Online meetings can be a powerful tool to get work done, they can be a waste of time or, in the worst case, they can cause stress. It’s up to you. To ensure that your meetings are not the latter, consider the following aspects when planning your next meeting.
Create the right atmosphere for your videoconference
Do you want to share information? Do you want to develop a new product or process? Do you want to discuss a topic? There are different video conferencing tools for each scenario. Choosing the right format can make the difference between being productive or struggling through a session and leaving question marks with those involved.
The work session
If you are holding a short meeting among colleagues or your main purpose is a debate, choose a format where you can see the faces of the participants. Programmes like MS Teams and Zoom are a good choice here. At borisgloger consulting we use MS Teams to discuss and edit our presentations or publications internally. A short online meeting with the possibility to edit the respective document during the meeting can be more target-orientated than writing back and forth via email or chat. During the meeting, you also have the opportunity to build empathy and socialise beyond work-related issues, although of course it will never replace a coffee break together.
Presentation or Training
In contrast, the focus on faces and face-to-face contact can be exactly the wrong thing to do in meetings that serve to transfer information from trainer to participant, for example, or from consultant to client. Some facilitators or spokespersons will demand that everyone turns on the computer camera for every online meeting in a misguided attempt to imitate a face-to-face meeting. In addition, it stresses us out to see our own face, especially women.
Meetings can be intense, especially if they are held online (read my post “ZOOM Fatigue?”). Imagine you were invited to a meeting and the host would sit knee to knee with you and stare at you for an hour. But at least she would be looking at our faces and not at a monitor or at herself. She would let her gaze wander around the room in between or look at other guests and not have everyone lined up directly in front of her. The host of an online meeting has to create this disruption, or rather: he has to avoid recreating a normal meeting.
For instance, I place my laptop camera on a stack of books at eye level so that I am not looking down on the participants, and I stand a little further away with a flipchart. The “I’m staring at you” effect tends to decrease with distance from the monitor. An external keyboard creates distance as well. Make sure that your forehead is not cut off from the top of the screen.
Another option to convey information to large groups in a meeting is to choose a programme with only the presenters in front of the camera and with the Power Point slide taking up a large part of the screen. This way, participants focus on the information and can use the chat to ask questions or comment on the information given. Be careful not to overload the slides, as the participants see your presentation in minimized view. Also remember to fade in complex issues gradually. If your conference programme allows it, it is best to change the presentation format from 16:9 to 4:3, so participants can better have an additional programme open on their screen to take notes.
Moderating like Oprah Winfrey
So how do you become a super presenter? There are several tricks that can help you. As always, good preparation and professional competence are the best prerequisites. The following tips will also help you to ensure a confident moderation and stress-free participation in your meeting.
Technical support and chat moderation
When we talk about discussion events and formats with participants actively asking questions, it is advisable to assign a person to the chat to filter the information and advise the moderator of chat activities. As a bonus, the person assigned to the chat serves as a bodyguard for the facilitator, keeping the meeting on track, resolving technical issues via chat without interruption and limiting off-topic questions.
Another option is to use interactive tools such as web-based whiteboards, e. g. miro. When participants are actively involved in the session, they are more focused. However, this also means that you should do a technology check with the participants right at the beginning and give a short introduction to the tool to reduce interruptions. But make sure to serve the information one piece at a time. Otherwise, participants will get distracted and lost in areas of your virtual whiteboard that you are not talking about. Furthermore, you can keep the participants’ concentration high by creating media breaks, i. e. switching from the whiteboard to an explanatory video or drawing on a flipchart.
If your meeting is longer, set up breaks, say every 45 minutes, and make sure people don’t linger in front of the screen during the breaks, especially if they are all-day workshops. Hence, camera and sound off for analogue breaks in motion. Various programmes give you the option of setting timers so that participants don’t miss the restart. It is also helpful to enter the end of the break in the meeting chat. If it is a workshop, make sure to set clear time slots for the work phases (e. g. in an agenda) and specify what the results should look like.
In the next post, “How to rock online meetings 2.0“, I will give you further tips on the planning and preparing of online meetings.
Image: Marc Mintel on Unsplash