Technology: How did we ever live without it?

In an age of technology, the General Conference has incorporated more and more technology to assist the conference. As four years pass between each General Conference, new technologies become available. What worked at the last General Conference may now be outdated and in need of new resources.

More video is the most obvious change for 2012. A dynamic changing video wall is the backdrop for the conference platform in the Tampa Convention Center. It provides imagery and live video to enhance and support reports and worship. Seven other large screens and video projectors around the main floor help to ensure that everyone can see the presenters and video presentations, as well as text for worship music and liturgy. Closed-circuit TV provides a signal to workspace and meeting rooms throughout the conference, and live streaming video sends plenary and worship sessions around the world. The live stream has had hundreds of simultaneous views, allowing people around the world to follow the business and participate in worship.

As the images change almost effortlessly from speaker to speaker, bishop to video, it’s easy to forget the complexity of what is happening behind the scenes. Hidden behind the temporary walls and curtains is an array of equipment; staff; video, audio, and fiber-optic cables; and even an entire video-production truck. Wireless microphones, remote-control cameras, teleprompter screens, and computer-controlled lighting fixtures all work to help share the message in the conference center rooms and around the world.

Turning an empty conference hall into a place for worship and business doesn’t happen overnight. Staff from United Methodist Communications came on site six days before the beginning of conference to prepare. Aided by contractors for video, lighting, audio, electronic voting, translation technology, and the convention center, United Methodist Communications staff created the diverse worship space where the conference is being held.

According to Harry Leake, video services manager for United Methodist Communications, “The reality is that it’s a team thing. There are so many elements that it requires a team.” Leake relies not only on United Methodist Communications staff, but also on annual conference communicators, contract laborers and volunteers.

Three years of planning

Technology planning began almost three years ago as the site was evaluated and technology specifications were developed. A competitive bidding process resulted in separate contracts for video, sound and lighting services.

According to the Rev. Alan Morrison, business manager for the General Conference, the cost of audiovisual technology for the plenary hall and other conference center rooms is approaching $1.5 million. But the final cost “won’t be known until the bills are tallied after conference.”

Other innovations have also improved the efficiency of the conference. Networked computers help legislative committees file reports, electronic voting improves speed and accuracy of decisions and elections, and a General Conference application for smartphones provides up-to-date information on the schedule, news, images, video and mobile access to the live streaming video.
It’s not yet known what new technology will show up at the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore., but, chances are, something different will enhance the experience.

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