We all know there is a difference between meeting in-person and online. But, the cost in both money and time to get face-to-face with all our customers or employees, is prohibitive. Also, our workplaces are increasenly becoming "virtual", with lots of people working from a home office (either full or part time). In 2018, video conferencing has become another business tool, to meet one-on-one or to have meetings with lots of people. Since that's our business reality today, it's important to make sure our online meeting reap all the benefits of an in-person meeting.
Video Conferencing has made it easier, but it is far from perfect. I'm sure you've been on a video conference call over the past few years that ended with you more confused and distracted, which is completely the opposite of the goal. Sometimes it's the equipment, sometimes its the meeting organizer, or one of the participants. The tech has gotten better, but we are still dealing with people - and any distraction is magnified with video conferencing. In some instances, the meeting would have been better if it was just a conference call, rather than a video call.
Since we specialize in video conferencing, and have an opportunity to not only see, but use a wide range of products, we thought we could share some of our tips for having better meetings.
1. Focus on the meeting
It's so easy to get distracted during meetings, and try to do something that is not exactly related to the meeting. Don't do it. It's better to have a 15 minute meeting, discussing/deciding on something than have a 1 hour meeting where you or someone else on the video call is distracted the majority of the time.
This is especially true if you are working from home - if you know there is going to be significant distractions during parts of your day (the dog always barks at the mailman, or kids come home from school at 3), plan around those times. And if the video conference meeting is in a huddle space or conference rooms, be careful shuffling those papers, or anything else that causes noise - it's much more distracting for the people on the other side of the camera.
2. Get to know your technology
One thing that gets lots of meetings off on the wrong foot is the technology we use. I could be as simple as not understanding how you "start" a meeting, and you end up being five minutes late. Or, if you're attending a meeting, and didn't realize you needed to install (or load) an application before you could attend.
The basic assumption with video meetings should be - anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Which means, if you are organizing or attending, you should run through a pre-meeting checklist to make sure everything starts off on the right foot. The following are some suggestions, but you might have a few unique to yourself.
Reboot your computer - we have all gotten used to keeping our computers on 24/7. That means your computer has loaded a dozen applications and thousands of website. Video conferencing applications are a resource hog - and even though the usually "play nice", it's never a bad idea to give your computer a refresh.
Start connecting at least 5 minutes before your meeting (up to 15 if you're the meeting organizer) - it goes with the first suggestion, if you're rebooting your computer, then that takes a few minutes. It takes a few minutes to load the video conferencing software, and if you are sharing anything (webpages, presentations, documents), it's a good idea to have them "pre-loaded". It also gives you a few minutes in case something isn't working.
Have a backup plan - what if something goes wrong with your technology setup, and you can't get anything working? That's why having thought through a backup is important. If you normally use your computer to connect, maybe you need to test using your phone (or vice versa). Also, if this is the first time you've connected something (new computer, new camera, new speakerphone, etc.) there could be problems. Having a backup plan might save you, so think about what it might be.
If you are in a video conferencing room, understand the difference - We all get used to working with what's in front of us. Most of us know how our computer or phone works (and the little quirky things they do), don't assume starting a video meeting in a conference room will be the same as on your computer. If it's your first time, you might want to play around with it a day before the meeting - just to get familiar with the setup and use.
3. Be prepared
Make sure you have everything ready to go before your meeting. Video conferencing tends to magnify the lack of preparation (not hide it), so make sure you have all the documents you need - in a format that is compatible with your video conferencing. If you don't have a document camera, then don't expect the other people in your meeting to understand what you're talking about (unless they have the same document); and if you are diagraming on a white board - make sure everyone can see it clearly (there are some really cool camera technologies that help do this). You need to understand, with video conferencing, those on the other side of the camera are constrained by what the camera sees, and in almost all cases, they can't control that. If you disappear off camera, still talking about something, they may not understand - the only visual clue is that you are no longer visible. And the same is true if you are participant - if you are sharing something, have it available and ready to go before hand - don't spend meeting time hunting for it.
4. Look into the camera
We trust people who look us in the eyes. But beyond that, it's just a much more enjoyable conversation when someone is facing us. That becomes a bit harder with video conferencing, because we are forced to use a camera and a screen to accomplish something that is second nature in real life. The best video conference systems let you look at people while looking directly into the camera. Do your best to position your video camera with this in mind. If you are looking to the left at the image of other people and the video camera is on the right, it looks like you are just staring off to the side. If you can’t see both, it is usually a good idea to look at your camera in order to give everyone on the other side of the conversation eye contact. If your screen shows you a preview of your image (which I admit, can be a bit distracting) try to position the camera and window so it looks like you are looking yourself in the eye. Remember, video conferencing is the "next best thing" to being face-to-face, but only if it feels like being face-to-face.
5. Create distraction-free background
Be very aware of what is in the background behind you and be aware if you are in a high-traffic area (like a huddle space). It can be distracting to the people on the video conference call. The other reason it's important, is that cameras have advanced over the past couple years to be "aware" of movement and sound - and some are very good at switching focus to either or both. Once again, it's important to understand the technology you're using, to avoid a really good, fast switching camera from focusing on the wrong place. If you primary work from home, you need to aware of your surroundings - make sure you present the image you want to present for your business video conferencing calls (i.e. no one may want to see your dirty laundry piled up behind you or that NYE party pic). Sunlight or lack of light, can also cause problems with picture quality. Just become aware of the room, what's around you and what is being shown.
6. Upgrade your camera and audio
We are complete camera and audio snobs - so don't take this the wrong way, but your laptop doesn't have the highest quality camera or audio (and yes, even your Mac). If you expect to use video conferencing more than a couple times a month, or anything other than occasional updates, you need to invest in a quality camera and audio setup. That doesn't mean spending thousands of dollars for your home office - or tens of thousands for your meeting spaces - it just means you need to upgrade. The benefits of amazing - in that you will look better and sound better during the video conferencing calls, and you will have greater control over them also. For as little as $300 for your home office, or $2500 for your meeting room, you can get a quality setup that works seamlessly with the video conferencing software of your choice.
This isn't completely about ego (although, you do want to look your best), it is about taking additional distraction out of the mix. With quality products, you have the ability to completely control how you look and sound. It's worth the effort in your planning, to match the right product to the right room and situation. It's part of the reason we have spent so much time creating Kits - we bundle our products to match the room, and only sell high quality products.
7. What about headsets/earbuds?
First of all, headsets or earbuds are fine (although quality matters). That being said, they are for desk, home office or remote use. Our personal order of preference is - a quality speaker phone/audio mic plus speakers, bluetooth headphones or earbuds, and finally corded headset or earbuds. All will work fine, in home office or desk situation, we still like having a desktop mic/speaker setup (either USB or bluetooth), because you can adjust it to match the situations and room conditions. And if done right, they can be less distracting to both you and the people on the other side of the conversation. Quality bluetooth headphones or earbuds are the second choice, the key is making sure they provide the quality you're looking for. Once again, anything is an upgrade to the integrated mic/speakers of your laptop.
To wrap it up …
We believe video conferencing is one of the greatest technologies created (that's not hype). BUT, we also realize most people and companies can get more out of them by using quality products and educating everyone on how to use it.
- know how to use the technology
- be aware your surroundings
- match quality products to the situation (and use)
When we see people, we are much more likely to trust them and in business, trust may be your most valuable asset.
Getting you started as quickly as possible with Video Conferencing is one of our goals, that's why we have created our Room Kits - check them out. And if you have any questions on what products you should use for your situation, just get in touch, we love talking about video conferencing technology.