2020 Virtual Merit Awards Finalist Guide

This year’s Virtual Merit Awards will hold its project presentation and judging sessions via Zoom, while the event itself will be held on the online events platform Hopin.  Below is a brief overview of the finalist process and requirements for this year’s Virtual Merit Awards. For more detailed information on a topic, view the relevant tab.

Important Links

Purchase Event Tickets

Finalist Expo Preview Event

Submit Speech Contact Details

Virtual Event Page


Speech Contact Details Due – 8/19 5:00pm

Event Doors Open – 8/20 3:00pm

Finalist Expo – 8/20 4:00-5:00pm

Main Event – 8/20 – 5:00-6:00pm 





Finalist Day-Of Overview

Congratulations once again on being named a Finalist in the 2020 Virtual Merit Awards.  These instructions detail everything you need to know for the day of the event, with the key points being:

  • Make sure your project team has tickets
  • Confirm your speech contact by 5:00pm Wednesday
  • Have at least 1 project team member in your finalist booth between 4:00-5:00pm Thursday
  • Winning project speech contacts will be called several minutes before their category is featured on the main stage (between 5:00-6:00pm)
  • If you’re called, be ready to join a zoom video call for a live speech
  • After your speech, we’ll conduct and record a short video interview


Register for the event

If you haven’t already, please make sure you and any attending members of your finalist team are registered for the event.  Event registration can be accessed here.

Once registered, a member of our team will send you an email containing a custom link to access the event via Hopin.


Finalist Expo

From 4:00-5:00pm, all finalist teams need to have at least one team member present via video chat in your project’s booth (located in the expo tab of the virtual event).  Though only one team member is required, we encourage you to have several of your team members present and treat your booth as a kind of pre-party space.  Each virtual booth can accommodate 10 video participants at once, with all others able to communicate via your booth’s text chat.

The event opens at 3:00pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to access your booth by 4:00pm.  To access your booth:

    • Log in to the event via Hopin
    • Click the Expo button on the left side of the screen
    • Find your project booth (click to enter)
    • Click the blue ‘Share Audio and Video’ button
    • Your browser may ask your permission for Hopin to access your camera and mic

In order to give you and your team a chance to gain familiarity with finalist booths, we’ve setup a test event with several practice booths open to all finalist teams.  This practice event can be accessed here will be available until Thursday afternoon.


Finalist Expo Summary/Key Details

    • One member of your finalist team must be in your booth on Thursday between 4:00-5:00pm
    • Limit team members participating in your booth’s video chat to six
    • Visit the expo preview to practice in a sample booth (Link)

 Winner Speeches

All this year’s winners will have the opportunity to give a live 1-3-minute speech immediately after a project has been named the winner of a given category.  Each finalist team needs to identify a contact who will give that speech in the event their team wins a Merit Award.

To confirm your speech contact, please enter their contact info HERE. (Due EOD 8/19)

If your project is a winner, you will receive a phone call shortly before your category is presented on the main stage.  Please make sure you are available (via the phone number you provided) between 4:45-5:45pm on Thursday.

If you receive a call, we’ll inform you that you’ve won, and provide a link to the special backstage zoom meeting room we’ll be using to stream your acceptance speech.  Once you’ve entered the zoom room, we’ll walk you through what to expect, and provide a short countdown to let you know when you’re live on stage.

Once you’ve completed your speech, we’ll stop the broadcast, then pull you into a seperate zoom break-out room for a short video interview.

Please make sure you are near a computer with a reliable internet connection and zoom installed.

Speech Contact Overview:

  • Confirm your contact details via the form by EOD Wednesday
  • Have a 1-3 minute speech prepared
  • The night of the event,  winners will receive a call between 4:00-5:00pm
  • Call will come several minutes before your category is featured on the main stage
  • Be ready to jump into a zoom meeting room within minutes of being contacted
  • Ensure you have a computer with zoom installed
  • Make sure you have a webcam and mic that are working properly
  • Having an ethernet connection or strong wi-fi signal is important
  • Instructions for accessing the zoom room will be provided when we call you
  • After your speech, we’ll conduct a short interview


How many people do I need in the Finalist Booth? Is there a limit?

You only need one person from your project team in your booth.  There is a limit of 10 video chat participants in each booth, so in order to ensure attendees are able to interact with you via video, we ask that you limit your team members present via video to 6.  There is no limit to how many people can view a booth, or participate in the booth’s text chat however, so more members can be in your booth with their video turned off.


Do I need to have access to the poster?

Attendees will be able to view your poster via a link in your booth.  You are able to share your screen via your booth’s video chat, however, so it might not be a bad idea to have a copy on hand the event you’d like to pull it up.


How will people see the poster?

The poster will be available to attendees as an in-browser PDF.  Attendees can view this at any time by clicking the blue ‘View Poster’ Button in your booth.


How will people know to visit my Finalist Booth?

We will be promoting the finalist expo throughout the week, and will also be encouraging attendees to visit booths via messaging on the main stage between 4:00-5:00.


Does the person in the Finalist Booth need a Merit Awards ticket?

You must be registered to access your booth, so any team members planning on attending will need to have purchased tickets.

Presenter Requirements

  • Present your project to a panel of judges (Zoom)
  • Participate in post-presentation interview (Zoom)
  • Participate in the Finalist Expo August 20th, 4:00pm – 5:00pm the night of the event (Hopin)
  • Designate team member to give live acceptance speech in the event your project wins (Zoom)

Presentation & Judging

This year’s Finalist Presentations will be held virtually via Zoom. Each project team has been assigned a presentation time, which can be viewed here.  You will receive an email with the link to your zoom room several days before your presentation date.  Following your team’s presentation, one member of your team will remain in the Zoom room to participate in a 5-minute interview that will be used for promotional purposes.  Please make sure to view the Presentation & Judging tab on this page for more specifics.

Finalist Expo

The night of the event, all finalists will receive a Virtual Project Booth in the Finalist Expo, where attendees can browse finalist projects and interact with the project teams. In the hour leading up to the main event, all project teams must have at least one representative available in their project’s booth, with their webcam enabled.  Please make sure to view the Finalist Expo tab on this page for more specifics.

Main Event

Prior to the event, all project teams should select one representative who will give a live acceptance speech if your project is chosen as a winner. Finalist representatives will be given access to a virtual finalist Zoom waiting room as their project’s category nominee video plays. Once the winner is announced, the winning representative will be broadcast to the main virtual stage on Hopin, where they can give their acceptance speech live.

Presentation Process

For the safety of all Merit Award Judges and Finalists, this year’s Finalist Presentations will be held virtually via Zoom.  Each project team has been assigned a presentation time, which can be viewed here.  A few days before your scheduled presentation, you will receive an email with the link to your presentation’s Zoom Room.  Please make sure to forward this to any members of your team who will be participating in your presentation.

Each presentation will proceed as follows:


Your project team will join the zoom conference room 15 minutes before your scheduled presentation time. During this time your team can coordinate and get ready for your presentation.

  • A CBC rep will be in the room with you to help resolve any last-minute tech issues that may pop up.
  • Please do not attempt to access the room any earlier than 15 minutes before your presentation’s start time, as the room may still be in use from an earlier presentation.
  • At your scheduled presentation time, the judges will enter the Zoom conference room.
  • Once all judges have arrived, a moderator will verbally give you the go-ahead to begin your presentation.


Once you begin, your team will have 20 minutes to present your project, leaving 5 minutes for questions.

  • You’re free to present your project however you’d like, including pictures, videos, or a PowerPoint presentation.
  • You will be able to share your screen during your presentation.
  • There is no limit to how many members of your project team can participate in your presentation, but we do recommend coordinating with each other ahead of time.


Once your presentation concludes, a moderator will announce the start of a Q&A Session.

  • The moderator will call on any judges with questions, one at a time.
  • The judges will ask their questions live via video.
  • Following the Q&A Session, the judges will leave the zoom room to attend the next presentation.

Post-Presentation Interview

Following your presentation, a member of the CBC marketing team will enter your Zoom conference room to conduct a 5-minute interview with a member of your project team.  Only one team member is required to participate in the interview (with a max of 2), and the footage captured will be used for promotional purposes.  Questions asked during this interview may include:

  • In no more than 15 seconds, tell me about this project.
  • What made this project special?
  • Were there any challenges unique to this project?
  • How does it feel to have contributed to the architectural legacy of Chicago?
  • How did you feel when you found out your project was a Merit Award Finalist?
  • What would it mean to become a Merit Award Winner?


Looking and Sounding Your Best…Virtually

As long as you have access to a computer with a webcam and microphone, you have everything you need to participate in The 2020 Virtual Merit Awards.  But to help you look and sound your best, here are a few tips and best practices we recommend when presenting online.


  • Make sure you setup in a private or quiet room, free from distractions, and with a reliable internet connection.
  • Avoid sitting in front of bright backgrounds (such as windows).  This can cause your camera to automatically dim the image, making you harder to see.  Instead, try and position a light source in front of you, so you are well lit, and the center of attention.
  • Speaking of backgrounds, remember that people can see what’s behind you.  Make sure what they can see is clean, and non-distracting.
  • Camera placement has a big impact on how you look during a video conference.  Position your camera or laptop screen on a sturdy surface (not your lap) with the camera around eye level.
  • Before appearing on camera, close any unnecessary windows, tabs or programs that you may have open on your computer.  It also may be a good idea to see if your computer has any pending updates a day or so before your presentation, just in case.
  • When presenting, sit up straight, speak clearly into your microphone, and try to avoid checking yourself out too much on the computer screen, keeping your eyes on the camera.