Like many events companies worldwide, Glasgow-based firm Think Different Events Ltd have recently seen all their work move online. With team members working from home and international conferences going virtal, everyone has had to improve their Zoom game. To that end, here are their top ten tips for optimising online meetings.
While already commonplace across many industries, the use of video conferencing technology has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the opportunity it presents to reduce carbon footprints, coupled with ongoing uncertainty around whether to return to pre-COVID working practices, video conferencing is very much the new normal.
By now, most of us have used Zoom, Google Hangout or Microsoft Teams, whether as a daily work tool or to host a quiz night — as such, ‘Zoom etiquette’ has entered our everyday lexicon. So here are Think Different Events’ favourite hints and tips on how to be at your most efficient and professional during online meetings, conferences and presentations…
- Dress to Impress. We may be working from home, but business is still business. Dress as if your meeting was face-to-face and set the standard you wish others to follow. Unless dialling in from a noisy environment, try to avoid using headphones — particularly large, cumbersome, ‘nerdy’ looking ones. The smaller the better and definitely no ‘Britney mics’.
- Mise-En Scene. Whether it’s a bookcase or a snazzy piece of art, our eyes are inevitably drawn to whatever’s in the edge of the frame. This is why plain, neutral backgrounds are crucial — even for passive participants. Position your camera at eye-level and an arm’s length away — this keeps your eyeline up and body language alert. Positioning your primary light source behind the camera will ensure your face is well lit and not cast in silhouette. You essentially need a newsreader-esque set-up.
- SFX. Given the volume of emails, whatsapps and news updates dropping into our devices every day, people shouldn’t have to put up with every single PING that announces their arrival. Don’t just mute, for the sake of your own sanity, open your notification settings and TURN. THEM. OFF. Also, rooms with carpet and curtains will reduce echo and lend your sound a soft, clear quality.
- Be Prepared. Issue detailed agendas in advance, just as you would at the office — clarify who will be asked to speak and on which items. Provide simple crib sheets detailing how to log on, how to mute/un-mute, and how to take control of screen sharing. Have a clear purpose for each meeting, after all, every minute spent on your given platform may be costing money.
- Stay on Target. Video conferencing is not an excuse for winging it. By setting time limits for each agenda item and having an efficient chair to keep you on track, you will avoid wasting money, resources and people’s valuable time. A 5 minute ‘warm-up’ at the beginning of each meeting can allow for late-comers, small talk and the invaluable catchups you’d usually have on the way to the office meeting room. Also, remember that virtual meetings lack the social cues of a face-to-face meeting, so being pateient is as important to timekeeping as being efficient.
- Stay Connected. If you suffer from temperamental Wi-Fi, consider ways to maximise your bandwidth. Relocate your router nearer to the ‘office’ or invest in a mobile dongle or ethernet cable — both are cheap and freely available. Similarly, close extraneous apps, webpages, and schedule major software downloads and updates for out-of-hours.
- Engage. Looking at a screen can be wearing and studies have shown that virtual meetings are more tiring than face-to-face. Push past 45 minutes and you’re pushing your luck — half that time is optimum for keeping participants engaged. Interactivity and variety will also support this. This rapidly developing technology should allow us to host virtual conferences that feel more like TED talks than university lectures.
- To Mute or Not to Mute? Having a ‘no-mute’ rule is good for promoting engagement within smaller groups and will reduce the temptation to click away or start replying to emails. Larger numbers, with an increased chance of dog barks and doorbells, suit muted microphones. But do make sure everyone knows how to switch theirs on and off — and make everyone is aware that the host can do this remotely...
- All the Gear and No Idea. Ensure colleagues, clients and delegates are clued up in advance on how to get the most out of your particular platform. Break-out rooms, interactive whiteboards, slide sharing and side-chats — all of these will maximise engagement, interactivity and value for money.
- Expect the Unexpected. There WILL be chaos and things WILL go wrong. There WILL be lag, people WILL talk over each other and connections WILL drop without warning. This is the nature of the technology and of virtual working in general. As long as we accept that such things will happen we will quickly learn the flexibility and sensitivity needed to master this way of working.