In 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.
These pointers are intended for meetings with audio (and chat, usually) where a host/presenter can share their screen or show an uploaded presentation deck. But, unlike web meetings, the audio communication is only broadcast from the presenter. Typically for larger meetings, all-hands with at least 50 participants. Other features, like polls, are often available. Audio might either be via your device (IP) or via phone conference.
- 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? An upside of webinars is that you don’t need a silent environment as you’re neither on audio or camera.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use a local number if you choose to call in.
- 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.
- Focus on the webinar. Skip those side activities (very tempting to do). Multi tasking is a myth.
- 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.
- Stay aware if your questions and comments are sent only to moderators and panel or to all attendees.
- Invitation: Include the URL to your web meeting and urge participants to test ahead of time so their device is ready in time.
- 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
- Don’t wait too long for late comers
- 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”
- If you broadcast a big gathering with a substantial live audience:
- Consider setting up viewing parties at other offices where those employees can attend together by a big screen
- Consider presenting to the local audience from the presenter’s computer and for the online audience from another. It should work anyway, but better safe than sorry.
- Use LAN for the computer for the remote audience. Better safe than sorry, also in this regard.
- If you have several speakers, it might be easier to equip each one with a small microphone connected to their mobile phone (which should be in flight mode to avoid disturbing incoming calls) and connect them via IP sound. Instead of doing a microphone relay, which often turns amateurish.
- Why not record the scene using a separate camera for broadcasting in the web meeting?
- Maybe even sharing video from the viewing parties to display the participation at satellite offices.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- Some web meeting services allow you to upload your deck beforehand. Often a good way to speed up slide progress for the audience.
- 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.
- If the live audience ask questions, make sure to repeat them for the online audience. The person asking was probably waaay to far from the microphone.
- 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.