Productive video conferences

videomöteIn these times of coronainduced travel restrictions, I expect that remote meetings will surge. And that many will feel inexperienced and uncertain on how to make those meetings productive and positive, as participant or as host or presenter.

With fifteen years under my belt in international and global roles in one of the world’s most internationally integrated corporations (IBM), and most of those years as an expert consultant on remote work, I have participated or led thousands of remote meetings.

In a quick series of blog posts, I’d like to share some advise and good practices, split by type of remote meeting:

  • Phone conferences
  • Video conferences
  • Web meetings (i.e. presentation on screen and audio conversation either via device or phone conference)
  • Webinars (as web meetings but only one way audio – usually lectures for large groups)

Your reflections, objections and suggestions are very welcome!

Would you like more hands-on consulting support with remote collaboration you’re very welcome to get in touch, of course.


Productive video conferences

These pointers are intended for meetings with more than two participants but still not too many for all to be able to actively participate in the dialogue.


Participants

  1. Prepare in time. Do you have the meeting URL? The number to the phone conference service? Headset if you’re attending among other people? Have you installed and tested the app or plug-in you might need? Have you checked at all if you need any app or plug-in? Make sure to find a sufficiently calm environment  ahead of time – preferably with a background that doesn’t distract. Don’t wait until the last minute. Latecomers are just as annoying in remote meetings as live, as are interruptions.
  2. Are you presentable? No stains on the collar? No spinach between the teeth? Also if you have to rise to answer the door or chase the dog out of the room?
  3. What does your background look like? Is it distracting? MS Teams offers a very practical feature to blur the background. Clever! And nothing I have seen yet from the other suppliers of video conferencing software.
  4. Is your device sufficiently charged to last through the conference? Or do you have charger or power cord easily available. Some video conferencing software drain your battery quickly.
  5. MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN NOT SPEAKING! The most common gaffe is to forget your mic on and to have a side conversation, yell at pets or kids or yawn loudly (as I did once – only). This is especially important if you fail to find a silent environment as your background sounds can get very annoying for other participants.
  6. UN-MUTE YOUR MICROPHONE WHEN SPEAKING! The second most common gaffe is to forget to put your mic back on again when supposed or wanting to speak.
  7. You are visible! It’s the point of the whole thing. But also the challenge.
  8. Where is your camera? Usually just above your screen (or on the side if you use a tablet or phone in landscape mode). If you really want to see eye to eye with other participants you must focus on the lens, not the face. I find this very hard to do more than momentarily. The eyes automatically turn to the face(s) on the screen. (When I recorded using my iPad I actually attached some paper around the lens to make it easier to focus on. It worked better, but not all the way.)
  9. If you use an external monitor (as I prefer working), video conferences can get complicated, especially if the external monitor has a camera. Pointer #8 might then become even more challenging. Or, the conference window might open on the side monitor making you look that way and turning your ear to the cameras – which may make other participants suspect that you’re actually doing something else. Sometimes it’s just easier to disconnect the external monitor.
  10. If the video meeting platform has a chat option – use it. A great possibility to comment or ask questions discreetly, without interrupting. The speaker or a helper can look occasionally in the chat and answer questions directly.

Host/Presenter

  1. Invitation: Include the link to your video meeting and urge participants to test ahead of time so their device is ready in time.
  2. Can you share your screen or show slides in the video meeting? (I’m not certain that all video meetings services have this capability). It can be very practical to be able to do so; do show slides, to demo, or – a bit unusual but practical – to take meeting minutes live during the meeting, ensuring all get a chance to ask for clarifications or corrections in the meeting and the minutes being final and agreed to as you close.
  3. Don’t bother re-starting for latecomers. 1) It’s annoying for those who did join in time and 2) If they miss the start, they might get the pointer and join in time in the future.
  4. Consider starting 15 minutes past the hour instead to allow people with back-to-back meetings some air, to end the previous meeting a bit late, a coffee or to “wash their hands”
  5. If you, as is often the case, are a bigger group in the office with a big screen, camera and a speaker phone while others join individually, it’s easy in the big group to forget the remote participants, start small talking, speak too far away from the mic and the remote participants feel forgotten (rightly so):
    • Move the mic close to whoever speaks, as needed and as possible
    • Or have the host/presenter repeat questions or comments from the group to make sure remote participants get them
    • Check in regularly with remote participants to ensure that they hear and are attentive
  6. Open a chat for participants (and maybe separate chats for presenters) within the web meeting service (maybe separate for presenters). Participants can ask and comment without having to interrupt the presenter’s flow. Presenters can be told to get ready; “You’re on in two”.
  7. Delegate moderation of chat(s) to someone in the same location as you, to respond to questions as much as possible by chat and to collect and pass on selected questions to presenters when suitable.
  8. If you, as a remote presenter, want to have a chat going to communicate with the host, it’s often a good idea to have that chat on a separate device or – if you dare – on a second, external screen.
  9. NO ANIMATIONS in your slide deck. Not all meeting services can handle them. Play it safe. If you want to build your slide gradually, make the final slide, duplicate it and remove elements (in reverse order) to mimic the animation, but on separate slides.
  10. Some meeting services allow you to upload your deck beforehand. Often a good way to speed up slide progress for the audience.
  11. If you share your screen, shut off as much as possible of other software to avoid slowing down your computer. And – definitely – shut off all notifications! They will show for everyone.
  12. If inviting participants across time zones, I recommend using World Time Buddy, a wonderful little online service that makes it very easy to realise what time the session will be in different time zones. (three zones included in the free version)

If you have questions, comments or thoughts on the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment or to reach out.

Think of that online collaboration is much more than remote meetings only, which require that all participants are available simultaneously, sometimes across distant time zones. If you are serious about online collaboration across geographical and organisational boundaries you need to supplement such synchronous collaboration with asynchronous, like file sharing, blogs, communities, forums and more that offer fantastic possibilities to collaborate transparently, boosting agility, sharing of experience, inspiration, innovation and broader horizons.

If you’re lucky, you have access to HCL Connections offering all these kinds of features in one solution – together with services for video and online meetings. A bit like combining LinkedIn, Dropbox, Zoom, WordPress and more in one comprehensive package – inside the firewall – and with the same filter bubble-logic as on Facebook and LinkedIn; you get more of what you’ve shown interest in, but for work that is positive