Better virtual meetings during Covid-19 and Beyond

 In Crisis Communications, Video Conferences
Learn how to be the “top dog”of your video conferences to make virtual meetings more productive.

Cute dog pictures are irresistible. Your virtual meetings can be close to irresistible with good preparation and tech savvy.

I am obsessed with helping business leaders achieve better virtual meetings. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they are a necessity, but there is no reason why they should be consistently poor.  As for post-pandemic habits, it is likely virtual meetings will be part of our work and personal lives for quite some time. With a third of the labor force working remotely, it is likely virtual meetings—and the growth and options of video conferencing platforms—will change the way we work forever. 

My tolerance for glow-in-the-dark faces, audio connections that don’t work, and critters crawling on a cat tree in the background is diminishing by the minute.  Half of my waking hours are spent Zooming, so I want to share nine ways that business leaders can succeed in virtual environments.

See my earlier blog post: Look Your Best in Video Conferences

1. Have a clear agenda

It is difficult to keep people’s attention for more than 10 minutes.   That’s why  communicating virtually requires even more strategic planning because you can’t rely as much on human connection or charisma to hold attention.   Take time to think about the purpose of the meeting, objectives, agenda, and the amount of time you want to spend on each item.  Ask yourself: Does that meeting that took an hour in the office need to last the full 60 minutes online? 

2. Assign a moderator or facilitator

In most cases, the CEO should not be the leader of a group call.  In a virtual setting, you want to maintain your level of authority and attention while someone else handles timekeeping, agenda, questions and other meeting management tasks.

3. Treat video calls like in-person meetings

Show up professionally.  Populate your profile with a nice photo and your full name.  These will display on screen when your video is muted.  Look at the webcam lens as if you were looking at a person’s face.  Tape a smiley face or other relatable image to draw your eyes. 

Dress, speak and behave as if you were in your company’s conference room. In virtual courtrooms, judges are asking attorneys to dress appropriately.  Apparently, some lawyers have been showing up ill-groomed, in their bedrooms, in workout clothes, and even shirtless.  

4. Sign on early and mute your mic

Check your internet connection and audio/video settings by joining a test meeting (“Join Meeting Test” on Zoom) before the call.  If possible, ask the host to allow you to join a few minutes early—this will save time dealing with tech issues during the scheduled time slot. A muted mic will avoid extraneous sounds coming from your keyboard or your dog barking in the other room.  On a recent Zoom conference featuring with my friend Jorge Plasencia, co-founder of Republica Havas, a participant could be heard talking in Spanish on her phone about Jorge—fortunately, the woman was praising him.

5. Don’t get too close to the camera

Virtual communication can be awkward…exhausting.  We have been taught not to stare at someone’s face and to keep spatial distance from the other person.  But on a video call, your personal space is defined by how close the camera is to your face. In real life, this would be socially unacceptable.

6. Stand up and mind your body language

Standing versus sitting is an advantage if you want an energetic presence on screen.  People are harder to read over video, so be aware of your facial expressions and gestures to ensure you are being visually understood.  The non-verbal cues we rely on for effective communication in person are more difficult to give and receive virtually, especially in group settings.

7. Select a location that matches your brand  

Be thoughtful about where to take video calls. Not on your bed.  Not in your kitchen, unless you never cook.  Find or create a background that speaks to your brand.  Virtual backgrounds can be customized to specific situations. I use a logo branded background for training webinars and a blurred co-working space image for less formal calls.  If you have not mastered green screen and virtual background settings, avoid them altogether and create a “living set” consistent with your style and message.

8. Ask for permission to record participants

Not everyone may consent to having their video and audio recorded for later use.  Most video conference services allow you to prompt attendees to provide their consent to be recorded in a meeting or a webinar. If the recording disclaimer is enabled, attendees will receive a notification when a recording starts or if they join a session that is already being recorded.

9. Explore other video conferencing services

Zoom is not the only game in town.  If you do a lot of video conferencing, you owe it to yourself to explore alternate services that may offer better security, ease of access, customization and pricing.  The New York Times’ Wirecutter compared 12 video conferencing platforms and rated Cisco Webex Meetings as the best alternative to Zoom. It’s nearly as easy to use, feature-rich and offers an upgraded free plan that outdoes Zoom’s with 100-participant meetings and no time limits. 

With a little extra care and attention, we can make our virtual connections as strong as our in-person contacts.

Check these resource links to continue improving your video meetings:

Toastmasters Tips for Attending online meetings.

My friend and fellow Toastmaster Sten Garcia from Oculus Squared Films shares advanced lighting tips.

New York Times’ Wirecutter reviews alternatives to Zoom.

This is the fourth in my Crisis Conversations Series: useful articles to help you navigate the coronavirus pandemic and manage critical conversations during turbulent times.

10 Communication Tips for Navigating a Crisis

Crisis Communication Leadership

Bad Public Speaking: Gambling on Trump

To view specialized communication coaching designed to help you navigate the pandemic, visit COVID-19 Resources.

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