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Quinten Johnson looked to be in his element when addressing the crowd of 100-plus people at the TEDxUofM event “Race in Sports: The Black Athletic Experience” that occurred on Monday

“I’m not really a fan of public speaking,” the panelist and sophomore defensive back said. “But I am comfortable and familiar with Zoom, as everyone is now, it was just like being in class to be honest. So it was easier for me to talk and speak what I had to say.”

On the panel Johnson showed no signs of discomfort when speaking with the fellow panelists on the issues that face him as a Black man in society. Whether it was about using his image and platform, his personal experiences or even when a young kid simply asked him if he got nerves while playing football, he spoke like someone who had done this before.

This was just one example of how the Zoom format worked in the panel’s favor.

“I liked (the Zoom format),” Dr. Ketra Armstrong, one of the panelists and professor in Sports Management said. “What I’m learning is particularly when the cameras are on it feels like there is a level of engagement. If you’re in (an actual) panel, there’s a level of distance, so Zoom brings us close, literally and figuratively. If we were in a panel we wouldn’t feel this intimate even if it was a virtual space.”

The intimacy that the Zoom format created wasn’t the only feature benefiting the panel. The ability for attendees to simply log into their computers and participate in the event from the comfort of their own home was also a bonus. A normal in-person TEDxUofM salon would draw around 50 people, but this event brought in over 100, according to the event’s moderator.

“You could get a lot of engagement,” Elliot Brooks, a former Michigan volleyball player and panelist at the event said. “Just knowing how people are, when you have events on campus you don’t always know, or there’s not always the time, or people don’t want to walk from their houses or dorms. So (the Zoom format) makes it a lot more accessible.”

The Zoom format allowed the barriers between the panelists and the audience to be lowered and lead to a seemingly higher level of engagement overall. 

“I think (the Zoom format) did open it up to a lot more of the community near and far that probably couldn’t make it to Ann Arbor for various reasons,” panelist Dr. Elena Simpkins said. “Time, location, all of that, so I think Zoom has helped with that.”

And, anytime you can get over 100 people listening in on and having productive conversations about race in America, that can’t be a bad thing.

So, even in a time of “Zoom fatigue” when everyone is getting tired of sitting in front of their computers all day, a virtual event found a way to use the current situation to its benefit. Whether it was the newfound intimacy, the larger crowds or even just the general ease of everything, Zoom just might have been a better place to have this panel than any other format.

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