Behind the scenes of this week’s Virtual Diploma Ceremony

For many of us at the College, our Diploma Ceremonies are the highlight of the College year.

Behind the scenes of this week’s Virtual Diploma Ceremony

The Virtual Diploma Ceremony Project Group

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For many of us at the College, our Diploma Ceremonies are the highlight of the College year.

They’re colourful and vibrant events, filled with smiling faces, inspirational stories and a sense of achievement all crammed in together in our College Hall or the equally impressive and historic Bute Hall at the University of Glasgow. Each year we’re proud and excited to see hundreds of new Fellows and Members from each of our five faculties descend on our College to celebrate their individual successes and toast their collective accomplishments.

Like all major events, COVID-19 meant that our plans for these grand events was put on hold during the spring. It was simply inconceivable that we could bring people together in this way given the current public health advice, and the fact that our College team were now working from home, unable to come to the office to plan or exchange ideas together.

“It was clear pretty early on that it would be impossible to hold our Diploma Ceremonies as previously planned” said Muir Brown, the College’s Deputy Head of Membership and Governance, who oversees the planning for the events. “These large, high-profile events involve staff from every part of the College to come together to make these days happen, so it was really disappointing to everyone involved that we couldn’t go ahead as normal. But then late this spring, Linda Irvine (the College’s Deputy CEO and Director of Membership and Engagement) sent me a link to an online video produced by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, which showcased their attempts to hold their graduation ceremony online. As soon as we saw that we knew what we had to do.”

A staff group was quickly established to look into the potential for our College to hold its own virtual event – our first Virtual Diploma Ceremony. “We brought together colleagues from Membership Support, Global Engagement, Marketing and, crucially, our Digital Learning team, because it was clear that the only way to make this work was to harness the skills and experience of the whole College. Working remotely, we put together a storyboard for what an online event would look like, and an organisational plan for how this could be put together in time for the next scheduled event on the 4th of September. We knew the timelines were tight, but we knew that if we thought creatively we could ensure that we could still put on a suitable event for our new Fellows and Members.”

Once the plan was approved, the team set to work in putting all the pieces together. “The final ceremony broadcast is a combination of over two dozen separate recordings” said the College’s Digital Learning Manager Jonna Fraser. “This was more like making a television programme than delivering a live event or awards ceremony, so it was a steep learning curve for us all. Although we were able to conduct some of the filming ourselves in the College, we also had to plan and co-ordinate each individual contribution from our award winners, Honorary Fellows and guest speakers, so this was another significant logistical challenge. Not only did we need to make sure that we were able to film contributions effectively, but we needed to get gowns, props, scripts and directions to every contributor in time and to the right place. Everyone who contributed a video had different levels of skills, experience and equipment available to film their contribution, so Ryan Norrie in our team and I also spent a lot of time preparing guidelines and advice on how to do this effectively. Despite this huge range of significant challenges we’re really happy with how this has come out.”

Once the content had been gathered together, work began on editing the hours of footage together to make the final product. Post-production took between two to three weeks from start to finish, and involved adding music, ensuring that the transitions between each piece in the digital tapestry was smooth and adding subtitles and British Sign Language translation.

When guests sit down to watch the final ceremony, which will be broadcast live on YouTube on Friday 4th September, the team has also made sure that each participant will have some tangible contact with the College on the day. Our marketing team designed and put together packs for almost 200 diplomates with a welcome letter and certificate of attendance, in addition to a special gift for our new College Fellows, which will be mailed out soon after the event.

“It was really important to us that our Diplomates – our new Fellows and Members – were fully represented on the day” said Global Engagement Officer, Tom Frost. His team took responsibility for collating contributions from our members to use in the broadcast – from photos of those being recognised on the day to recordings of new members taking the oath that were edited together to use in the final event. “We were delighted by the enthusiasm shown by everyone, everyone was keen to be involved by sending in photos or recording short videos. One new dentist, Dr Sakota, even sent us a contribution of him celebrating his achievements by dancing for joy! It’s been fantastic to be able to share this special occasion with so many people from all across the globe.” 

As the final touches were being made to the plans for broadcast, Muir Brown reflected on the work his team have undertaken to get the event off the drawing board. “The last few months of this pandemic have brought out the best from everyone associated with the College. As a team, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to support our membership through this incredibly challenging period. From re-imagining how we deliver our educational events in the digital arena to adapting our programme of exams to ensure that they maintain their integrity while protecting the health of participants, we’ve had to rethink how we work as a College to ensure that we continue to provide the best service for members. With this “digital first” approach we’re hopefully ensuring that our new members still feel connected and appreciated, despite the public health challenges that remain in place. We’re looking forward to finally seeing the fruits of our labours on the 4th of September.”

If you’d like to join with us in celebrating the achievements of our new Members and Fellows, you can watch along with us on the College’s YouTube Channel on Friday 4th September at 2pm BST.

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