Meetings in a virtual environment can be challenging and even intimidating. Achieving a successful action plan during a meeting depends on participant interaction. For the past several years, as Research Integrations has become a completely distributed team with home offices across the nation, all of our meetings have moved from a physical environment to a virtual environment. This has posed some challenges and opportunities for us.
Effective meetings in a virtual environment are tricky because many of us are not used to interacting with people through this medium, and we have a distrust of using and relying on technology for communication. However, we have found that the right tools and a few good techniques have helped us create effective meetings, which allow us to continue to work as a team.
6 things to consider when choosing a virtual meeting tool:
The tool should be trustworthy and reliable
When the tool is trustworthy and reliable, participants feel that their time and contributions are honored, which encourages participation. A reliable tool works in the background, bringing your meeting to the forefront. A smooth transition between initiating meeting software and joining the meeting lets your participants dive right in. The right tool functions easily, minimizing time lost.
The tool should be accessible and intuitive to participants
Be sure the tool is accessible to participants and that it is intuitive, with few steps needed to access the meeting. Accessing the tool itself should not be distracting to meeting members. You want your participants to focus on the meeting, not the tool. Look for a tool that allows the interface of the computer to disappear as much as possible.
The tool should accommodate use by all meeting members.
Choose a tool that accommodates use by all meeting members—for example, video feeds for all members, not just select members or the chairperson. Consider the same for screenshare, a process that allows meeting members to view each other’s computer screens. Each member’s contribution is valuable. Choose a tool that captures that.
All participants should have webcams
Video feeds help tremendously. This is the only way to put a live person on the other end. Video provides an environment that allows the participants to connect with one another in a manner that is most familiar, face-to-face. Keep in mind, though, video can be intimidating for those who are uncomfortable with this medium. It takes a bit of time for some to move past the cold starkness of the computer in front of them and to begin interacting with the people instead. It’s also awkward because there is no eye contact. The listener and speaker are usually looking at each other’s eyes on screen, but the camera placement captures this as if they’re looking elsewhere. Over time, participants can adjust to taking in the full image.
The tool should have consistent video feeds.
When was the last time you stared at your friend’s frozen face, stopped mid-sentence, while out for dinner? Building a sense of normalcy to the meeting environment builds trust that members can contribute and that the time they spend in your meeting really matters.
Consistent video feeds leads to trust in the medium and trust that the meeting is time worthy. When the video feeds are clear and consistent, conversation flows, allowing members to respond freely and appropriately.
Reliable audio should be present
Reliable audio should be present. This may be accommodated via phone line rather than directly within the video tool. It’s best for each participant to have the ability to mute, minimizing distracting background noise. As with video feed, no lag time keeps communication flowing.
Prepare for your meeting, get ready for a few bumps in the road, and don’t forget–you and your participants may experience a learning curve. But remember, a successful meeting relies on human interaction and not virtual gadgets.
I’m interested in hearing about your experiences, both good and bad, with using various tools for conducting virtual meeting. Look for my next post in the series: “Effective Meetings in a Virtual Environment: How to Engage Participants”