Tech support keeps Annual Conference virtually trouble-free

Date Posted: 5/20/2021


When it comes to tech-support for Annual Conference 2021, Zach Anderson is hoping for the best and preparing to assist delegates that might encounter tech problems this year with nine extra district tech support volunteers. At last year’s Texas Annual Conference, Anderson, connecting ministries pastor at Covenant UMC in The Woodlands, agreed to help the Conference work through the frozen screens, muted audio, log-in missteps as some 1,458 clergy, and lay delegates, got together online for the first time via Zoom.

Anderson thought he could field all help requests by himself.  “On the first day,” he recalled, “about 600 people had trouble joining in. And it seemed like all of them were all calling me – at the same time.”

This time around, things should run much more smoothly during the Conference, which starts with an opening worship and a message from Bishop Scott J. Jones on May 30 and runs through June 1.

For one thing, videoconferencing – like masks, hand sanitizer, vaccines and social distancing – has become a part of life in the pandemic. Fifteen months ago, “Zoom” was a word mostly found in superhero comics. Now, for better or worse, it’s found its way into our workaday lexicon.

Also, this time Anderson isn’t flying solo. He’s heading a team of nine “district tech troubleshooters,” one for each geographic district of the Conference. They’ll be available in real time by phone, text, or email to tackle any snafus that come up.

“One thing this past year has shown us is that people are highly capable of adapting to circumstances,” Anderson said. “We learn to deal with whatever we have to deal with. It’s inevitable that some technical difficulties will occur, but when they do, we’ll be ready to jump in and help.”

Anderson, 28, has no formal training or expertise in tech support. But he grew up in the digital age, and, like most 20-somethings, he finds its tools no more mysterious or daunting than, say, a toaster. Computers and the Web have been around longer than he has. He remembers his parents’ first cellphone (“a Nokia brick phone”) and the clunky, dial-up Internet service in his childhood home.

Asked how he got the task of heading tech support for the Conference, he gives a true pastor’s answer: “They needed help last year, and I was available, so I said, ‘Sure.’” Anderson, who is to graduate from Liberty University next spring, said he plans to attend seminary afterward and carry on his passion for Gospel discipleship.



Don’t confuse the password with the meeting ID
A common problem during last year’s Conference, he said, was that many novice Zoom users confused their password -- needed to log into an account through the Zoom website (on a laptop) or app (on a mobile device) -- with the Conference’s meeting ID, a 9-, 10-, or 11-digit numerical code that Zoom assigns to each specific virtual event. (If that sounds complicated, it isn’t. Just remember: password, meeting ID, two different things.)

With help from the tech team, Rev. Kip Gilts, Assistant to Bishop Scott J. Jones, has prepared a detailed list of frequently asked questions regarding the upcoming Annual Conference. The FAQs cover technical matters related to using Zoom, as well as other useful information. Gilts has also prepared a video, How to register for Annual Conference, or Cooking up a Perfect Annual Conference that many delegates have found helpful.

2021 Annual Conference tech team
Here’s a district-by-district list of the online troubleshooters for this year’s Texas Annual Conference. They’ll be standing by to help anyone who encounters a problem tuning in virtually via Zoom.

Central North
Zach Anderson
Email Zach
 
Central South
Sara Hinshaw-Hatten
Email Sara
 
North
Brian Brooks
Email Brian
 
Northwest
Bill Fry
Email Bill
 
Southeast
Chase Cobb
Email Chase
 
 
Southwest
Dane Daniels
Email Dane
 
East
Ian Hodge
Email Ian
 
South
Colly Enochs
Email Colly
 
West
Mark McClanahan
Email Mark