Making The Most Out of Conference Calls
For many of us, home office and virtual meetings are becoming the norm in times of Corona. Those of us who are used to working remotely, haven’t felt much in the way of shockwaves from this particular rumble of Corona, but for those of us less adept in the ways of remote working, adapting to the big screen can be a bit of a minefield. So, how do we hold successful video conferences? We have put together a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the virtual world of the Conference Call. Take the opportunity to improve the meeting culture in your company.
These days we are all learning to connect on virtual platforms - Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype to name just a few. While this can feel like a challenge, we can choose to look at it as an opportunity to improve our meeting culture and to think about what makes a productive and satisfying meeting - whether virtual or physical.
We all know and loathe the “meeting that should have been an e-mail” adage, to avoid this, let us consider and implement some principles for successful meetings, online or real:
Share a clear agenda and objectives with all participants before the meeting. This may include sending a handout as a basis for discussion.
Request and give participants´ undivided presence during the meeting, as well as careful preparation.
Clarify basic rules and role allocation in meetings (see next point).
Do not give unnecessarily long presentations or monologues, but discuss.
Summarise Next Steps
Clearly communicate and summarise decisions taken and next steps so that everyone understands what has been achieved and who has to tackle what with which deadline.
In addition to the above basic rules of good conduct, some behaviours apply particularly in the context of virtual meetings:
Dial in to the virtual meeting a few minutes before the scheduled time to make sure everything works. This ensures that everyone is on time and the meeting can start as planned.
Use a Headset
In general, the sound quality of a commercially available headset with a microphone is better than the quality of the built-in microphones on computers.
Appoint a moderator responsible for leading the meeting, keeping track of time and ensuring that all participants speak out. This is particularly important because people´s attention span in virtual meetings is even shorter than in a physical meeting. The designation of such a person allows the other participants to better focus on the content of the meeting.
Each meeting tool has a mute function. The rule is: if you don't speak, turn off your microphone to enable discussion without noise.
In virtual meetings, there may be delays in voice transmission. That's why it's even more important to let people finish talking and not to react too quickly.
Address by Name
With questions or comments, to make it clear who should toggle their mute button and speak next, address everyone by name.
To start, a round of opening statements from all participants is appropriate to activate them and avoid them sinking into passivity. They could each say what they plan to do today, and what their struggles are likely to be.
Be more explicit in communicating than in offline meetings. If in doubt, be too explicit rather than unclear. When the connection is fragile, only fragments of statements can be understood. It is all the more important to verify key statements by repeating the statement in your own words.
Don't Over Apologise
Don’t spend too much time apologising for your technology failures or your messy room – get to business and say what is relevant. Everyone forgives you already.
One Task at a Time
Another classic for any kind of attentive and respectful collaboration: no multitasking!
Use Your Tools
Discuss and identify the right functionality for the meeting. Important are video telephony, a chat function and the ability to share your own screen. Tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts and others offer all these features:
1. Use video whenever possible: a video conference strengthens the feeling of being in the same meeting and ensures more presence, because participants can be seen.
2. Dialing in by phone should be an option - in your meeting invitation, take the time to highlight the relevant information (usually telephone number and PIN code)
3. Screen sharing: this means sharing or mirroring your own screen. This function enables all participants to look at the same document. It is an extremely important function because it allows everyone to “sing off the same hymn sheet”.
TOP TIP: Mimic successful physical meetings in the virtual meeting
Try using a cloud based document instead of a flipchart, to take some notes on during the meeting (Office 365, Google Docs and so on) or use tools such as Mural.
Share links to such documents or tools – highlighted them in the calendar entry or share with all participants in the chat function during the meeting.
The moderator of the meeting should test the tool before the meeting - screen sharing for example, as this function sometimes requires adjustments in the privacy settings of the computer. All participants should also familiarise themselves with the tool before the meeting starts. If you are using a tool such as Zoom, Skype or similar for the first time, you should conduct a test meeting on a separate occasion to familiarise yourself with the tool.
How to Run a Virtual Meeting
A few principles for the structure of a virtual meeting can be useful, such as:
Begin by explaining the basic rules found in this article, followed by a short introductory round and a check-in. In the current special situation, people will not only be thinking about work but also about childcare, health and so on. There is uncertainty and ambiguity for many people - allow the group a few minutes to exchange experiences instead of ignoring the elephant in the room. This also creates familiarity and activates all meeting participants. We're all in this together, and the more camaraderie you can encourage in your team, the better.
Use the first few minutes to introduce the situation or problem and to set goals. All participants must start from the same point.
Include feedback or question rounds, where all participants can have their say, to avoid participants slipping into the passive observer role. It is advisable to include such active sections every five to ten minutes in the planning of the meeting.
Finally, ask for feedback on how the meeting went and what could be improved.
Hopefully, these tips and hints will help you hold productive and satisfying virtual meetings, despite the difficulty of the current situation. Perhaps, an improved meeting culture will also have a positive effect in the physical meeting room in future.
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