At long last, a cure for Zoom fatigue.
A troop in Texas now ends each virtual meeting with a special guest: a troop alumnus with a cool job, inspiring story or interesting skill.
Troop 308 from Waco, Texas (Longhorn Council), invites past members to give a five-minute talk at the close of each week’s meeting. Because the meetings are being held through Zoom during the pandemic, it’s a snap to invite someone to join from anywhere in the world.
“I hope to continue this as long as we can find willing alumni to join — even after we return to in-person meetings,” says Scoutmaster Eddie Morrison.
This idea is perfect for virtual meetings but could be used for in-person meetings as well. Even if your unit has resumed in-person meetings (after consulting the Restart Scouting Checklist), there’s nothing stopping you from inviting special guest speakers.
In Troop 308, these alumni — many of them Eagle Scouts — talk about what they’re doing now, what they remember most about their time in Scouting, and how Scouting prepared them for college, a career and a family.
The virtual parade of Eagle Scouts has included Lt. Parks Walker, who talked about serving in the U.S. Army in Hungary; Kyle Cooper, a graduate student studying biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester in New York; and Riley DuPuy, who recounted the time he and his wife helped strangers caught in a sudden sleet storm while hiking in Glacier National Park.
“All of this gave me a new perspective on how Scouts can influence a person for many years after he leaves Scouts and ventures into life,” says Troop 308 Senior Patrol Leader Britton Burney.
How to find special guests for your meetings
I talked with Scoutmaster Morrison to get some of his tips for including special guests in your meetings. I was especially curious about how he tracked down alumni whose last time at a troop meeting might’ve been decades ago.
Morrison says he started in his troop archives, consulting a list of Troop 308 Eagle Scouts that dates back to the troop’s founding in 1947.
With a population of about 140,000 people, Waco isn’t exactly a small town. But the city is small enough that Morrison has been able to connect with plenty of Troop 308 alumni. He’s talked to troop members, used social media, and tapped into a tight-knit network of church friends and Rotary Club members.
“We have heard from all over the country,” Morrison says.
Working with his troop’s patrol leaders’ council, Morrison tries to find alumni representing a variety of ages and life situations.
They’ve heard from “Scouts currently in college or grad school, working engineers, lawyers, teachers, nurses, Scouts with children in Scouts,” Morrison says. “All are different, and many talk about hobbies: camping, beekeeping, cooking and more.”
At one meeting, an alumnus showed a picture of his Philmont crew. At the end of his talk at a time for questions, a young Scout said, “Mr. Jumper, you don’t know me, but my dad was in your Philmont crew.”
That comment proves this isn’t just an idea that adults appreciate. The most important audience — the Scouts themselves — enjoy hearing from people they don’t see every week.
“We had past Eagle Scouts from a variety of ages and locations call into the meetings,” says Britton, the SPL. “Other than having their Eagle Scout rank in common, they all mentioned in their stories how what they learned from merit badges and their experiences prepared them for life and how their memories have stayed with them throughout life.”
Additional tips to keep in mind
- Keep Scouts safe: Whether online or in-person, make sure that Youth Protection guidelines are followed — this includes the requirement that two registered adults be present at all times.
- Keep it short: This isn’t a Ted talk. I recommend holding your guests to that five-minute window so a brief visit doesn’t turn into a long lecture. The majority of a troop meeting should consist of Scouts talking to other Scouts. Speaking of …
- Keep it Scout-led: Remember that troop meetings work best when they’re planned and run by the Scouts. While it’s appropriate to suggest this idea to your patrol leaders’ council, make sure that you (the adult leader) aren’t the one planning it all.
- Welcome questions: If it fits into your meeting schedule, leave time for Scouts to ask one or two questions to the guest. To prevent that awkward silence that sometimes descends when nobody has questions, encourage your senior patrol leader to prepare a few questions.
- Encourage show and tell: Photos or videos make a presentation more interesting to teenagers. Ask your guests to gather these and include them in their presentation. Zoom (or whatever videoconferencing program you use) makes it easy for the guest to share their screen.
- Think outside the troop: If your troop is newer, meaning you don’t have a long roll of alumni available for five-minute speaking engagements, consider other adults with interesting stories. You might contact alumni from neighboring troops, parents of Scouts in your troop, or even friends or coworkers.
- Go on the record: Consider recording the person’s remarks (with their permission) so that Scouts who missed the meeting can enjoy those inspiring words at a later time. You could also use one of these recordings as an end-of-meeting “rerun” if someone cancels or you aren’t able to find an end-of-meeting speaker.
How do you end your meetings?
An effective end to a troop meeting can leave Scouts with something to ponder during the week ahead. How does your troop (or ship or crew) end its weekly meetings?
Share your comments below.