Guest ContributorsSpotlight

Spotlight: Pre-Cafe Tech Review

Pre-Cafe Tech Review: Alleviating Stress Associated with Technology

Nicolette McDermott-Ketchum

Hummingbird Memory Cafe
Farmington, New Mexico, USA


Coordinating a memory cafe with community members is rewarding. Transitioning from an in-person platform for the cafe to a virtual one, though, can be perplexing due to the various technical challenges that may be encountered when establishing the virtual format.

The Hummingbird Memory Cafe in Farmington, New Mexico is one example of a cafe that made the transition early on during the pandemic and has learned many lessons since then. The HMC began meeting monthly at our local senior center in Farmington in February 2020 after planning for 6 months. We were fortunate to be able to meet in-person for both the February and March cafes before COVID-19 restrictions were implemented.

We began meeting virtually in April once COVID-19 orders limited gathering in large groups. Initially, we were running two virtual cafes a month, but participants preferred to resume meeting once a month due to other Zoom meetings they were “attending” as well.

When establishing the virtual cafe format, it was important to remember the purpose of our cafe: to provide social interaction for individuals with memory loss/dementia and their care partners (although anyone is welcome to attend our cafe) without concern for the stigma of dementia. Therefore, we wanted to ensure that there would still be engagement and conversation with each other, not just staring at a screen.

Our activities at the in-person cafe revolved around the arts—painting, poetry, storytelling, singing, for instance. The challenge would be converting these experiences into an online event with as minimal disruption to the interaction as possible. Assets, challenges, and opportunities were considered when transitioning to the new format.


Our cafe is volunteer coordinated with in-kind donations accepted for our art supplies and refreshments (when we met in person.) All of our volunteers have a personal or professional connection to living with dementia, either as a caregiver/care partner, family member or medical professional.

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We all received communication training with Dr. Jytte Lokvig, founder of the first Alzheimer’s/Memory Cafe in the United States, prior to opening our cafe in February. Our cafe volunteers each have special gifts which they share with all of us either at the cafe itself by facilitating activities or behind the scenes by providing supplies, staying in contact with community members who might benefit from the cafe, coordinating presenters, to name a few.

While we do have Internet connectivity, the quality of the connection can be challenging depending where one lives in our community.


As mentioned above, the Internet connectivity can wax and wane during a cafe. Our cafe format relies on the “face to face” interaction, chat and reactions options, and limited utilization of screen sharing. When appropriate, screen sharing is used for activities that utilize the Zoom Annotation and Whiteboard functions, for example.

Earlier in the transition, when sharing videos, there would be delays (and even cessation) of the images, as well as audio challenges. Hence, we stopped sharing videos, but are going to trial it again at our next technical review due to the request of cafe participants.

Many participants were not familiar with Zoom, so initially we would have to spend 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the cafe reviewing how to start audio and video.

If participants are using smaller devices, like their phones, it can be difficult to see others due to the size of others’ videos and the need to swipe to get a sense of who is on the call. A larger device like a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer allows for easier viewing and interaction during the cafe.

The facilitator(s) needs to be aware of which and where the Zoom functions are located on various devices for troubleshooting technical difficulties.

Currently, there is one person who facilitates the conversation, monitors the chat, and intervenes on tech issues.


Tech really was the main challenge for our cafe. How could we spend less time on tech intervention at the beginning of the meeting and more time on the activities of the cafe?

I had been attending and involved with other online events that were utilizing a dress rehearsal/tech review usually about one week prior to the actual event. The purpose of these reviews was to discuss roles and tasks, finalize content and address any technical challenges participants might have (for example, camera position, audio, hosting designations, etc.)

Hummingbird Memory Cafe Tech Review on Memory Cafe Directory
Courtesy Hummingbird Memory Cafe

These reviews help to alleviate the stress that can be associated with an event by both the participants and the facilitators/coordinators. I also “visited” various cafes online to get a sense of what might or might not work for our community. (I am grateful for the new faces I have met through these encounters!)

To ease some of the angst associated with a virtual café, the Hummingbird Memory Cafe began conducting a technical review one week prior to the actual gathering. The purpose of the review is to work out the content and flow of the activities for the monthly cafe and provide education about the various functions of Zoom/videoconferencing.

It has occasionally been necessary to conduct a one-on-one review with someone who may be overwhelmed by the process or is unable to make the scheduled rehearsal. Bringing in other household members may also be necessary to alleviate the difficulty an attendee may be having with the technology.

The cafe is “opened” 15-30 minutes prior to the start of the actual event to interact with presenters or other attendees who want to confirm tech functions. The welcome and introduction on the day of the cafe itself does include a basic review of Zoom “etiquette”—turning on video, unmuting if speaking, speaking close to the microphone, minimizing background distractions, and acknowledgement that technical difficulties may arise and they will be addressed as efficiently as possible.

We have been able to increase the technical engagement by all participants during the cafe by encouraging the use of the chat, reactions, annotation, and whiteboard options that are integrated into the Zoom application (if participants would like to do so).

It may be necessary moving forward to divide the tasks involved with the various aspects of facilitation amongst volunteers to allow for a more efficient focus on these particular elements of a Zoom/videoconference gathering. We have a remarkably diverse community, and we have continued our approach to keep topics inclusive for all participants regardless of their ethnicity, religion, ability, or other demographic.

Successful transition to the virtual Memory Cafe format is possible!

By examining our foundations of the in-person experience and by thinking thoughtfully and creatively, the Hummingbird Memory Cafe has been able to continue and grow even during these challenging times. The tech review has been a major element in supporting our participants’ transition to a virtual cafe.

If there are cafe facilitators who would like to further explore the virtual cafe concept in their setting, please do not hesitate to reach out to other virtual cafes to explore their programs. It appears there might also be an opportunity to form an international virtual memory cafe coalition of sorts to meet regularly online to share ideas, discuss challenges and opportunities and even coordinate cafe exchanges.

Admittedly, the virtual experience is not the same as the in-person encounter, but for now, this is one option for staying in touch during these challenging times when physical distancing is being implemented in so many of our communities. A pre-cafe tech review can be one element that enhances the virtual cafe experience for presenters, facilitators, and other attendees.


For more information about the Hummingbird Memory Cafe, please contact Nicolette Ketchum via phone and text at 505.787.6322 or email at You can also visit them on Facebook and Instagram.


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