I don’t know about you, but I have spent more time in online meetings in the last two weeks than I had the entire past year. Once I had chosen the right platform for my needs and mastered the technology, I was ready to go. Our morning team meeting is now held by video conference, and online discussions with fewer people and meetings with clients have kept me in operation and busy here at home. During an online presentation one afternoon, however, I realised that I kept drifting off. Why did I find it so hard to concentrate on what the speaker was saying? And how can I make sure that others find it easy to follow my presentations? Here are my thoughts:
Select a facilitator
It should be clear to everyone who is facilitating a meeting. The facilitator opens the meeting, welcomes the participants and asks questions to keep everyone on board – even the silent types.
Set an agenda
Our morning team meetings always have the same agenda: We start with general points that concern the whole team before going through the ongoing projects.
For other meetings, it may be helpful to send an agenda to everyone ahead of time.
Keep it brief
Online meetings are always more tiring than face-to-face ones. That is why it makes more sense to have shorter meetings covering individual topics than one long marathon conference.
Keep it brief
Yes, again. Don’t harp on for ages, keep your contributions brief. Avoid repeating yourself and others.
Introduce your contribution
Whenever you would like to say something – especially in a meeting with a lot of participants – it makes sense to state your name and/or announce that you are going to say something, for example: “I would like to comment on this.”
Do not interrupt
Obviously, interrupting people is never OK. But in an online session, in addition to being rude, interrupting someone guarantees that neither you nor the person who was talking first will be heard.
The temptation to check your emails or sharpen your pencils may sometimes be overwhelming. But multitasking never works! It is impolite and distracting. So, log out of your email account and concentrate!
Do not carry on a separate conversation
Chatting to someone while someone else is presenting was not allowed at school and it isn’t now, either. The effect is that of interrupting someone: No one will be able to understand what anyone is saying.
Whenever you are not speaking, switch your microphone to mute. This will minimise unwanted background noise causing interference in the virtual conference room.
Use a good mic
If possible, use a proper headset. This ensures that your mouth is always the same distance away from the microphone and you will be able to hear better.
The frequency range transmitted over the internet is much narrower than what you would hear if you were in the same room as your colleagues. So even though the sound may seem OK, listening is more tiring in this virtual space. This is why it is a good idea to speak a little more slowly than usual and to pause more frequently. This is particularly advisable if you are not communicating in your mother tongue.
Avoid unnecessary noise
If you shuffle papers or type while you speak, these sounds will be transmitted, too, making it difficult to hear what you are saying. So, try to keep all excess noises to a minimum.
While you might enjoy the sun shining into your office from the side, or the window behind you might offer a beautiful view, this is not great for your online meeting. In the first case, you may appear unhealthily pale, and in the latter, excessive backlighting may turn your face into nothing more than a dark blob.
… camera, action!
Test out your own picture before the start of the meeting. Your head shouldn’t be as small as a pin, but you shouldn’t be too close to the camera, either. Also, make sure you are sitting at the same level as the camera, neither looking up to it nor looking down.
What’s behind you? Do you have heaps of laundry lying around or are builders walking back and forth? Your background should offer as little distraction as possible. Some platforms even allow you to blur your background.
If you move around, gesticulate a lot or adjust your camera during the online meeting, this is very distracting for everyone else. In the worst-case scenario, the other participants might get seasick.
Obviously, you can never really make eye contact during an online meeting. But remember it is much easier to have a conversation if at least you can imagine that someone is looking at you directly. So, keep your eyes on the camera!
We’ve all seen funny videos where people get up from their desk during an online meeting and aren’t wearing trousers. So, if you like to wear your tracksuit bottoms, make sure they stay out of the picture. Wearing a smart top and combing your hair is also a good idea.
Use visual aids
Screensharing is a great tool because it offers participants visual orientation.