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Out and About from Home

by Patricia H. Kushlis

As a Santa Fe resident, I’ve been spending most of my time working from, eating at, and practicing my oboe from home as well as taking walks along the arroyo next to my house since the novel coronavirus first crept into this southern Rocky Mountain state by mid-March. I thought momentarily once quarantine was announced here, that I would use the time to organize my files, read some books, take naps, and binge watch movies while scarfing on pickup lunches and dinners from favorite restaurants plus having groceries delivered to my front door.

It has turned out differently.

After sending out numerous emails postponing the Santa Fe World Affairs Forum’s annual April symposium on the Warming World until, hopefully, April 2021, the board decided to embark upon a different and novel programming approach: a summer webinar series. Its title is: Summer with SFWAF: Hot Weather, Hot Topics. Several of us had already started watching webinars by other organizations. Luckily for us, Krista Peterson and Steve Kerchoff – both board members and former FSOs who were experienced with information technology and willing and interested in seeing whether we could make the new technology work for us – were the most enthusiastic and experienced. After watching numerous programs by other organizations, we then ran two internal trials – programs for board members by two board members who had recently volunteered abroad – to help us work out as many of the bugs as we could before embarking on a more ambitious, public effort. These trials convinced us we could move programs online.

So. . . the first webinar we will be offering to SFWAF members and friends will be on Wed., May 20. It will be by Ambassador John Lange, a specialist in pandemics and now a senior fellow at the UN Foundation. The Ambassador had previously agreed to be a 2020 symposium speaker on climate change and disease spread until, of course, the symposium was put on indefinite hold and his travel cancelled.

What have we learned thus far about this new technology? ( 1) The webinar platform – despite its increased cost – is far superior to a Zoom meeting platform for our type of programming; (2) A single effective speaker for about 30 minutes then comments and q’s/a’s from viewers for about another 20-30 minutes is, for us, more effective than a panel – at least at this point; (3) It takes a small team of two to three people behind the scenes to make the program work comfortably and the webinar platform is more complex to operate than a meeting;( 4) Depending on the topic and the ease of the speaker using PowerPoint, such a presentation can be very effective in a webinar, particularly if pictures are integral to the talk; (5) Instructions to viewers as to how to participate in webinars at the beginning of the session are really important; (6) It is important to ask viewers to hold questions (unless they are points of clarification submitted in writing) until the end of the talk and then asking them to submit the questions either in writing or orally, with the manager controlling the order of questions to keep the flow of the presentation intact – but also allowing plenty of opportunity for viewer participation.

Our plan is to hold two webinars a month on Wednesdays from 11:00 to 12:15 MT over the summer, and we are currently looking for foreign affairs experts comfortable with the webinar format and willing and interested in speaking to our audience. Moreover, if conditions necessitate it, we will continue the webinar format into the fall.

We know that the two International Visitor Committees in New Mexico (Global Ties Albuquerque and the Council on International Relations in Santa Fe) are holding webinars that are different from ours in terms of approach. We also understand from Peter Becskehazy in Tucson, AZ, that the International Visitor Committee (Citizen’s Diplomacy Alliance) there is “planning a Zoom conference with three retired Ambassadors to discuss how the countries they served in are dealing with COVID-19, and the executive director is in touch with former IV grantees about how they are coping in these trying times.”

But, we also wonder about public affairs offices abroad and how effective it is for their staffs to be confined to contacts exclusively through the Internet.

We still have many questions ourselves here in Santa Fe about programming in the age of COVID-19 including financial ones for webinars, but most of all we’d like to hear from you about your experiences and activities during this peculiar period in 21st century history. So please be in contact and let us know how you are and what you are doing. You can reach me at kushlis@msn.com or on my cell phone: 505-550—6392 and leave a message. I’ll return your call.


PDAA Board Member Patricia Kushlis

Pat Kushlis is a member of the PDAA Board of Directors and president of the Santa Fe World Affairs Forum.

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