Video conferencing is the method of choice for many companies that want to host virtual meetings with staff and teams. They save time and money and, if handled correctly, can be very impactful to a business’ bottom line.
That said, having five talking heads on a screen isn’t the same as being in a room together. There are specific rules of engagement when it comes to video conferencing, if you want the meeting to be fruitful.
Rules for participants in a video conference
Wear pants — All joking aside, if you needed to stand up or leave the room during a video conference, you don’t want to give your team members a view of something they never needed to see!
Have an appropriate background — The participants can see behind you so angle your computer in such a way that your background is not too busy or distracting, or worse, unprofessional. If your workspace looks like a teenager’s bedroom, fix it! You also need good lighting—side lighting is best. You don’t want to look like you’re sitting in a dark closet!
Choose a quiet space — The local coffee shop with free WIFI might not be the best choice to put a professional face on for your conference. Choose a quiet location where you’re unlikely to have any interruptions for the duration of the meeting.
Learn to use the MUTE button — When you’re not participating or if you need to type during the meeting, use your mute button so that you aren’t adding a lot of ambient noise to the video conference. Make sure you unmute before speaking otherwise the three minute explanation you just gave on marketing for the next quarter will have been missed by all!
Leverage messaging — Most video conferencing tools come with a messaging function, so that you can post a question without interrupting the flow of the meeting.
Check your equipment BEFORE you start — Log in to the conference early or use another tool to check your camera angle and test your microphone. You don’t want people looking up your nose or down at your scalp or hearing a dull buzz instead of your voice! It’s also a good time to check lighting and if there are any visual distractions occurring, like sunlight coming in and hitting the screen.
Stay focused during the meeting — If you start to fidget or multitask with your phone in your lap, everyone will be able to see you doing that and it’s distracting, to say nothing of rude. Also, when you are talking, make sure to look at the camera, not your screen. It looks like you are making eye contact, which gives everyone else the impression that you are fully engaged.
Rules for the chair of a video conference meeting
Include your expectations in the agenda — If you want attendees to ask questions via messaging, tell them. If you would like them to hold up a hand (like in grade school) to get the floor, say so. If you would like to request that everyone mute their access until such time as they are asked a direct question, make that clear. However you want to proceed with the meeting, make sure that the participants know what the expectations are BEFORE they turn on the conferencing tool.
Include links and background materials in the agenda — If you want people to be able to split screen to some materials, send the links in advance so that they aren’t fussing about loading them during the meeting.
Make sure slides are visible for everyone — Using slides, such as PowerPoint, is fine, but make sure your optimize them for every type of screen. Some people might be using a tablet; others might be sharing a monitor in a cubicle. You don’t want to use 9 pt font that no one can see properly. Opt for large fonts, along with minimally distracting colours and images.
Have an ice-breaker — If there are participants who do not know each other, or have never met, and it’s a fairly casual meeting, you can use an ice-breaker, like having everyone introduce themselves and share a fun personal fact that no one else knows. You might want to avoid this if you are conferencing with the C-Suite, however!
Make sure everyone has the chance to participate — In a group of 6 people on a video conference, there will be the talkers and the watchers. The talkers will do 70% or more of the talking, pushing the watchers further into silence. As the moderator / chair, you can make sure that you get maximum participation from everyone by asking questions to specific people, instead of open ended questions to no one in particular. Why? Because the open questions will often be met by silence as the in person interaction and nonverbal cues are missing (you can’t see much on a person’s cues on those tiny images at the bottom of the screen!) Directing questions at specific people will help to engage them and make the meeting more interactive.
While most of the rules of meetings are applicable to virtual meetings (limiting your numbers, sending out a clear agenda, keeping it short), these tips will help you to participate in or host a video conference with ease!