While already commonplace across many industries and sectors, the use of video conferencing has now been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And, through the wider proliferation of this technology during the last few months, an opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint has arisen. This, coupled with ongoing uncertainty around if and when we should return to a pre-COVID working culture, means video conferencing and the wider virtual workspace will not just be the future but also, rapidly, our present.
By this point most of us have used Zoom, Google Hangout, Teams or one of the many more advanced offerings, whether as a regular working tool or simply to host a family quiz night. So-called ‘Zoom etiquette’ has entered the everyday lexicon. Therefore, at Think Different Events we thought we might offer our favourite hints and tips on how to be efficient, effective and professional whilst working with these new ‘virtual meeting’ platforms. Some may seem obvious, some may seem pernickety, but from Wi-Fi to eyeline there are many reasons why virtual meetings, presentations and conferences can succeed, and just as many why they can fail. So, in no particular order…
1. What to Wear? We may be working from home, but business is still business. Dress as if your meeting was face-to-face and set the standard you wish others to follow. Busier and potentially more distracting patterns might be best left at the bottom of the drawers, for now. Avoid headphones unless dialling in from a noisy environment (in which case the smaller sized earbud the better).
2. Mise-En Scene Inevitably, whether it’s a bookcase or a photo frame, our eyes are drawn to the edges of the frame. This is why plain, neutral backgrounds are crucial – even for passive participants. Also, position your camera an arm’s length away and at eye-level – nothing a stack of books or board games can’t help with. This keeps eyeline up and body language alert. And ensure your primary light source is behind your camera so your face is well lit and not cast in silhouette. Essentially, you need to think like a newsreader.
3. SFX Given the volume of emails, whatsapps and news updates dropping into our devices every day, you shouldn’t have to hear every single PING that announces their arrival. Go into your notification settings and turn them off. Also, rooms with carpet and curtains will reduce echo and lend your sound a soft, clear quality.
4. Be Prepared Issue detailed agendas in advance, just as you would at the office – clarify who will be asked to speak and on which items. Provide simple crib sheets detailing how to log on, how to mute/un-mute a microphone, and how to take control of the various functions. Have a clear purpose for each meeting (this is possibly more important than for face-to-face), after all, every minute spent on your given platform may be costing money.
5. Stay on Schedule Video conferencing is not an excuse for winging it. By setting time limits for each agenda item and having an efficient chair to keep you on track, you will avoid wasting money, resources and everyone’s valuable time. A 5 minute ‘warm-up’ at the beginning of each meeting will allow for late-comers, small talk and the invaluable catchups you’d usually have on the way to the meeting room. Also remember that virtual meetings lack the same social clues as face-to-face
6. Stay Connected If you suffer from temperamental Wi-Fi, consider ways to maximise your bandwidth. Relocate your router nearer to the ‘office’ or invest in a mobile dongle or ethernet cable – both are cheap and freely available. Similarly, close extraneous apps, webpages, and schedule major software downloads and updates for out-of-hours.
7. Engage Looking at a screen is wearing and studies have shown that virtual meetings are more tiring than face-to-face. Push past 45 minutes and you’re pushing your luck – half that time is optimum for keeping delegates and participants engaged. Interactivity and variety will also support this. The rapidly developing technology should allow us to host virtual conferences that feel more like TED talks than university lectures.
8. To Mute or Not to Mute? Having a ‘no-mute’ rule is good for promoting engagement within smaller groups and will reduce the temptation to click away or start replying to emails. Larger numbers, with an increased chance of dogs and doorbells, suit muted microphones. But do make sure everyone knows how to switch theirs on and off – and make everyone is aware that the host can do this remotely.
9. All the Gear and No Idea Ensure team members, clients or delegates are clued up in advance on how to get the most out of your particular conferencing platform. Break rooms, interactive whiteboards, slide sharing and side-chats – all of these will maximise engagement, interactivity and value for money.
10. Expect the Unexpected There WILL be chaos and things WILL go wrong. There WILL be lag, people WILL talk over each other and connections WILL drop without warning. This is the nature of the technology and of virtual working in 2020. As long as we accept that such things will happen we we’ll quickly learn the flexibility and sensitivity needed to master this way of working.
With 1 point for each of the above, how many points out of 10 would you currently give yourself for the virtual meetings you organise or take part in?