As we enter the second 21-day lockdown there will be many more video meetings. Here are some observations on how to take part effectively based on experience as a participant, organiser and trainer in the use of video for meetings over the past few weeks.
Preparation is vital, as always:
- Test your kit well before the meeting. Does the video and audio work properly? Do you know how to switch it off and on during the meeting?
- Try different positions and lighting arrangements. A bright light behind will leave you a dark silhouette; camera alignment with the top of your head gives the best projection of your face; try to be reasonably close to the camera so the main view is your head and shoulders. A light positioned behind your computer screen and therefore in front of you is normally best. Think about your background and what if anything you want it to say about you.
- A laptop or PC will probably be best for most video conferencing platforms. Tablets and smartphones do work, but the controls can be more limited and more difficult to locate. It is also a little unnerving for other participants to see a giant finger stabbing the screen.
- A good headset with microphones, connected to the computer by a USB port, is a boon. It improves sound quality, reduces the danger of annoying feedback and leaves your hands free to type, take notes or drink coffee. It also means that your conversation does not interfere with your immediate surroundings as much.
- A wired connection to your broadband router will be more stable and reliable than relying on your WiFi signal. Nevertheless some video meeting services cope well with the vagaries of WiFi.
- Will you have to share information during the meeting from your computer by screen-sharing? If so make sure you have this material ready to go before the meeting starts.
- If you are unfamiliar or nervous with the environment of a video meeting try to have some practice beforehand.
- Log on in good time – you can always catch up with emails or other tasks while you wait for others to join
If you are organising the meeting:
- All the points above apply, but with even more force.
- Make sure you are familiar with the security protocols of your software. For example most systems allow you to require delegates to register beforehand, to join only with a password and to be placed in a waiting area before being admitted to the meeting itself.
- Be prepared to take participants through the main operating features of your chosen platform, for example how to use a chat facility, how to mute microphones, how to use any other features that you will be using like polls, icons, screen sharing and whiteboards.
- A clear agenda is if anything even more important for remote meetings with clear control and leadership of the discussion by the chair. Don’t be afraid of the ‘mute all’ control. This approach is an excellent way to ensure the best sound quality because distracting background noises do not intrude and the danger of feedback between individual microphones and speakers is much less.
- Therefore explain that all microphones will be muted by default. This in turn imposes a responsibility on you to make sure that everybody can have their say. Make clear to delegates how they should catch your attention: wait to be asked? Raise their ‘hand’ (a facility in most platforms) or simply wave at their camera? Encourage delegates to use the chat facility to raise questions as an alternative.
- For larger meetings where the main objective is to present information rather than generate discussion, the chat facility is best for dealing with delegates’ questions. Microphones can always be opened if a point needs to be developed further.
- For larger meetings might it be helpful to appoint a ‘producer’ – somebody who is familiar with the system and can leave you free to direct the business of the meeting? Equally think carefully about how you will record the outcomes of the meeting. Some platforms allow you (or delegates) to record the session. It may be helpful to appoint somebody to act as a rapporteur, using the chat facility for example to record key decisions and responsibilities. Another alternative is for the rapporteur to work away in the background on an ordinary text file which can be shared at the appropriate time through screen sharing.
- Start the meeting in good time for early joiners and if you are going to be away from your screen during this time, leave a message to that effect.
You are about to take part in somebody else’s meeting:
- Make sure you have done your preparation, as above
- How important is your appearance? In recent weeks the newspapers and youtube have been full of information about looking your best in video meetings.
- By default mute your microphone
- Make sure you know how to catch the chair’s attention
- If you need to leave the meeting for a moment make sure you let the chair know. Some systems have an icon for this purpose (for example a tea cup or a clock); otherwise just leave a message in the chat box.
- Use the chat facility very carefully if you want to make private comments to other participants in the meeting
What would you add to these points? It looks as if we will all be using video conferencing for at least a few weeks to come so it behoves us to do it as well as we can. And perhaps even when freedom of movement is restored we can continue to question whether we really need to travel to all those face to face meetings if we can prove that we can excel at video meetings.
Finally #RuBrief online CPD seminars return this week with a 90 minute session on trusts and trustees of rural estates and property. This will be an opportunity to see one platform in action using a range of online training features. Further details via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rubrief-trusts-and-trustees-in-rural-estate-management-and-valuation-tickets-87435214079