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How should I prepare for a successful video meeting?

How should I prepare for a successful video meeting?

How should I prepare for a successful video meeting?

FORE! A technophobe has just joined the video meeting 

Before COVID-19 drove us all indoors, I enjoyed the occasional game of golf. Golf has a somewhat stuffy reputation, with some justification. It is particularly well known for its mysterious etiquette, a set of usually unwritten rules, completely separate to the technical rules of the sport but apparently almost equally important. Players are expected to observe this etiquette or face some very severe tutting and muttering. Woe betide you if you tread on the line of another player’s putt. 

Golf is very long established game, so the etiquette has had time to evolve and become part of the game’s culture. Whatever your opinion of its principles, it certainly does create a consistent level of behaviour recognisable in clubs across the world. And much of it is well intended, for example to prevent slow play and show some respect for your fellow golfers. 

Video conferencing by contrast is a very young sport. It has recently experienced an explosion in new players thanks to COVID-19 and extensive home working. People are joining clubs such as Zoom, Teams and Skype and heading off ill prepared for 18 holes. If this were a real golf club, the impact would be quite anarchic and frightening – a load of novices turning up on the first tee with little experience, dodgy equipment and dubious technique. Balls flying in all directions, a few broken windows in the clubhouse and fury in the members’ bar as etiquette disintegrates. 

We’ve probably all observed some cringeworthy behaviour during virtual meetings. But this technology is here to stay, indeed set to become an integral part of whatever the new normal looks like post Coronavirus. Therefore, the development of a bit of good etiquette wouldn’t be a bad thing. We don’t want to have to shout FORE! every time someone joins a meeting and gesticulate at them because they are on mute. 

In this article, I set out some key things to ensure you have productive, respectful virtual meetings. And I highlight that a lot of what is needed isn’t very far off what we would expect in a physical meeting anyway. 

Virtual meetings are still meetings 

How should I prepare for a successful video meeting?

The underlying, founding principles of good meeting etiquette have nothing to do with technology. The clue is in the word meeting. Whether it’s a virtual meeting, or a face-to-face meeting, it is still a meeting. Like golf, the sport of meeting has long established social niceties, including: 

Turn up on time 

  • Make sure you know where the meeting is and how to get there 
  • Know what time it starts and plan your journey with enough buffer to allow for predictable delays 

 Be prepared 

  • Have an agenda 
  • Appoint someone to host or chair the meeting 
  • Consider what you are going to contribute and prepare appropriate materials 

Show respect to other participants 

  • Concentrate. Don’t spend the meeting working on your emails or playing Solitaire 

 Respect the situation 

  • Dress appropriately.  If you were meeting a prospective customer, you would think carefully about the impression you would wish to form. 

 Choose an appropriate location 

  • If you were discussing confidential matters, you wouldn’t meet in a coffee shop 

 Make sure the location has appropriate services 

  • If you need a flip chart, you arrange for a flip chart 

 Don’t hide 

  • In a face-to-face meeting, you wouldn’t sit under the table so people didn’t know you were there 
  • You wouldn’t be able to leave the meeting without other people knowing 

 

This might not be a fully comprehensive list, but it’s a good start. Some of the above requires some adaptation so that it fits a virtual environment. But it can all be done. 

Good etiquette for the virtual world 

Using these underlying principles of running a productive meeting, here are some tips on how to apply good practice to the medium of audio and video conferencing. 

Turn up on time 

It’s often easier to turn up to a virtual meeting on time. No delayed trains. No traffic jams. Which probably makes it even more frustrating when people don’t do it and start wasting the time of everyone else on the call. Let’s deal with some of the technology excuses for late arrival and try and do something about them: 

  • Know where the meeting is and how to get there – You won’t need a satnav to find these meetings, but you will probably need a link to click on. This could be in an e-mail or within an invite in your electronic diary / calendar. Make sure you know where that link is so you aren’t panicking at the last minute. And you may well need to know the meeting ID number and password to enter the meeting, so ensure you have these to hand too.
  • Know what time it starts and plan your journey with enough buffer to allow for predictable delays – Make sure you know what time the meeting starts and aim to join it a few minutes early to allow for hiccups. A typical delay could be not having the right app (Zoom, Teams etc) installed on your device, or that a new version of the app has been released since you last used it so it needs a few minutes to update. Software is constantly being updated to add new features and fix security bugs, so anticipate this possibility.

Be prepared 

  • Have an agenda – The purpose of the meeting is still to achieve something, so an agenda helps keep you on track. The only difference in a virtual world is how you distribute the agenda. You are not going to hand out physical copies to each person. But it can be e-mailed in advance, included as an attachment with meeting invite, or shared by the host on everyone’s screens. There are options. But there is no need to dispense with tried and tested disciplines. 
  • Appoint someone to host or chair the meeting – This can be even more important in a virtual meeting than a physical meeting. Because of time lags in technology, you can have situations where people end up talking over one another through no fault of their own, or temporary interruptions to the internet means some words were lost. The host or chair has a valuable role to deal with any IT related drawbacks and keep people engaged and heard. 
  • Consider what you are going to contribute and prepare appropriate materials – There can be a danger that virtual meetings are regarded as in some way less formal than a face-to-face meeting and therefore it is more acceptable to turn up unprepared and just “wing it”. There is no justification for this mindset. If it’s important enough to meet, then make it worthwhile by preparing properly. And prepare appropriate materials for a virtual meeting. If you want to share material with others, think in advance how you are going to do it and practice it to ensure it works. If you want to share it interactively on everyone else’s screen, make sure that you know the app supports screen sharing, that you know how it works, and that you know how to help people who might struggle with clicking the right buttons.

Show respect to other participants 

  • Concentrate. Don’t spend the meeting working on e-mails or playing Solitaire – Let’s be honest – people sit in face-to-face meetings working on their e-mails; this is not a new problem. Some people don’t seem to mind. Others find it incredibly disrespectful. The danger with virtual meetings is that it now seems to be somewhat more acceptable to multi-task, although the real reason is that people think it is easier to get away with it because people can’t tell what you are doing. But remember, if it is a video call, people might be able to see that you are looking at your phone instead of the camera. Even without video, if someone asks you a question and you haven’t been concentrating, you are going to be caught out. 

Respect the situation 

  • Dress appropriately. If you were meeting a prospective customer, you would think carefully about the impression you would wish to form – The key word here is appropriate. If you were meeting this person face-to-face and would have worn a suit and been clean shaven, then why would be have a video conference in your hoodie whilst sporting a five o’clock shadow?

Choose an appropriate location 

  • If you were discussing confidential matters, you wouldn’t meet in a coffee shop – Just because you can install an app on your phone and have your video conference over your 4G network whilst sat on a train doesn’t mean you should do. It is unlikely you would sit on a train with 3 other colleagues running through the details of a staff restructuring programme. If the subject matter is confidential, adopt the same disciplines you would in a non-virtual world. Also, and especially if you are working from home, think about what others can see in your backdrop. Some apps allow you to blur your background or display a picture instead. If you cannot do that, a bit like with the way you dress, ensure it is appropriate. Finally, think about light conditions – being sat in a dark room, or having a window with direct sunlight behind you may not deliver a good experience for those who wish to see you. 

Make sure the location has appropriate services 

  • If you need a flip chart, you arrange a flip chart – Similarly, if you need a decent internet connection to hold a video call, don’t think that sitting in a field in the middle of the Peak District and trying to find a 4G signal is a given. You need to be confident that you have all the tools you need to make the meeting run smoothly. And that includes making sure that you have at least a basic understanding of how the app works and that you know how to hear other people and that they can hear you clearly. A headset is a good investment. 

Don’t hide 

  • In a face-to-face meeting, you wouldn’t sit under the table so people didn’t know you were there – The virtual equivalent of this is people being on a call and you not knowing they are there. This is particularly common where calls are voice only (i.e. without video) and multiple people are in a room together crouched round a conference phone or PC.  It is much more difficult for other people to know who is there because not every individual is logged in so their names are not visible on the screen. This can create some hugely embarrassing situations, for example making a comment about someone you would definitely not have made if you had known they were in attendance. 
  • You wouldn’t be able to leave the meeting without other people knowing – Needing to take a comfort break is not redundant in a virtual world. In a face-to-face scenario, people could see you have nipped out temporarily. In a virtual world, people seem to think they can get away with a short break and not tell anyone. But it’s easy to get found out if someone asks you a question and there is silence. And there are other dreadful audible give-aways that someone has just been using the room next door to take a comfort break. If ever there was a time to hit the mute button, that was it. 

Is there anything really different about the virtual world? 

What I have tried to explain in this article is that much of this behaviour is existing common sense we have developed over years; we simply need to transfer common sense into a slightly different environment. We are learning some new technical skills on that journey, but fundamentally we are not actually trying to teach old dogs new tricks as much as some people would like to believe. 

There is perhaps one area though were the new world is not so analogous with the face-to-face world  families. True, it is not expected that you would bring your children to a business meeting. And equally true, people do not expect you to bring your children to a virtual meeting. However, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, the lines between home and work have become more blurred and we need some modern day empathy for this difficult situationAs long as people are trying hard to balance their personal and professional responsibilities, that is sometimes as much as we can reasonably ask. If daddy’s call is suddenly interrupted by a tearful child who has fallen off the trampoline daddy told them to go and play on because he had an important business call, that is ok. We were all children once. 

 

Happy video conferencing. And remember to keep your fingers out of your noses. 

James Allison

James is an experienced and versatile business professional who has worked across multiple sectors. He provides complementary skills to executive teams, advising across a range of disciplines including IT strategy, business continuity planning and IT project management. James is an accredited Cyber Essentials consultant