Productive web meetings

thesocialswede mobileIn 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 web meetings

These pointers are intended for online meetings with two-way audio (and chat, usually) where a host/presenter can share their screen or show an uploaded presentation deck. Other features, like polls, are often available. Audio might either be via your device (IP) or via phone conference.


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. Don’t wait until the last minute. Latecomers are just as annoying in remote meetings as live, as are interruptions.
  2. Using the IP sound via your device or calling in to the phone conference is often just a matter of preference, but depending on your wifi connection or the capacity/power of your device it might be safer to choose calling in to the phone conference.
  3. If you can’t or don’t want use audio via IP, there are usually two options to call into the phone conference: Direct (the cost hits your subscription) or call-back from the conference provider. Call-back is often rather expensive for the host, so if the webinar is internal and your employer pays for your phone anyway, they usually prefer that you call in yourself.
  4. Use a local number if you choose to call in.
  5. Is your device sufficiently charged to last through the conference? Or do you have charger or power cord easily available. Some webinar software drain your battery quickly.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Say your name when speaking, at least in the beginning of the meeting. Everyone might not recognise your voice. Especially if you’re unfamiliar to some participants
  9. Focus on the webinar. Skip those side activities (very tempting to do). Multi tasking is a myth. It’s awfully embarrassing when the host has to shout your name several times to get your attention back from that side thing you got engulfed in.
  10. If the webinar 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 URL to your web meeting and urge participants to test ahead of time so their device is ready in time.
  2. Why not display a welcome page as participants gradually join? Not only will it confirm that they have joined the right meeting but you could also:
    • Show images of the presenter(s) or even participants (as there is no video)
    • Introduce presenter(s) and the topic
    • Orient participants about meeting features, by arrows and explanations pointing to the chat feature, for example
  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 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. Help participants to find the chat feature early by writing some kind of greeting in the chat, something they can respond to. “Hi from Malmö. We have horizontal rain (as usual) but indoors it’s warm and cozy. How about at your place? Where are you?”
  9. 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.
  10. NO ANIMATIONS in your slide deck. Not all web 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.
  11. Some web meeting services allow you to upload your deck beforehand. Often a good way to speed up slide progress for the audience.
  12. 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.
  13. Using screen sharing, someone can take meeting minutes live, for all to see, object to, clarify and agree on during the meeting. Less confusion. Less to do post meeting.
  14. If decisions are made and tasks distributed during the meeting, make sure to be explicit and clear about it – as there’s an elevated risk of people not paying full attention.
  15. For the same reason: be quick to distribute the meeting minutes and to do’s after the meeting.
  16. 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.