As countries around the world officially go into lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of you will already be reading this from your home office.
Remote working is the order of the day, due to self-distancing guidelines, mandatory self-isolation, or adjusted work arrangements as the spread of COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down. In these unprecedented times, it is absolutely essential that your business becomes adept at conducting virtual meetings.
The ability to hold effective teleconferences is no longer a nice to have. Many businesses will not survive this period without provisions to allow staff to work from home and maintain high levels of productivity and customer service as they do so.
From our years of facilitating virtual meetings and hosting online training, we’ve put together these top tips for running video meetings that are as effective as in-person ones.
6 engagement-tastic tips for effective virtual meetings
The most important thing to remember, as business teams around the globe transition to operating remotely, is that collaborating virtually isn’t as simple as having video or phone calls. There are a range of new skills, tools and practices that leaders and teams need to apply to uphold performance.
Here are a few tips that will take your virtual collaboration skill level from moderate to advanced.
1. Consider your surroundings
Check the following:
Just as music and podcasts are recorded in sound-proofed booths, it’s important to consider your surroundings when setting up virtual meetings. Is your neighbour doing some noisy DIY next door? If so, the participants in your meeting are going to hear it.
Bonus tip: The smaller the room and the more soft furnishings you have in it, the better the audio will be on your video call. I’ve actually heard of podcast hosts recording in their walk-in robe – probably not the greatest idea for video conferencing but very effective in terms of sound quality!
Try to create an unobtrusive frame for yourself within the video. By that I mean, what is behind you in shot? Ideally, you want to go for a neutral background so there are no distractions for your viewers. Ensure your computer is positioned at eye level to avoid the webcam pointing upwards at your face (and potentially up your nose).
Consider your lighting. Is your face well lit? Are there any unhelpful shadows? A couple of strategically placed lamps are usually all that is required, but it’s worth taking the time to ensure your virtual meeting doesn’t look dim and outdated. Good lighting will also help your audience to see your eyes and connect better with what you’re saying.
2. Create an agenda and have a rehearsal
You might already be in the good habit of writing an agenda for every meeting you hold, but now that you’re conducting virtual meetings, you’ll need to tweak your presentation and/or agenda accordingly.
Research psychologist at the University of Dayton Research Institute’s Human Factors Group, Drew Bowers says:
“We have found that it is best for presenters to either design their data or presentation according to the environment they will be presenting in, or to choose the best environment to represent the data they have.”
Once you’ve tailored your presentation and created your agenda, schedule a rehearsal. Not only is this important from a technical standpoint, it’s also a good idea to practise with colleagues if preparing for a teleconference with clients. Be sure to schedule a practice call with coworkers to take them through the planned agenda and assign roles and responsibilities.
Make sure to send the correct software link and/or login information a day ahead, so participants can test for any necessary downloads. It might also be worth requesting that participants join the virtual meeting 15 minutes prior to the start-time to test connectivity.
Bonus tip: Circulate your agenda to colleagues in advance of your practice call. Then, when you’re assigning roles during the test run, encourage your colleagues to mark in their cues and make notes in the margins – much like actors would rehearse a script.
3. Turn off notifications and unplug distractions
It’s so easy to get distracted when you’re online. However, in order for your virtual meetings to be a success, you need to give them your full attention. Disable all push notifications – on your phone and your laptop, or whatever technology is in the room. Apart from anything else, the loud ‘bing’ of an app notification when someone’s speaking is incredibly off-putting.
You must avoid the temptation to multitask. Yes, you’re on your computer. Yes, it is possible to answer emails at the same time. But no, you shouldn’t. Note-taking in relation to the meeting is allowed, but make sure you turn off your microphone if you’re going to type your notes.
4. Consider having a facilitator
For video conferences with a large audience, think about using a facilitator. The great thing about having a facilitator and a presenter is that the former can be responsible for handling technical issues, monitoring and directing questions to the appropriate responder, and ensuring the presentation flows according to the scheduled timeline and agenda. This frees up the presenter to concentrate on delivering the most engaging communication possible.
5. Adopt appropriate clothing and body language
Wearing business attire not only may help to get you into the right frame of mind for a successful virtual meeting, but the right attire will also help from a technical point of view. “Loud” or striped clothing does not transmit well on camera and can be distracting. You should also be mindful of scarves and jangling jewellery in terms of obscuring audio. Sit upright, hold your body in an open, relaxed stance and try to keep your movements to a minimum. But don’t be rigid! Be mindful that a monotone body creates a monotone voice (and a wandering mind).
6. Use clear speech and engaging facial expression
More than ever during virtual meetings, speakers must make an effort to enunciate clearly – particularly if they have a strong accent. Use pause effectively to allow participants to absorb the information that has been conveyed. And remember, your face is on show! Imagine that you’re standing an arm’s length away from your audience and you’re telling them a story. Your webcam will be closely cropped to your head and shoulders, so it’s critical to use your face as a tool of engagement. Relax your jaw, check whether you’re frowning and try to utilise facial expression naturally. Don’t forget to smile!
These are some of the secrets to being a successful leader of remote meetings. If you would like to learn more about effective communication in a virtual working environment, register your interest in our upcoming webinar focused on pitching and training in virtual environments. Remember, the majority of CJM training programs can be delivered live virtually, so now is a great time to upskill your team communication.
The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.