As everyone is now jumping on web meeting sessions to continue business or to engage socially during this COVID-19 isolation period, there have been a lot of challenges as the newcomers learn the ins and outs of web meetings. There are many good web meeting tools, such as:
- Cisco WebEx
- Microsoft Teams (ex-Skype for Business, ex-Lynx)
- Google Hangouts
- Adobe Connect
- And, dozens more to consider
It is important to understand the difference between a web meeting and a webinar. A web meeting is normally a small group of 3 to 25 who can interact with each other, just like in face to face meeting – one to one and one to a few. A webinar is similar to a lecture in an auditorium where 100s attend and listen to a presenter on a stage. It is more of a broadcast format – one to many. They use different tools to conduct these different meeting types.
Just like in a face to face meeting, people are expected to behave properly and adhere to protocols for good behaviour. This way, the meeting can be productive and move at a reasonable pace. There is not much worse than a meeting that drags on and on or is constantly interrupted.
Find a good place to set up and participate in your meeting. The lighting should be uniform, the acoustics need to be neutral, and the location should be free from unexpected distractions – pets and children.
In advance of the meeting, especially when you have never used a specific web meeting tool, log in at least 15 minutes in advance. You will likely need to download a plug-in to your web browser and create a user profile. These tasks take time to do so discovering that you are not ready at the start of a meeting creates unnecessary panic and heavily impacts the effectiveness of the meeting start.
Set an agenda for the call, even if it is with family or friends.
Do not come on time. Be early – and be ready.
Use a headset. Many computing devices today do not offer a feature called “echo cancelling”, whereby the the device corrects for errors when the microphone hears the speaker and resends the presenter’s voice back into the meeting audience, albeit delayed now, creating a difficult distraction to the presenter and the audience. A headset contains the audio, so the microphone does not hear it. Good headsets have noise reduction capabilities too.
Expect delays due to network latency, so if you are interacting with a presenter, build in slight delays before you speak. It is a human tendency to respond quickly, but in web meetings this causes people to step on each other’s voice and then they cannot hear the reply. Slow down the conversation to permit a smooth flow and to overcome the latency of the networks.
Be prepared. Come to the meeting with one, two, or three points to make. Share your ideas, then stop talking and focus on listening to others. Do not monopolize the conversation unless you are the host and are expected to present content for education or training purposes. Web meetings hold the most value to the audience when they are interactive and well organized.
Be brief. Mark Twain once said, “No preacher ever saved a soul after the first 20 minutes of the sermon”.
With web meetings, build a structure to have the meeting flow smoothly. Start with an introduction to state the purpose of the meeting, then present for perhaps 15 minutes, engage in a facilitator-lead conversation for 20-30 minutes, and then maybe do some sort of exercise for 15-30 minutes. Use the team rooms capabilities to have small groups breakout of the main meeting, collaborate, then return to the main meeting and share their outcomes and ideas with the whole group. While this approach is ideal for school and work meetings, it can work well for club and social meetings too.
Build your groups skills with the web meeting tools. Have participants schedule their own meetings so they can learn and become more familiar with these tools.
When conducting a business or school meeting, mix in some fun and plan in some time to relax and enjoy the experience. Too much focus on work is taxing and boring. Laughing generates oxygen in the lungs and brighten up the audience.
Use media like PowerPoint and photos to enhance the communications and help the audience visualize the topic being discussed. But, be fully trained how to turn these features on and off before you use them.
Use the video camera. Let people see you. A lot of people are shy when it comes to the camera. But it is important to put a face to each other. Body language is a big part of how we communicate, how we know when someone is joking or being serious.
Be polite and use good manners.
Avoid slang, jargon, and acronyms. Most people who do not know this unique form of language get lost in the conversations when they trip over terms that they are not familiar with and understand.
Be dressed and ready, do not come in your pajamas. Dress appropriately as you would for a face to face meeting.
Leave the keyboard alone. In many web meetings, I always hear someone pounding away on the keyboard, This is a huge distraction and the typing noise adversely affects the audio trigger mechanisms of the web meeting tools.
Be aware of your surroundings. Too many times I have attended meetings and see embarrassing scenes in the camera shot backgrounds.
Mute the microphone when you are not talking. Do not forget to unmute the microphone when you are talking. Some web meeting tools allow you to program ‘hot keys’ and often the space bar is used to mute / unmute. Use this feature.
Speak up and be heard. Know how your microphone works and what is the optimum distance for you to be from the mic.
Do not eat food while on a web meeting. It can be heard by everyone and is amplified, so it is distracting and unnecessary.
Stay seated and be engaged in the meeting. When people get up, walk around, take a call, or do other things during a web meeting, everyone is watching them and not paying proper attention to the presenter. When you are using your webcam, use attentive body language: sit up straight, do not make big extraneous movements, and do not let your eyes wander too much.
As we move through these trying times and remain isolated at home, the value of a web meeting is immeasurable to keep you socially engaged and continue business activities. With experience, you can become effective at web meetings. They can be fun and refreshing to help you connect with friends, family, colleagues, or customers. It is vital to keep relationships strong during these difficult times. It will all get better, but in the meantime, perfect your web meeting skills and capabilities and you will find these online tools useful and productive.
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. A recent contract was with Wirepas from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.