By Mason Editor Beth Grace

Golf great Tom Kite once said that the only thing that relieves pressure is preparation.

And make no mistake – there was no small amount of pressure on the brothers and others called upon to take Annual Communication virtual this year. It was a first in more ways than you can count.

And it went off without a hitch. Well, there was one hitch … but the timing was so exceptional, it worked out just fine. The internet went out for a bit – but since it happened at lunchtime, it worked well with the schedule and didn’t seriously extend the day’s labor.

Preparation made all the difference, says WB Joey Transou, whose work helped make the technical side of the event work.

The planning began well in advance, after it became clear the coronavirus had rendered any possibility of 1,000 good men gathering in Winston-Salem as usual.

Grand Master Shaun Bradshaw made the tough call to take the meeting virtual.

“The Grand Master set out the goals he wanted to achieve, and he wanted to mirror the typical Annual Communication as much as possible. With that as our goal, we tried to make the mechanics work,” says Transou.

Grand Secretary Walt Clapp, Assistant to the Grand Secretary Jonathan Underwood and new Grand Lodge Outreach Coordinator Matt Robbins worked with Brother Joey and the Grand Lodge Technical Committee and others to set up the process.

The goal was to make the entire event, including a first-ever electronic voting system, as seamless and transparent as possible. One of the major tasks was finding the right election software.

The team found the online voting system Election Buddy. Three software applications were evaluated and the leader – Election Buddy – was tested and passed with flying colors. With a little fine-tuning, the software was a perfect fit. Voting was secure and accurate.

One of the major successes of the virtual event was that the Grand Master could still do what a Grand Master does at Annual Communication. Speeches could be made, awards given, honors bestowed. Another, says GM Bradshaw, was that the virtual meeting was every bit as well-run and properly conducted as the face-to-face communication.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” GM Bradshaw said. “And it was set up in a way that we can replicate it – we don’t ever want to replicate it – but we can use some lessons learned for future meetings.” For example, the electronic voting system was a hit and helped move votes along faster and accurately.

It’s also possible that the technology is in place now to allow brothers who are not delegates to watch proceedings from their districts – an option they have never had before.

The visual side of the meeting was carried off with help of a professional company, AVEX Audio Visual of Kernersville, which brought in cameras and handled all set-up needs and took direction from our own behind-the-scenes producer, WB Cliff Pranke.

Finally, when all elements were in place, DDGMS and others gathered two weeks before Annual Communication for a dry run. The test went perfectly – with only minor problems that were easily fixed on the fly. Another dry run was held at the Masonic Center of Winston-Salem, where the Grand Line Officers would spend the day, along with 10 masters from District 26. The masters gathered to meet a code requirement that says 10 lodges, each represented by one or more of its principal officers or their respective proxies and a brother qualified to open and preside over the Grand Lodge, shall constitute a quorum to transact any business in the Grand Lodge either at an annual or an emergent communication.

The event was available on video in real time; only the opening and closing ceremonies were not shown, to protect the ritual.

The Masonic Center of Winston-Salem was the perfect location to hold the main event – it was built with events like this in mind, long before anyone ever heard of the coronavirus. The sound system, internet services and other tech needs are covered.

Combine that with hard work, preparation and Masonic pride, Annual Communication was not only held, it was open to the brothers and run in the most transparent of ways.

To my knowledge, no other Masonic jurisdiction has matched the level of expertise and openness this annual communication brought. In fact, our Grand Lodge has fielded a number of calls from around the country from jurisdictions asking how they did it, Brother Robbins said.

This was his first Annual Communication on staff at the Grand Lodge and he said how impressed he was by the feeling of it.

“It almost felt like a regular lodge meeting. It was more personal,” he said. “It’s difficult to feel personal with 1,000 guys in the room at Annual Communication. But in this case, the feeling of brotherly love could definitely be felt in the room.”

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