Getting the most out of your video conferences. Right now, there are so many video-conferencing tools on the market, and plenty of them are free or low-cost but it’s important that you choose the right platform for your business and teams.
Your main considerations should be: what do I need to use it for, how many people do I want to invite and how much do I want to spend (if anything)?
If you are not going to be running regular conference calls you may be able to manage with a basic, free package. However, when looking to get the most out of your video conferences, some of these basic packages only allow you to invite a relatively small number of guests or limit the length of meeting time to around 40 minutes. You need to do your research well.
In my blog, I will be looking at the necessary steps you should take to ensure you are hosting the most effective meeting and have the know-how when using the platform so that you can get the most out of your video conferences. Let’s start with familiarising yourself.
Once you have chosen the best package for you, it is essential that you take time to understanding how it works. Although most videoconferencing tools generally do the same thing, they often have features which are not that obvious on first sight – for example the screen sharing feature may display documents in a different layout, and some applications allow you to play audio clips while others don’t.
If you are leading a conference call you want to feel in control, and it’s so easy to lose that control when you don’t know how things work or you can’t share an important document. The best advice I can give is to ‘play’ with it – set up a dummy call and practise sharing documents or presenting a deck of slides. This will give you the confidence to carry on when faced with technology issues like a poor connection, sound distortion, microphone feedback or frozen images which you can never predict but which happen on a regular basis.
Preparing for a meeting
Now you know what your videoconferencing tool can do for you, here are some pointers to make sure you are totally prepared for your meeting:
- Make sure you have your laptop/ computer at a good height – the last thing you want is for people to be looking up your nose or, worse still, at your crotch! (this really happened in one of my online sessions the other day)
- If you have Bluetooth headphones which allow you the freedom to move around, I really recommend standing during the meeting. A change of position often makes you feel more energised, especially if you have a day full of meetings and you are getting tired, it could impact on your performance.
- Check your background – what can people see behind/around you? Is it distracting? You can upload your own background with business logo etc on it. Some applications allow you to blur your background so that no-one can see the untidy working space behind you.
- Test your microphone and headphones are connected and working – use the device settings option to do this.
- Upload any documents you might want to share – open them and keep them minimised.
- Keep distractions to a minimum: turn your phone to silent, disable notifications on your computer to avoid anything popping up on your screen, close the door to the room you are working in and ask people not to disturb you if possible.
- Be online and join the meeting at least 5 minutes before the meeting to test the technology and get familiar with the tools.
Managing a meeting effectively
Face -to-face meetings were always so much easier to facilitate – you could shake hands for a start!
Now that we have all been forced to communicate with each other virtually we need to think in a very different way. We can no longer rely on the visual cues that people used to give us to let us know what they really thought, we don’t always get the opportunity to read their body language and sometimes, we don’t even hear them clearly. Communication must be much clearer and more explicit if misunderstandings are to be avoided. In addition to this, we must learn to trust each other more readily and look to build relationships more quickly if we want to continue doing business with others in a virtual world.
Here are some simple tips to help you run more effective virtual meetings:
- Don’t under-estimate the importance of small talk. Use it to put people at ease; remember that some attendees may not be familiar or comfortable with virtual meetings yet.
- You may want to kick off with some general house-keeping rules – put them on a slide to share with your attendees. Rules could include use of the Mute button, whether to use the camera, turn-taking, minimising distractions like mobile phones etc.
- As facilitator, you need to keep people engaged. This can be challenging but if you keep the pace moderately fast and are mindful of making sure everyone has a chance to speak if they want to, you should be okay.
- Conversely, do allow people thinking time. Not everyone finds the move from face-to-face meetings to virtual that easy so give them more time to adapt.
- If you are going to use Power Point slides, keep them simple – don’t overload people with too much content as they will only be confused or lose interest. A few memorable images work much better. Finally, check that you are sharing and that your audience can see what you see and avoid reading your slides word for word.
- If possible, use interactive tools such as polls or break out rooms to allow your attendees to participate fully. After all, if you were all in the same room you would probably be using flip-charts, post its and so on. Being in a virtual world can still be stimulating.
This blog is not designed to promote a specific product – I use three or four different ones depending on what my clients request. It could, therefore, be a good idea to familiarise yourself with more than one so that you can join others’ meetings confidently. Below I have briefly outlined a few of the most well-known platforms currently on the market.
Some of the most popular platforms
Despite the recent Zoom-bombing* which has sadly been happening over the last couple of weeks, Zoom has become one of the most popular free webinar platforms. It is easy to use, the basic version as I said is free and it seems to be quite stable in terms of connectivity and download speed.
- Zoom-bombing is when an outsider joins your meeting uninvited and causes chaos by posting malicious gifs, using offensive language or disrupting your meeting. Zoom has, from the 5th April made it necessary for meeting participants to wait in a virtual waiting room and then be admitted by the facilitator. This will stop any unwanted guests.
Others which are widely used are:
Microsoft Teams, Webex by Cisco, Adobe Connect, GoTo Meetings, Google Hangouts and Skype.*
*Note that Skype for Business is being phased out and will be replaced by MS Teams.
It’s a good idea to research the myriad choices out there before you sign up for anything.
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Associate of In Professional Development