Hugs, tchotchkes missed at virtual exhibit hall
The United Church of Christ “Special Edition” General Synod has managed to replicate many of the most beloved features of the traditional in-person gatherings in this year’s online event. That has included a virtual exhibit hall with 82 vendors.
Meeting attendees say there is much to appreciate about the hall: the plethora of resources available to download, the video presentations, the books and other merchandise to buy, the ability to chat with vendors either via text chat windows or live video rooms.
But, they say, they miss the free “stuff” they used to pick up from the various tables – pens, buttons, magnets, candy.
And they miss running into old friends.
Chat replaces napkin notes
“I used to just walk around to find past exhibitors and friends who had booths – by seeing them and shouting and hugging,” said Rev. Kyle Lovett of the Hawaii Conference. Now, Lovett said, it’s hard to find people as she doesn’t always know which booth they might be staffing, and it takes a lot of time to visit each one.
“It’s sad not to know whether or not they’re there,” she said.
But Lovett said she appreciated that there is a chat function for each exhibitor.
“I’m seeing comments others have left, and I can leave a note — like we used to do on napkins and our business cards, or on discarded worship song sheets — for the exhibitor to find when they come back to their shop,” she said. “That’s cool! And analogous to how we operated in person.”
The vendors, too, say that while they are benefiting from having a presence at this virtual Synod, they miss the personal contact.
“The first day of visitors and shoppers at the UCC Resources virtual booth went very well,” said Marie Tyson, the director of sales and distribution. “Folks ordered dozens of stoles, T-shirts, communion cloths, totes, mugs, magnets and more. The first virtual Synod exhibit hall is very interesting, but I do miss seeing everyone and the crazy fun that happens at the ‘in person’ exhibit hall.”
The Synod store run by UCC Resources is one of many familiar booths at this year’s event, along with various denominational ministries, theological schools, The Pilgrim Press, and vendors selling products from custom stoles to free-trade coffee.
How the booths work
Visitors can access the exhibit hall through meet.ucc by clicking Exhibit Hall in the menu bar, and entering the same email address they used for their Synod registration. When they enter, they can go into the “Expo” and either scroll down to see each vendor or use a search window to find a particular booth. The exhibits are open 24 hours a day through Friday, July 18, and staffed for live chats between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. EDT each day.
Each booth is represented by a banner with vendor’s name and a graphic, and on the banner there is either a green “available” or red “away” flag. This lets visitors know whether there is someone present at the booth whom they can talk to.
One delegate said she was nervous to click on the “available” banners, as she wasn’t necessarily ready to jump into a video call. Another said the same, saying she just wanted to look and browse, and wasn’t necessarily ready to engage in a conversation or to download a lot of material. (In those booths that have video capability, visitors who do click on the “available” banners then have the option of whether to click a “join” button before they find themselves in the video chat.)
Not so different
Roberto Ochoa, staffing the Justice and Local Church Ministries booth on Monday, said with a laugh that it had been “learning experiences galore” on the first day.
He said it was disconcerting at first to realize that when he was in a video window chatting with one visitor, another could just pop in and join the conversation mid-stream. He said he was having to find a new kind of etiquette to apply to the virtual space, but said in reality it was not too much different than when he is having a conversation with someone in person, and another person comes within earshot.
“It’s interesting – the capability of having multiple conversations,” he said.
And, he said, people had been downloading information cards and otherwise making contact, so he is optimistic the rest of the week will go well.
Tiffany Vail, director of media and communications for the Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, is a General Synod Newsroom volunteer.
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