We are all grappling with the impact of the fast and unpredictable spread of COVID-19. Our hearts go out to all who are affected by this outbreak. As we all know, this pandemic is prompting leaders of organizations to cancel or postpone live meetings. Even amidst COVID-19 and resulting disruption, we must find ways to run our businesses.
One option many are turning to is virtual meetings, frequently referred to as “video conferencing.” Unfortunately, the lack of planning, low level of engagement, and poor execution of these virtual meetings is incredibly frustrating. Below are 3D Communications’ Top 10 Tips for running Effective Virtual Meetings.
- Have an agenda and a chairperson – While both concepts are standard for face-to-face meetings, they’re often overlooked when planning remote meetings. Yet I would argue that they are even more important in virtual communication. To keep the meeting on track and hold attendees’ attention, the chairperson can put people in queue or “call on” participants so they aren’t talking over one another. Audio latency (the delay in audio being heard by others) can also be a challenge. Having a chairperson can minimize this issue.
- Upgrade your Internet service – Fast and reliable Internet connection is always important. Unless you are living in a remote area, you should be able to upgrade your Internet service so audio, file sharing and video are swift and efficient. Download speeds of up to 1,000 Mbps are relatively inexpensive and will give you what you need to avoid problems.
- Do a “Tech Check” – Make sure everyone invited to the call knows how to use the software selected for the meeting. Ask some basic questions prior to the meeting. If you are inviting participants from multiple companies, are firewalls going to be an issue? Is there software that needs to be downloaded in advance of the meeting? Offer to conduct a tech call in advance of the meeting to test individual systems and users. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, make sure your phone and your computer are either plugged in or fully charged. Many a meeting has fallen apart because a key individual lost power in the middle of it.
- Send complete meeting invites with all the details – Most software packages will automatically generate a detailed meeting invite, but if yours does not, make sure all the information and any advanced reading materials are included in the invite.
- Find a quiet place – NO, your favorite public coffee shop is not quiet – and unless your dogs have an active role in the call, they should not be heard. Find or create a quiet space in your home and close the door.
- Fully engage – Let’s face it, if nobody is looking at you, it is likely that you will multi-task. Maybe you won’t take a shower during the call or put in a load of laundry, but with cameras off you are likely to check emails, grab a cup of coffee, take a bio break or otherwise be distracted. Treat this meeting like a live meeting – dress for success, fix your hair and turn on your camera! Seeing our colleagues’ faces makes a meeting more enjoyable for everyone and demonstrates that you are “in the moment.” Most of us tend to lose energy during remote meetings, so on a telephone or video conference you need to “BRING IT.” More energy + full engagement = better outcomes.
- Maximize the lighting and background – As with photography, it’s better to have the light behind the camera and not behind your head. Lighting behind your head, from an unshaded window for example, will make you appear dark and unrecognizable. For the conference, either close the blinds or position your computer such that the camera is pointed away from the window not towards it and light shines on your face. Try different lighting setups before the call to see what works. In addition, you should make sure the background is clean and professional (e.g. bookcases or a nice plant; probably not a colorful abstract painting.) As for the wall itself, a neutral color such as soft white or light gray is usually the best choice.
- Set your camera in the right position – if you have a built-in camera in your laptop and you have it on your table or desk, it will invariably shoot straight up your nose. Nobody looks good like that. You should put your computer on a box or some books, such that the camera is at the height of your forehead or a bit higher. If you have multiple screens, make sure the video conference screen is also the screen with the camera.
- Minimize audio feedback – If you select computer audio, don’t also dial into the conference line with your phone. Some people don’t realize that they’ve selected “computer audio” and then also dial into the conference number. You will know the minute you do it – the feedback is deafening. The easiest fix is to hang up the phone. However, our recommendation is to connect with your phone – and not your computer – because the audio quality is usually better. You should also mute your line when not talking.
- Be polite – The more people on the call, the more likely it is that people might talk over one another. Having an agenda, a chairperson and good Internet speed can reduce this common problem. However, perhaps not all these elements will be in your control. If this is the case, be polite and make sure others are finished before you start talking. You can also use the chat box available with most software to send a note to the chairperson that you would like to be recognized.
We hope all of this is short lived. There is no great substitute for face-to-face meetings. But at a time like this, when business as usual has become business Unusual, let’s try to make these virtual meetings as effective as possible. Be safe everyone!