How to Make the Best of Your Virtual Meetings
It’s an overstatement to say that we’ve all been impacted by this virus and we are all trying to carve new routines…including (and maybe especially) our UD Conference and Event Services team. After all – we’re in the meeting and event business. So, now that the initial jolt into a new reality has settled in, we find ourselves returning to exactly that – meetings and events – because that’s what we know best.
Here’s another overstatement: Virtual meetings are the new normal. However even though, in the past, you may have gotten away with pairing a dress shirt and tie with pajama bottoms and slippers for the quick video chat, nearly all business is being conducted via video conferencing now – and it’s time to step up the professionalism. Our goal has always been to help our clients’ meetings be as effective and successful as possible – and we’re happy to translate our knowledge and expertise to video conferencing.
Drew Bowers, a research psychologist in the University of Dayton Research Institute’s Human Factors Group, puts it plainly: “You can’t simply take a presentation you gave in front of a live audience at a conference and throw it up on a video monitor for a virtual audience and expect the same results, because you’re limited, to a degree, in how you can interact with your virtual audience.”
On that note, we thought we’d provide some basic best practices for more effective virtual meetings and conferences.
Choose the Appropriate Platform for Your Goals
Choosing a virtual meeting platform depends on what you want to achieve in your meetings.
Things to look for would be:
- Image Quality. Look for HD video and audio.
- Crowd size. Is your meeting large or small? Some platforms, like Zoom, can accommodate up to 1,000 participants simultaneously.
- Meeting time. How much time do you need? It’s tempting to try out the Free versions, but be aware – many free versions have time limits (as well as group size limits). You want to avoid getting cut off or the opposite – having to rush through.
- Collaboration capabilities. Consider features that you might need and also help keep participants engaged like screen share, team chat, hand raising, file sharing, desktop and application sharing, whiteboarding and annotations.
- Recording. It could be handy to be able to save meetings to the cloud, along with transcripts that have searchable text.
- Mobile friendly. Adding more flexibility for your guests is helpful and fairly easy, so why not? Two options to look for here: a mobile app and a dial-in option for audio-only capability.
- Security. Look for 256-bit TLS encryption to ensure that the meetings you hold, and the files you share within them, are secure.
Setting Up Your Space
By now you’ve probably seen a lot of variations on this topic. Everyone from news anchors to colleagues to family – it’s offered an opportunity to observe what is going on in the background, plus notice the lighting quality and props.
- Quiet, please. Make sure you are in a quiet setting.
- Camera position. The best position is seated and close enough to the camera so that other participants get the feeling that you’re engaged and present. Make sure your camera is eye level – too low, too high, or weird angles can be very distracting – and unflattering. If you need to present, use screen sharing and digital whiteboard technology. Trying to present from a distance on a whiteboard simply doesn’t work well.
- Lighting. Be sure you are well lit. Facing a light source (natural daylight preferred) reduces unwanted shadows that may skew your facial expressions or appearance. If using additional lighting, it should be directional and diffused by a lampshade. Avoid bare bulbs.
- Be comfortable. Fidgeting can be distracting to other attendees. Make sure your chair is comfortable and you have everything you need close at hand to avoid a lot of movement. ● Look behind you. Wall decorations should be appropriate and your surroundings clean.
- Remove clutter. Your viewable space should be clean and neat. Especially your desk.
Remember Proper Meeting Etiquette
Keep in mind, you’re still in a meeting and many of the traditional meeting etiquettes still apply. Here are some Dos and Don’ts:
- Do maintain eye contact. Look into the camera, not at yourself on the screen.
- Do limit distractions. Turn off your cell phone and avoid checking emails and texts.
- Don’t interrupt other speakers.
- Do wear appropriate clothing. Dress as if you’re meeting in person – you never know if you’re going to have to get up. Avoid visually distracting clothing and jewelry – striped shirts do not transmit well on camera nor does large, shiny, jewelry.
Encourage Participant Engagement
One of the perks of virtual meetings is that they lend themselves to a more relaxed atmosphere – so keeping attendees engaged is critical. By interspersing engagement opportunities throughout the meeting, you reduce the temptation for attendees to multitask or sit back and “tune out.”
Consider the following:
- Icebreakers. Starting your meeting with an “icebreaker” is a great way to ease into the meeting instead of jumping right into tasks. It’s also a great way to add the social element that’s missing during social distancing.
- Themes. Depending on the time of day, it could be a “morning coffee club” or if it’s in the afternoon, you could start with mindful meditations.
- Polls & Questions. Taking polls during the meeting offers you the opportunity to get immediate feedback. Asking questions and asking for answers via chat not only engage remote participants but it also keeps the personal connection going. Keep questions specific – asking open-ended questions to a large remote audience can often result in “dead air.”
- Variety. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Check out our post on Gamification .
Test Before You Go Live
Don’t get caught looking like you didn’t prepare. Test your microphone b efore the actual meeting by video conferencing a co-worker or friend.
There really is no comparison to gathering in person – and we will need (and likely be craving) that kind of interactive networking and idea-sharing when this crisis is past. UD Conference and Event Services is looking forward to that day and will be ready to serve you. We’ve been taking a new look at our venues and seeing all the ways we are able to meet potential challenges. The large open spaces in the Clayton Conference Center offer incredibly flexible usage scenarios. The expansive grounds around The Virden Center in Lewes offer meetings and events the opportunity to be outdoors taking advantage of a coastal environment and the amazing productivity boost that can bring. But until we meet—in person— again, take care and stay connected.
Polly Weir is the Director of Conference and Event Services at the University of Delaware. She is also an adjunct professor in the Hospitality Business Management program and a fitness instructor for Employee Health and Wellbeing at UD. She and her team of talented event professionals manage conferences and events on campus. UD Conference and Event Services not only plans events for the UD community, but it also welcomes local businesses, associations, and organizations to campus by providing top-notch service in a unique environment.