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Video conferencing – why do it and how to do it well

In the last few months the way in which we work has changed beyond recognition. With huge limitations and restrictions on face-to-face meetings, almost overnight the entire world has had to adapt to a new era of virtual meetings. Of course, it’s not like we haven’t used video conferencing before, but it’s the first time we’ve had to rely on it to communicate with our peers, clients and suppliers.

For the time being, and the foreseeable future, we need to learn how to replicate the power of real, physical contact with video conferencing. For some it may take a little getting used to, but get used to it – and good at it - we must. We’ve rounded up a few video conferencing top tips to help anyone struggling with the new boom in Zoom.

Keeping connected with your team

If you usually see your team in the office every day, there’s a strong chance you could be losing the bonds that previously held you together as a group. It’s impossible to work out how many unscheduled, snatched conversations you’re missing out on that may have led to the birth of a brilliant idea or unearthed a brewing problem, but suffice to say, remote working will have taken its toll on most businesses.

Regularly scheduled video conference calls with the whole team, or at least each department if you have a large staff, is imperative. Even if everyone feels they’re too busy, it should come high up your list of priorities. If you’ve chosen to have daily catch ups, an easy structure to follow is simply to get each member of the team to briefly say what they are going to do today, and what they achieved yesterday.

A 9am catch up is also a great way to help your team treat the working at home day similarly to how they would have handled a day in the office. It’s a pretty good way to make sure everyone is dressed, fired up and ready to go.

Invitee numbers

As anyone who has ever taken part in a video call will testify to, there is definitely a finite number of people who can meaningfully participate in a virtual meeting. If all attendees are required to participate, six is generally considered to be the magic number. Presentations and training seminars can work with larger groups, depending on the level of engagement expected. If you’re setting up or taking part in a regular meeting, it may be worth revisiting the numbers if you feel things are too hectic or the whole thing is taken an unproductive amount of time.

Setting up your space

It’s important to keep your levels of professionalism as high as ever during this unusual time of enforced home working. If you don’t want everyone from your office seeing your private life on display behind you in your video conference call, set yourself up in a neutral corner of the house so that the boundaries are kept clear.

Check the lighting and your positioning before the call. You want to make sure you are close enough to the screen so your fellow callers can see you clearly – aim for head and shoulders also in shot with the camera at eye level.

As we’ve seen from numerous viral snippets, a closed door is no guarantee of peace and quiet during a video call, but it’s a start. It’s also a good idea to brief other members of your household about the times you are going to need to be left undisturbed and for them to try to keep other noise to a minimum.

It’s quite an obvious point, but you should also dress as you would in the office. It goes a long way to putting forward your work persona and will help others maintain a similar sense of professionalism.

Prepare your content

It’s safe to say there is far less build-up to a working-from-home video meeting than there is to an in-the-flesh event. With internal, external and off-site meetings there is a level of expectation and anticipation that instils a sense of occasion in its participants which is hard to replicate in a video call.

It’s important to prepare as thoroughly for your video meeting as you would for a face-to-face event. Impress upon your team that the same levels of participation and planning are expected and feedback if you feel standards have slipped.

Leading and asking questions

Visual clues as to whose turn it is to talk are easily lost on a video conference call. With whatever meeting you are arranging, make sure there is a clear lead and that you have a system for when someone wants to speak next. Perhaps a raised hand. Without these parameters an online meeting can quickly descend into chaos.

Handling distractions

With the best will in the world, it’s impossible to entirely prevent interruptions. If something happens in your environment which makes it difficult for you to concentrate, rather than spend the next ten minutes not listening to your colleagues and trying to handle the situation with no one noticing, make your excuses, deal with the issue and then return to the meeting with full concentration and apologies. Everyone is in the same boat and you are unlikely to be judged for something that is out of your control.

Muting

If your meeting includes a presentation or any amount of time when only one person needs to be heard, mute yourself and encourage others to do the same. Background noise can be really distracting and muting yourself will help whoever is speaking to concentrate on what they’re saying.

Your responses

Subtle physical responses such as eye contact and half smiles are easily lost on a video call, so you might need to slightly exaggerate your reactions to things your colleagues say. As silly as it might sound, nodding it a really good habit to get into. Verbal acknowledgments and signs of concurring often just come across as indiscriminate mumbles and can stop whoever is talking in their tracks, so try to keep your interactions purely physical until it’s your turn to speak.

An easy trap to fall into while on a video call, is forgetting that everyone can see you and imagining that you are on the telephone. This is a particular problem in longer meetings where concentration can waiver. This often results in participants looking ‘off screen’, subtly checking their phones or doodling on their notepad. None of these would be appropriate or possible in a physical meeting, so they need to be avoided at all costs in virtual ones too.

Screen sharing

If you are going to be sharing your screen in a video conference, sit down at your computer a good ten minutes before the meeting starts and clear your desktop of everything else your colleagues don’t need to see (online supermarket shops, pictures of a recent holiday to Greece, your Facebook page). Have the exact screen you want to share ready at the click of a button to save any embarrassment or delay.

It’s also a good idea to turn off your notifications so that others don’t see messages that might pop up during this time on your screen and have a run through before going live.

Rounding things up

If you are hosting the meeting it’s important you stick closely to the agenda, summarise action points at the end and make it clear that it’s time for everyone to log off and get on with their day. One-on-one conversations can continue outside of the meeting if there are more things to be discussed, but on a video all it’s easy to forget there are other people still waiting there if the end of a meeting drags on and goes off topic.

The future of video conferencing

Although we all hope life will return to normal at some point in the near future, it’s likely most workplaces will have changed in some small ways forever. Now we’re all more familiar with video conferencing, our guess is that it will feature more regularly in all of our working lives – so however you feel about it, now’s the time to get practising and it’s here to stay.