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How to Hold Productive Virtual Meetings During an Epidemic

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If your business has been designated “nonessential” amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, you’re likely working from home. Whether you used to set up in an office or jet around the world, meetings were and still are a part of your workday.

How are you managing them as you move to online event technology?

When working from home, distractions are everywhere. From cats to children to the music your neighbors are blasting at odd hours, it can be difficult to stay productive. Yet despite these distractions, it’s more essential than ever that you find ways to connect with your company’s internal and external stakeholders, communicate clearly, and keep moving forward. If you’re looking to make the most of your virtual meetings, this guide is for you.

Choose Between Virtual Meeting Platforms

When you’re setting up a virtual conference or meeting, the first order of business is choosing a platform. Phone and video conferences are both options, and with online meeting platforms like Zoom and Skype, people can choose to either call or video chat into a virtual meeting.

As you choose a platform for your virtual meetings, make sure to consider your needs in terms of:

  • Cost
  • Accessibility (phone vs. video; hardware and bandwidth requirements)
  • Medium (app-based vs. web-based)
  • HD audio/video capability
  • Screen sharing functions
  • Chat and instant messaging functions
  • Recording and transcription services

Not sure which platform is right for you? Check out Vario’s guide on 5 Ways to Conference in From Your Home. Good options for video meeting platforms covered in this guide include:

  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • Google Hangouts
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Cisco WebEx Meetings

Audio or Video?

Providing flexibility in your online meeting medium may make it easier for participants who might be managing hectic home lives. For some individuals who live with children, spouses, and other family members in close quarters, the option to call in and avoid colleagues’ eyes in their disorganized home space might be much appreciated.

However, Forbes recommends that you require employees to use video: “When people are on camera, they won’t be able to check their phones. Yes, they can still be surfing the web and not fully paying attention, but there’s no way to prevent that.”

Is it true that employees can’t use their phones while they’re in a video chat? And are you willing to sacrifice accessibility to enforce attention? These questions are yours to answer, hinging upon the kind of work environment you seek to create.

Inform Your Audience

Once you’ve chosen a platform, be sure to clearly communicate access information to all attendees, including time, links, a password (if there is one), technical requirements, and who to contact in case of technical difficulty.

Set an Agenda

Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should throw the careful planning that usually goes into your business meetings out the window.

However, if you’re not used to setting an agenda for meetings, now is the time to start. Since people have been working independently, getting on the page can be more time consuming. Without a plan, your meeting might drag on and on—and as life’s distractions intervene, it may become harder and harder to get anything done.

To make the most of your meeting, circulate an agenda early. Consider:

  • What are your main objectives for the meeting? What will be accomplished by the end?
  • What do attendees need to share during the meeting? How long will their presentations take? (Message them directly beforehand to integrate them into the agenda.)
  • How long should the meeting as a whole take? Be sure to factor in the possibility of technical errors, and of people wanting or needing extra time to catch up. Efficiency is important, but it isn’t everything.
  • Distribute an agenda before or at the beginning of the meeting. If you find it’s helpful, keep it visible in a chat box, or through screen sharing.

Designate a Facilitator

Once you distribute your agenda, don’t assume that participants will automatically stick to it. Without the visual cues of a meeting room and whiteboard, it can be less clear who’s in charge. Be sure that you or someone else is prepared to act as the point person, noting when it’s time to transition to the next topic so that your meeting stays on track.

Moderating Participants

A facilitator has another important role in a video conference: making sure everyone knows the necessary tools and tips to keep the meeting running smoothly. Depending on the platform you’ve chosen, a facilitator might be in charge of the following functions:

  • Let participants out of the waiting room and into the meeting
  • Inform participants how to “pin” a particular speaker or toggle between speaker views
  • Mute participants who aren’t speaking, or ask participants to mute themselves
  • Answer “handwaves”—questions from participants who are on mute

Get Ready for Your Meeting

Before your meeting begins, make sure you’re comfortable in your home office space. Consider the following hacks for blocking out distractions and feeling comfortable onscreen:

  • Optimize your audio environment – Use headphones to minimize background noise. Considering investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to stay laser-focused on your meeting attendees.
  • Optimise your input, too – You want to make sure everyone at the meeting can hear you clearly—and can’t hear the sound of your kids playing in the next room. Consider investing in headphones with an attached microphone, or even a headset.
  • Test your camera – before logging into your video chat, use an app like PhotoBooth to make sure there’s nothing distracting or personal in the background of your video, and that there’s sufficient light to see you. Make adjustments as needed.
  • Customize your appearance – Zoom allows you to use custom backgrounds if you’re forced to call in from the bedroom (while another household member conferences in the office). Use a background of your choice to obscure your headboard and look professional. Zoom can also touch up your appearance and spotlight you while speaking. Functions vary between other apps.

In addition, be sure to familiarize yourself with your chosen application’s specifics. How do you enter, exit, and screen share? Don’t learn on the fly: ask a friend or family member to practice with you beforehand.

Make the Most of Screen Sharing

Once your meeting has begun, use the screen sharing feature so that your team can look at important documents simultaneously. Depending on your chosen app, possibilities might include:

  • Looking at a document, webpage, presentation, or video together
  • Share and write on a whiteboard together
  • Share content from a phone or another external device

If you do use a whiteboard or shared workspace, be sure to take a screenshot before the meeting is over.

Utilize Break-Out Sessions

When there are thirty talking heads on a screen, it can be difficult to do the kind of small-group brainstorming and collaboration that occurs in everyday meetings. With break-out sessions, collect your meeting attendees into smaller video conference rooms. As the host, you can “drop in” to these sessions to check in, and then merge them back together so that everyone can share.

Be Patient with Technical Issues

Before you start your virtual meetings online, be aware that something will likely go wrong: someone’s email will send the invite to spam. Someone else’s microphone will emit a high-pitched shriek. There will be lags in the video and audio feed.

When these technical issues arise, take time to troubleshoot them, allowing your designated facilitator to take the lead so that cross-talk doesn’t make the issue worse.

Leave Time for Questions

As your team adapts to a new virtual format, make sure that the end of your meeting leaves time for questions of any and all kinds. As you listen to your co-worker’s questions, you can prepare solutions for the following online meeting.

Make a Recording

If your company’s employees have traveled to vacation homes or family member’s homes for the duration of the pandemic, they may be in different time zones. Make sure your meeting is accessible after the fact for replay. Consider:

  • Recording the meeting in full for employees to stream or download
  • Creating a transcript of the meeting (possible in Zoom and Cisco WebEx meetings)
  • Having a designated note-taker distill central takeaways the old fashioned way

You can host a recording of the video on your company’s own webspace, or find a platform that provides cloud-based software and sharing services.

Follow Up

After your virtual conference or meeting is over, be sure to follow up with participants to distribute the link to the recorded video or transcript. Consider doing all of the following:

  • Circulating notes and action-items
  • Soliciting feedback for future remote meetings
  • Keeping a running log of “troubleshooting fixes” in an accessible location

The more virtual meetings you hold, the better you’ll fine-tune your video conferencing skills.

Vario — Virtual Meetings Made Simple

Are you sure that you and your attendees have the right network connections for a video conference at home? Are you prepared to host and moderate larger remote meetings and events, potentially with dozens of participants?

If you need professional support in making your virtual meetings productive, call in Vario. As leaders in technology and event planning, we’re the go-to production company for events that require tech experts. Get in touch today to learn more about our virtual event production services, how we can support your company’s virtual meetings and help your business navigate this difficult time!

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