New to Virtual Meetings? This is What You Need to Know
Updated: Apr 29
Newcomers to video conferencing use the resource differently from those who have been on there for some time. Here are the differences.
My initial reaction to the #COVID19 pandemic was to roll up my sleeves and ‘help’ with the only tool at my disposal — writing. My brain reacted, telling me that ‘I needed to write about supporting #SuddenRemoteWorkers.’
My business partner, Amanda, was my voice of reason. “There is so much noise out there around this — do you want to contribute more babble?”
I have, for the most part, avoided writing on the subject. Last week a client and I were talking about #videoconferencing newbies vs old-hands, and she asked me to write this article — so I am breaking out of C-19 writer self-isolation — thanks, Judy.
Virtual Meeting Newbies vs Old-hands
The Myth of Compulsory Video on Calls
To newcomers, ‘video’ is a compulsory norm for everyone attending virtual meetings. Even though we know the internet to be a fickle mistress, cameras will be on. For meetings, large and small this can create issues — people’s camera’s freeze, slow down, and the sound degrades (people’s voices); people drop from the call.
After some unspecified number of video conferencing sessions, the need to see and read each other’s faces becomes less critical than in the beginning. Each individual’s preferences around camera usage will start to emerge. People will choose how to join the meeting — some will have their video turned on, others will participate via voice-only, or voice on the phone while viewing the meeting through the computer. There are many options available for joining #virtualmeetings — computer, phone, voice, viewing conference material, record, chat (IM), video of the participant (self).
Mature (jaded?) users are open to any combination, with one exception:
Do not have your voice (microphone) enabled on both your computer and your mobile. It creates loud, terrible and irritating feedback that makes the call impossible for everyone.
The New Wave has Led Me Out of My Jaded State
As dulled as I am after hundreds or thousands of hours spent in virtual meetings, I am enjoying this new, fresh wave of online meetings.
This period of Sudden Remote Working has coincided with a few new business clients. These new, recent clients who are also new to virtual meetings have ‘forced’ me to turn my camera on and join in — this has been a good thing.
‘The newbies’ shared stories of virtual faux pas by their colleagues — a poorly placed mirror, a bedroom wardrobe door left ajar and so much more. I, like them, was keen to avoid any such incidents.
As not all online conferencing apps provide the facility for virtual backgrounds, cleaning up my office was a priority. Making the office fit-for-public viewing was no small feat, but I rolled up my sleeves and got the job done. With the clean-up completed, I moved on to collecting snazzy images to use with those apps that supported virtual backgrounds.
I chose to bring my outside world to the inside and selected photographs from around the farm. I have my favourite background (see below), but I make a point of changing the image each day.
Setting a Zoom background — Author’s photo
GoToMeeting is one application that does not provide the facility for virtual backgrounds. However, if you are dead-set on having a virtual background in GoToMeeeting there are a number of third party apps that you can use.
I have enjoyed seeing and being seen by new clients online (who would’ve thunk?!).
I do however draw the line at donning ‘funny hats,’ themed costumes or joining Friday afternoon drinks virtually. Reports on such shenanigans have not been positive; people talk about the awkward nature of such events. If you beg to differ, I’d love to hear about your experience.
Understanding the limits of the technology
The peculiarities of the internet and virtual meeting apps are plentiful. Seasoned veterans will find the limits of the technology and unapologetically work within these.
A Conference Call in Real Life — Tripp & Tyler
Many factors will influence and impact on the experience. These include the application itself; the licensing arrangement; the number of people on the call and whether people choose to join using the computer and/ or the phone via video and/or voice etc.
The experience will also depend on the internet connection of any individual user. One poor connection can ruin the experience for the entire group; for example, if a single person is speaking and has a poor connection, this will be terrible for the whole group. Conversely, when that person is not sharing, they are likely to find making sense of the call difficult.
Here are a few things to help (from the experienced):
Find the absolute number of people your app and environment can handle in a single session and cap participant numbers at 10–20% below the max. For SkypeForBusiness and other enterprise apps, the number currently sits around 250.
Record sessions so that anyone who can’t make it can see the session later.
If you are the presenter, learn about the controls you have and use them. For example, in SkypeForBusiness the entire meeting (not the presenter obviously) can be put on mute.
In Zoom, you can ‘pin’ the video on the leader. In some instances, such as exercise and yoga, the camera remains on the teacher/ presenter. If the camera is not ‘pinned’ on the presenter, it will move to the person who hasn’t put themselves on mute and has the most background noise.
Controlling the uncontrollable
From dogs barking in the background to photobombing kids and in my case, a chainsaw-wielding-swearing husband (not at me) — create an online meeting culture to minimise background interruptions and embarrassments.
Those people and organisations that are virtual meeting old-hands and who have been meeting online for some time have ground rules in place. Large meetings start with a ‘Housekeeping slide’ outlining the following:
Please put yourself on mute.
Ask questions via chat — we will answer what we can on the call; follow-up responses will be here.
We are recording the session (this is usual), and this is where it will be shared/ posted.
Throwing out a question and waiting for the answer (while people remove themselves from mute) is the norm. Muting oneself is usual.
Being a meeting host, whether online or in real life, can be daunting, even for the more seasoned amongst us. Don’t go it alone, find help from someone before, during and after the meeting. The role of Robin to your Batman is:
Before the session — send invites, check numbers against capacity, book the meeting, send pre-reading and remind people about the meeting.
At the meeting (most important) — keep an eye on the chat conversation; answer questions in the chat window where appropriate, via voice, or defer to the presenter or other party.
After the meeting — send out an email to those on the call, as well as to those who couldn’t make it, let them know where they can find resources and/ or recording. Edit and upload recording (to the intranet or similar) along with any other material. Publish the session to other relevant internal channels (Yammer, Chat, Communities of Practice etc.)
You don’t know what you don’t know — Three Pointers from Virtual Meeting Old-hands
Video is not compulsory — Turning your video on during virtual meetings is not mandatory. In some cases (poor internet connection, unsuitable background, photobombing kids), it may be best to turn it off.
Have some fun, but not awkward ‘fun’ — Put up virtual backgrounds, pour yourself a cup of tea/ coffee and settle into your meeting, but don’t go overboard with hats, dress-ups and virtual office drinks. Some things that work IRL (in real life) won’t cut it online. Find the new normal when it comes to having virtual fun with work colleagues.
Know your tech and be confident online — Ask people to go on mute to optimise the experience for all. Have people post questions using the in-built chat facility. Use a 2IC to help run the session, have this person field chat messages and either answer via chat or funnel to the appropriate person. Cap participants at 10–20% below the capacity of your app/ licensing /internet capacity. Record the session for anyone that couldn’t make it to the call, or that had technical issues.
Me against a virtual background in a Zoom meeting, image — Author’s own
Yesterday I was in a Zoom client meeting with business partner Amanda. I got up to make a cup of tea at the tea station directly behind me and heard a sudden out-roaring on the call behind me. I’d put my hand up the ‘virtual cow’s butt.’ 😛
Embracing My New Normal
If you told me in February, just a few short months ago that I’d be avoiding looking at a small, live version of myself on my beautiful iMac during calls (online meetings), I’d have scoffed.
Now, here we are, and the revelation is that I like it!
I’ve been a remote worker for more than a decade and now I too, have a new normal.
Thanks for Judy Ryan at FB Rice for encouraging me to write the article and to Chris Hardman (FB Rice) for the virtual background inspiration and Tripp and Taylor reference. As always, whether implicitly or explicitly, the other half of the ABCW business, Amanda Broomhall influences and, has a part to play in creating these articles.