10 tips to make you next online meeting effective

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COVID has resulted in many of us to using online meetings platforms, that provide web conferencing / teleconferencing and webinars for both personal and business contacts. For many, they were used in exceptional circumstances, but now they are the only way to work and becoming acceptable. It has become has  popular as people use the new platforms, such as Zoom, Skype, Teams, and Webex, for example.
 
Yet they can be a nightmare to manage, and the end user experience is not as good as it could be. Imagine you are in a large pipe looking out and all your friends or colleagues and above, below and beside you. You can’t see them properly, so you’ve no-non-visual cue reference points to work from, and the experience appears alien. The result varies from sheer chaos in some cases, to an ok managed meeting. From overwhelming noise or poor sound quality, to various distractions, they can be a double-edged sword.
 
I’ve done many onscreen meetings and the experience has been everything from humorous to down right couldn’t wait for it finish. From watching someone go up and down on their chair, to another eating biscuits and hearing every crunch. It’s not the done thing in a business meeting.
 
We need clear guidance  or best practice on how to run effective meetings. Whether formal or informal, the principles are the same.
 
Before the meeting:
 
1: Someone needs to be the Chair of the meeting; that is to control and manage it. The difference now is they also have to control the speaking order, which online is different to say face to face. This is because you cannot see all the visual cues. Choose a platform that ideally allows the Chair to take control the microphone from the outset. A good tip is to ensure the meeting set up in the platform has the microhones muted for all. Why? It stops a deluge of sound on starting.
 
Connecting
 
2: Good platforms will have a way to control participants arriving. Some will have a welcome lounge – to hold all participants until ready. It enables the Chair to control the entry and start the meeting with everyone present. It gives the Chair the choice to start early or late, if everone is present, and to send a global message to everyone to update them if a delay is necessary. Note, this is platform dependent. Tip: Don’t connect with mobile and computer, as it is a sure recipe for terrible microphone feedback.
 
3: Backgrounds: It is important to look behind you! Yes see what’s on the wall, book shelf etc. Does it send the right tone for the type of meeting? Also, is the next brainchild you are working on visible? or something confidential? Platforms such as Zoom and Skype allow for background blurring. But they allow for background image which is distracting for business type meetings.
 
4: Lighting: The one thing that many people often get wrong. The light needs to come from the front, not behind. Why? Behind you become silhouetted. Consider time of day and changes in lighting. Late afternoon/early evening meetings, consider having a lamp to the side or ahead, but not behind you.
 
5: Camera angle: Preview yourself BEFORE the meeting commences. Check you are happy and then think A, B, C, D:
 
o Attire – appropriate dressed for a meeting. A shirt, tie and holiday shorts doesn’t look good in case you do get up for whatever reason.
 
o Best angle: We don’t need to see up noses (uses books to bring laptop up if necessary)
 
o Clear visual – clean the camera lens before the meeting. Position it so that you are between 50-75% in the screen, but not a full face that you appear intimidating.Sit to the right of the screen if possible; its makes the experience better.
 
o Distractions: Get position right, feet on floor and adjust any office style chairs. Mute mobiles and remove other distractions, especially animals. Ensure programmes that give alerts and notifications.
 
6: Identifying yourself – It is important when you appear that your name is visible. For business meetings it should be your name known to the business/organization. Some meetings may also add roles. For less formal/social, your first name is OK, or a name people know you as. This assists the chair in finding you to allow you to speak.
 
Managing the meeting
 
7: Make sure you connect in time. Connect to the meeting at least 5 minutes before it starts, to allow for any technical issues. Decide if you are going to use your computer to connect or a phone. For business meetings use a microphone if possible, as it give it better sound quality. The number of meetings I’ve attended where people join late or key people cannot connect, can result in 15 mins being lost before you start.
 
While using direct phone provides better sound quality, it will need either a headset or earphones which may do not look professional.
 
TIP: Connect your PC directly to your router (if possible) as this will improve calla nd visual quality; or be as close as possible to your router
 
8: Bringing the meeting to a start / calling to order:
 
The chair of the meeting should start everyone at same time. As they can see all the attendees, they should start with some common rules. Experienced chairs of teleconferences and video conferences will do this often without thinking. In summary they are:
 
· Ideally keep everyone muted until the chair or speaker has finished.
 
· For business meetings, handover to the next speaker. Anyone wanting to speak should use the raise the hand functionality, but it does depend on the type of meeting. The chair then releases them to speak one at a time.
 
· This is a good way to control larger groups, because you bring everyone in, one at a time, even informal ones. 
 
Participant behaviour
 
9: One of the challenges as a participant is, your cannot pick up non verbal cues, or show to the Chair of the meeting any discontent. Many meeting platforms have a function to message the Chair. This could be to bring to their attention an issue, such as sound, or to raise an issue with them.
 
10: Sharing your screen. This would usually happen in business meetings, but the example here is one worth noting for all. I know of someone who didn’t make it to the end of the meeting! When he was invited to share his screen, he inadvertently let people view what was on his browser. Let’s say it definitely fell into the NSFW category. So the rule of only have open what is required, documents etc; and any other browsing should be a no-no!
 
For many, these are obvious. But when done together makes meetings easier to manage and more enjoyable. I hope these insights and tips help you manage your next meeting with ease.
 
Gerry Bolger

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