1.4 Tips for Effective Virtual Meetings
When you work with virtual teams, you are going to want to reach beyond emails, and texts, and discussion forums, and document management systems. The reason is sometimes there's a time delay, and if you've already moved on before others have even seen the slide, it's disconcerting and it makes your presentation appear a little bit disjointed. But if you stare at the camera the whole time, this is the videoconferencing equivalent of making uncomfortably long eye contact.
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Okay, Margaret Blaine, again. Good to see you back. Let’s spend some time considering conference calls, and webinars, and video conferences. When you work with virtual teams, you are going to want to reach beyond emails, and texts, and discussion forums, and document management systems. Whenever possible, try to have at least one or two in person events with your virtual team. For long term working relationships, this means try to get everyone together once or twice a year. If you manage a virtual team on a consistent basis and your budget doesn’t allow for everyone to get together, then seek to create a budget that allows you to visit your virtual team members. Virtual meetings help to grow your relationships. Certainly not as fast as when you can meet in person, but much faster than having all electronic communications with no faces or voices. When you consider a virtual meeting, you’re going to wonder, should you use a conference call, or webinar, or video-conferencing? Let’s discuss the best uses for each approach. Use a conference call when you do not need to show images. If you and your team do not need to be looking at a visual together, then a conference call may be what you need. You can consider discussing documents using a conference call, as long as those documents are really easy to navigate, that the sections and page numbers are clearly marked. If you say, please turn to the section or product design, page 25, this should be quick and easy for everyone. Hint, if you expect people to be familiar with a document, send it out well in advance, especially if you are working with teams where participants are reading documents that are not in their first or native language. Use a webinar when you want to display slides or images, and you want everyone to be seeing the same slider image at the same time. Use video conferencing to help team members become more familiar with each other, and to build trust and strength in communications. But only use video conferencing if all parties have the right equipment and connectivity. A well intended video conference becomes nothing but frustration if images are constantly cutting out and buffering. Some webinar packages do come with the ability to turn on cameras and to use face-to-face type discussions. Now as with any other meeting, people want their time to be valued. Follow standard meeting best practices. Have an agenda, start and end on time, and only include the necessary participants. It can be more difficult to keep people focused during virtual meetings. And one way to help is to call on people regularly throughout the meeting, and do not use a specific order. If people understand that you may ask them to contribute at any time, they’re more likely to stay engaged. The best practice for conference calls, webinars, and video conferencing have some similarities. Let’s look at some specifics. Welcome some conference call do’s and dont’s. Do keep statements short and focused. Do ask for frequent feedback. Do ask specific questions of specific individuals. For example, Joe, what concerns do you have about our current processes? Do have the moderator on the call early. Let’s look at some don’ts. Don’t use mobile phones. Don’t conduct lengthy meetings. Don’t ask generic questions. Does anybody have a comment? Don’t conduct the meeting in a noisy environment. With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at some webinar do’s and don’ts. Use more visuals. Yes, that’s a do. Highlight specific items or areas that you want attendees to focus on. Another do, do include a picture of yourself and other presenters, preferably toward the beginning or before each person speaks for the first time. Do let people know when you think there’s going to be an intentional silence. Do use headphones for better sound quality. Do plan in pauses for questions and comments. Consider having some questions prepared to get the conversation started, and do have a plan B. This could be a backup computer or another participant who can access and display the presentation. Don’t forget, let’s talk about our don’ts now, our Webinar don’ts. Don’t forget to reference your presentation and to rehearse it. Don’t forget to sign on early and make sure everything is working. Don’t include slides that will only display for a few seconds. The reason is sometimes there’s a time delay, and if you’ve already moved on before others have even seen the slide, it’s disconcerting and it makes your presentation appear a little bit disjointed. Don’t allow participants to be off mute for extended periods of time. There will be background noise and it’s going to be distracting. Don’t forget to turn off other phones, put pets outside if you work from home. Put a sign on your office door advising others that you are in a webinar. I was once conducting a webinar and a team member kept pounding on my door. She just knew I was in the office, and she just couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t answer. And she was just pounding on the door, Margaret I know you’re in there! So that was a big don’t. Okay, let’s have some ideas for video conferencing do’s. Do dress appropriately. You don’t want to have business clothes on the top and then pajama bottoms on, because you don’t know if you are going to get up or if you’re going to change camera angles. Definitely do be aware of your surroundings. If you work from home, you really want to make sure you’re aware of what others are going to see and in your office too. Do make eye contact. When you speak, try to pretend that the camera is a person. So make it look like you’re speaking directly to your audience by speaking to the camera. Do test your equipment before you begin the meeting. Do make sure everybody has the right equipment and technology to participate. If not, then really consider a different approach. With those firmly in mind, let’s look at some videoconferencing don’ts. Don’t place the camera at odd angles. It’s distracting to others, and if they’re there looking at you from the floor or from a diagonal, plus it can be very unflattering by the way, and you want to look your professional best. Don’t forget that lighting makes a difference. If the room is too dark, you’re not going to be seen. Don’t engage in other work during a videoconferencing. Remember , everyone can see you. Don’t stare at the camera the whole time. Make that eye contact. But if you stare at the camera the whole time, this is the videoconferencing equivalent of making uncomfortably long eye contact. A final tip for all types of ritual meetings. Technology is wonderful, until it isn’t, and if you conduct enough of these types of meetings, you are going to experience some type of glitch. Try to have a backup plan. Be graceful and flexible. And if the glitch is causing the meeting to be unproductive, let everyone go. And then either ask them back to try again at a certain time, or reschedule. You don’t want to waste people’s time with frustrating technology issues. Virtual meetings can and should be productive. They do bring a bit more complexity than face to face meetings. But you will be able to handle that with no difficulty, because you are going to practice and you’re going to be prepared. Thank you and bye for now.
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