A week ago, you may have thought “zoom” was just a sound your kid makes to describe a fast car.
Now you’re hosting and attending multiple web meetings a day via Zoom or another web meeting platform. Without much—if any—notice, web meetings are happening like they’re going out of style.
Given the COVID19 crisis, I suspect web meetings are only going to continue and increase.
We’ve all seen the videos that show how these can go wrong.
(Including a recent, well-known example when an attendee took her video call into her home bathroom, and…forgot she had video on. I’ll let you search for that if you haven’t seen it.)
But, what can you do to make sure they go well?
As a solo business owner, I’ve been using Zoom and other web meeting platforms for eight years. Here’s my advice for how to make sure virtual meetings fly rather than flounder.
- Establish a safe environment. Everyone is in the same boat. At this time, most of North America and many countries around the globe are in a social distancing situation. We’re all working from home offices—our kitchens, our closets, a dresser in our bedroom. That means our kids will walk in; the dog will bark; the battery on our laptop or device will run out…that’s okay! I recommend reminding your team on a regular basis that these are unprecedented times. What’s important is that they show up. The cat blocking their screen? That adds the humor we all need.
- Test your audio/visual before each call. I use the same headset and camera for every call. But I still test it nearly every time I join a meeting. Why? The times that I haven’t tested it, the audio and visual didn’t work. Without fail. It only takes a few minutes but will save time in the long run if you test in advance.
- Encourage people to use the video. Let’s face it. People will pay attention if everyone sees what they’re doing. When you are off screen, it’s too easy to multitask. Keep your meetings focused by encouraging video to be on—if you’re hosting, log on a few minutes early and welcome everyone with a smile.
- Make an opportunity to connect. These meetings are a required part of business. They are what’s keeping the balls in the air and the projects moving forward. But, they’re also a time for people who are isolated to connect. Use a few minutes during each meeting to connect. Check in to find out how everyone’s doing. Share a joke. Ask people for one thing they’ve done differently thanks to quarantine. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy check-in, but even a few minutes will help.
- Have visuals. I said we need to see each other, and that’s true. But visuals (e.g., a slide deck, screen share) are also useful. A visual is an important way to have a focus point. For your visual learners and thinkers, this helps them follow and stay engaged with the discussion. Ideally these visuals are shared through the platform, so everyone can see the same thing. But, as a back-up, send out documents in advance so everyone can open their copy and follow along if necessary.
- If people struggle with the platform, or can’t login, follow up and do a tutorial with them. Walk them through via a phone call. This goes back to creating a safe environment. Some folks are really comfortable with tech, others aren’t. Don’t let fear inhibit your audience. If anything, this is a great time for people to learn new skills.
- Have a non-work interaction via video. If your team is in person, they are suffering right now. They’re missing the opportunities for water cooler conversations or hallway chats. They’re tired of eating lunch by themselves, with their dogs, or with their spouse, partner, kids, and roommate. Schedule a “group lunch” video call or a team coffee break to keep it personable, web meetings don’t have to be reserved just for work, work, work.
- Pay attention to the introverts. A web meeting is a hard time to speak up if you’re an introvert. Be sure you ask for them to share insight—don’t put them on the spot. A simple question such as, “Did you have anything you wanted to add?” is the invitation they need. And if their answer is no, that’s fine. Before the web meeting, you can also notify the team that you’ll have a round-robin for updates. This gives introverts time to prepare in advance.
- Send out agendas/questions in advance so people can prepare and think ahead. Along those same lines, send an agenda. We don’t all think on our feet. Give people a heads up about the meeting topic and points. Even a simple bullet point list helps provide direction before, during and after the call. People know what to expect, they come prepared, they stay on topic, and you can use the agenda items to follow up with action items or notes after the meeting.
- Use chat with intention. The chat feature in web meetings can create distractions. But when used well, it’s helpful. Starting the meeting by asking a question in chat can get the conversation flowing as people arrive. Chat is also a way for people who might be hesitant to talk on video to contribute and speak up. It’s also a place to post links or resources that come up during the meeting. Just be sure to encourage participants to not use chat as a way to have a side conversation. Just as side conversations detract from in-person meetings, they detract from web meetings as well.
- Mute helps. In some cases, people may not be in a quiet location during the meeting. In those instances, it’s good to have them on mute. You might also consider having everyone but the current speaker on mute. This is a way to minimize noise so everyone can hear and ensure that people aren’t talking over each other. Depending on the system, people can take themselves off mute to talk, they can raise their hand, or they can add their thoughts via chat.
Here’s to hosting and participating in successful web meetings. I’m all for them—they’re an important way we can stop the spread of COVID19 and a good way to stay connected during these unprecedented times.