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October 14, 2020, 10:49 am

Civic Voices Feature Column - Moving Beyond Zoom to Inspire an Audience: Creating the Watershed Moments Video Trilogy

Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC
Column by Kim A. Stephens, P.Eng.
Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia
With input from Paul Chapman, Executive Director, Nanaimo & Area Land Trust (NALT); and Chair, Vancouver Island Water Stewardship Symposia Series
"Water is a great metaphor for collaborative leadership. It overcomes obstacles with its constant presence; moving over, around or wearing down. When you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization and community."
- Dr. Kathy Bishop, Royal Roads University, June 2020
VANCOUVER ISLAND - I am a member of a team representing the stream stewardship sector and three levels of government. In 2017, we embarked upon a journey to inform and inspire audiences as to what communities can accomplish through the power of collaboration, and across boundaries. We set out to showcase why and how “sustainable is attainable” – by decreasing our destructive footprint while at the same time increasing our restorative footprint.

And so it was that the vision for the Vancouver Island Symposia Series on Water Stewardship in a Changing Climate took hold. We held the first gathering in Nanaimo (2018) and the second in Parksville (2019). Capitalizing on the energy we generated with these successes, the team aimed to raise the bar yet again with the third in the series.

We would have held the 2020 Symposium in the Comox Valley this past April. Our game plan had been built around what we call “facilitated conversations” moderated by Richard Boase of North Vancouver District. The concept for these panel-type sessions allowed for substantial audience interaction with panel members. But then COVID struck, and the world as we once knew it changed.

Why We Moved Beyond Zoom

For the foreseeable future, we will be relying on virtual forums to bring audiences together. Now what will we do, we asked each other? In the age of COVID, how does one inspire an audience over a computer? Addressing this existential challenge was our starting point for re-imagining the 2020 Virtual Symposium as Watershed Moments, the Video Trilogy Series.

Very quickly we ruled out going down the Zoom webinar pathway. Zoom is simply not conducive to natural or spontaneous interaction among speakers that we wished to achieve. We decided that each of our three teams, one at a time, had to be in the same room in order for them to have a proper conversation among themselves.

We looked to TED Talks for inspiration. Why are they so successful in motivating audiences, we asked ourselves. TED Talks are very good at capturing a speaker’s passion and enthusiasm, we concluded. So, that is what we set out to do too!

A Peek behind the Scenes

On a shoestring budget, a single $5000 grant from the Real Estate Foundation, we have moved well beyond a Zoom webinar by using YouTube to provide a viewer experience that we believe is comparable to viewing an engaging TED Talk. We have done it with a small team of extraordinary volunteers, in particular David Mackenzie. His video production skill-set, coupled with his can-do confidence and utmost attention to detail, has made it possible to bring a vision to fruition.

“The story of how I became involved in the Video Trilogy Series shows what is possible for a concerned citizen who wishes to make a difference,” says David Mackenzie, a retired project manager whose passion is videography. “In 2018, I went to the Nanaimo Symposium looking for leadership and found it. Afterwards, I volunteered to provide videography oversight, and became part of the team.”

“People like me want to follow people with vision,” David explains. “They want to work with those who exude hope, inspiration, and motivation. And also have tangible solutions to big challenges! And if they possess these characteristics, then people will find those leaders if there is a path to follow.”

A Blueprint for Video Production in the Age of COVID

When COVID struck, David Mackenzie urged us to be bold and do something other than a Zoom webinar. This is the moment, he said, to leverage technology and reach out to a larger audience. Inspired and guided by David’s unbridled enthusiasm and his technical knowledge, we crystallized a plan for creating a set of legacy educational resources that we hope will inspire a snowballing of individual actions.

We have created a blueprint for making a video in the age of COVID. There are so many variables to take into account; and our Video Trilogy experience is that every step in the process takes three times longer than in the pre-COVID era. In “getting it right”, however, we have exceeded local, provincial and federal guidelines and requirements for COVID precautionary measures.

The three modules in the Video Trilogy Series were filmed in Nanaimo at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. We settled on that location after investigating numerous other venues. Once we got into the details, we realized just how big a space we needed to be COVID-proof. We required a room 15 metres by 15 metres.

If anyone had told us at the beginning that we would need a ‘15x15’ room, we would have said we think we can do it in a smaller space. But ‘15x15’ is the optimum size space, and also the minimum size, for a room that is required to house up to five cameras and up to 14 people, of whom six are seated in a semi-circle for a facilitated conversation. We required five cameras because of the 2 metre spacing of speakers.

Speaker Interviews are Powerful for Connecting with an Audience

The videos are much more than talking heads. Interweaving of outdoor imagery adds a compelling visual dimension that draws the viewer into the conversation. Furthermore, the videos integrate individual speaker interviews in outdoor settings. In this way, the audience understands their motivation and how commitment flows from passion. Such personalized vignettes would never be included in a live event.

An audience has a lot more insight and curiosity once they learn the back stories - who are the players, what they have been doing, and why. So, to ensure each interview would be authentic, our volunteer extraordinaire David Mackenzie worked one-on-on with 14 team members based in Nanaimo and beyond.

He travelled long distances from his home in Nanaimo to film them, on location, in their natural habitats. He went north to Courtenay; south to Victoria, Duncan and Salt Spring Island; and across the water to Gibsons and North Vancouver.

The Experience that Keeps on Giving

In re-imagining the 2020 Symposium as the Video Trilogy Series, our vision is that the audience experience “in the moment” will be better than having a front-row seat at a live event. In a virtual sense, team members will be up close and personal. And, at the conclusion of each video, there will be an audience interaction segment in real-time with team members.

All that will be missing from the experience will be the conversations that happen spontaneously during networking breaks, when delegates share their immediate reactions to what they just heard.
From a use-of-technology perspective, we are keeping things simple and seamless for the audience. All they need is a single YouTube link for the video as well as the chat session that follows the broadcast. Behind the scenes, we will have a live Zoom feed that brings the team members onto the YouTube platform so that they can respond to audience questions, and interact with each other.
Afterwards, the audience has the option to re-watch the video again and again. It is the experience that keeps on giving!

The Video Trilogy Series is a shared enterprise. From a behind-the-scenes perspective, series production has benefitted from collaboration and a team-building process that transcends what would otherwise have happened at a live event. Everyone involved has thought long and hard about what the Video Trilogy Series is designed to accomplish, and the part that each person plays within a team framework.

The desire by all to excel is captured by the camera. The result is a set of legacy educational resources that we anticipate will inform collaboration among the stewardship and local government sectors for some time to come.

David Mackenzie, Volunteer Extraordinaire

“David Mackenzie’s journey from symposium audience member to communications champion has been a boon to NALT and the Partnership. David shared his passion for video production to help us realize we were missing a critical piece of our communications plan. Then, with patient mentoring and tireless volunteerism, he has led us to full online delivery of our symposium content in a unique and engaging way,” says Paul Chapman, Chair, Vancouver Island Symposia Series.

“His contributions have been crucial to sustaining our stewardship message in a time of global pandemic. To say we couldn’t have done it without him is an understatement; we didn’t even know we weren’t doing it until David came along,” concludes Paul Chapman.

Register Today

The registration fee for the series is a nominal amount - $30 for stewardship groups and $50 for all others!  To register, visit:

The focus of the Video Trilogy Series is on the whole-system approach, connecting land and water, and restoring water balance in altered landscapes. At the conclusion of each video, viewers will be able to chat in real-time with the presentation team.
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Kim A. Stephens, P.Eng., is the Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

Have an interesting and non-commercial story for a local government audience? CivicInfo BC is seeking contributors for our new Civic Voices feature; a column that will run periodically in our News section. Contact us at for details.

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