specific person be assigned to play the role of technology facilitator. Do not try to be both the MC/lead facilitator and the technology facilitator. The tech person should be the one to (a) assess the needs, accessibilities, and capabilities of the participants; (b) determine the best communication platform; and (c) set up and “host” the gathering (different than being the MC/host).
Platforms for Hosting Ceremonies
Each of these ceremonies can be done using a choice of either video or telephone platforms. In the case of telephone, one way is to organize a group conversation by initiating a call to a user with a similar type of phone (iPhone/Android), then using the phone’s functions to add other people and merge calls. Alternatively, there are free conference call software programs available on the internet, such as https://www.freeconferencecall.com/. Be sure to practice at least once in the days ahead of the ceremony so that you are very familiar with how this works.
Web-based video conference
There are now many free web-based video conference services available, such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Whereby.com, etc. Explore a couple of options to see what will work best for you. Zoom allows users free 40-minute meetings, but it will abruptly cut off users of the free service, so be sure to plan accordingly. Zoom has waived the time limits for many public teachers, so check to see if this is available to anyone in your participants’ group, who may then be able to set up the call.
When setting up the video conference, it is advisable to use enhanced security functions, such as requiring a password that is shared with participants ahead of time. Another feature in Zoom is to enable the “waiting room” function, which requires the host to allow the guest to join. These features reduce the likelihood of uninvited guests joining your ceremony and are recommended.
Allow plenty of time before the ceremony begins for not only setting up the host’s technology, but allowing time at the beginning for guests to ask questions and trouble-shoot technology. This will be necessary to ensure a smooth ceremony, so it is well worth taking as much time as needed making sure everyone has arrived, understands basic features like how to mute, un-mute, and re-mute themselves. Especially as people of various levels of technical skill get together with new technology, taking a few moments to make sure everyone knows how to stay muted when not speaking is important for a smooth and effective ceremony.
Instruct participants to the different “views” available in the software. For example, in Zoom, selecting “Gallery View” will allow participants to see everyone who has joined. If many people are present, it may be necessary to scroll to view all participants. If desired, clicking “Speaker View” will show a large image of the person who is speaking at the moment. This will change when the line is un-muted and different people are speaking, but for most of the ceremony, it will be the MC. Users can also click on the three dots in a speaker’s image, then select “Pin video” to make that person’s image stay large on the screen. There are different benefits to each option. Seeing everyone altogether can bring a sense of connectedness and comfort, while for others it may simply be overwhelming. It is important to explain the different options and allow people to make the choice that is best for them.
Although you may choose to allow participants to announce themselves and greet others when they arrive, it is strongly suggested that the technology organizer / meeting eventually announces a distinct time when all participants will be muted. This is especially important where normal expressions of emotion such as crying and/or blowing noses may become audible. Do this prior to getting started with the formal ceremony to reduce background noise. For example in Zoom, the host of the call would click “Manage participants” at the bottom of the Zoom screen and then “Mute all”.
Sharing / Music / Videos
Towards the end of each ceremony, there will be an opportunity for sharing memories and stories about the deceased. Doing so may allow participants to feel connected to the person who has passed, especially in a time when many people’s sense of connection has been completely disrupted. However, many many people may simply not feel ready to share. These are extraordinary times, and this is completely normal and understandable. In this case, participants may instead prefer to watch a recording of the deceased’s favorite poem or song, either on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, or from someone’s personal collection.
However, if using music and/or videos, just be sure that everyone else is muted as they may want to sing along. Despite the videos going around the Internet that show large groups of people performing in their individual homes, these are professionally edited after being recorded. The inherent “lag” between video conference attendees unfortunately makes it difficult to share singing in the moment. The MC or technology organizer could also share a video via the conference’s chat function or send it out earlier in the invitation to the event. Participants can open and watch in their own homes, muting themselves for the duration of the video so there are strange echoes of feedback.