How to Prepare for Virtual Meetings
Back at the start of the New Year, few people’s predictions included a global pandemic. However, for years many foresaw the rise of virtual meetings as a key method to keep connected with people around the world. However, despite the availability of such technology, the uptake had been slow. Then, with COVID-19, we’ve jumped straight into the deep end, with many businesses suddenly relying upon the software to keep their employees connected and working.
As such, many are still adapting to the new video conferencing software: once only commonly used by a few. Therefore, we’ve compiled some fantastic tips and hints to use when getting ready for your next virtual meeting.
Test the Tech
Back in the olden days – well, six months ago – preparing for a meeting involved reviewing your notes, updating your slides, and clarifying the agenda. Today, you need to consider the technical aspects of the virtual meeting environment. Nothing looks less professional than having to fix a technical error in front of your colleagues, or worse, a client. We’ve all sat there in frustration, as we can hear someone rustling with cables or clicking away, trying to resolve the issue.
Therefore, before the meeting begins, ensure you have tested the connectivity. Remember, the more people who attend the meeting; the more your broadband will be strained. Many of the big video conferencing companies will list the bandwidth requirements on their websites.
Camera and Microphone
Next, check your camera and microphone are working, and if not, try to fix the problem. Commonly, the software will have the wrong feed selected. Go into settings and ensure the correct webcam and microphone feed is registered.
Additionally, microphones will be affected by the acoustics of the room, as well as any background noise.
Therefore, if you have a headset with a microphone, it can provide an alternative to your computer’s mic, depending on your location.
Download the Software
If you’ve never used any video conferencing software before, make sure to download the tool of choice before the meeting begins. If you’re sending out the invite, remember to include instructions for the less technologically savvy.
Set-Up Lighting and Video
In real-life, we all know how to make ourselves look presentable. Do our hair, wear smart clothes, apply a bit of make-up. Rarely do people consider if they’re presenting their best angle when sitting around the conference table. Or quibble over whether the lighting is making your look pasty or gaunt.
Yet, when preparing for a virtual meeting, where a dozen or more people will be staring at your face, even the least vain can get self-conscious. There are several essential tips to remember to ensure you are looking your best:
- Don’t position the camera below your face. Sit at a table or desk, with the camera pointing straight at your eyes. When the camera is too low, the perspective lengthens your face. (Plus, no one wants to see up your nostrils.) If you need to, stack your laptop on a pile of magazines or books. If you’re going to be doing this often, invest in a laptop stand.
- Use natural light. Don’t sit in a dark corner with your face shrouded in a gloomy shadow. In the worst cases, people can hardly be visible. Instead, sit next to a source of natural light. Lamps will only cast more shadows.
- Keep the backdrop neutral, but not bland. Avoid clutter; but don’t just opt for a white wall. Many people like a bookcase, but be aware, people will scrutinize the spines.
Turn your phone off, and prevent any notifications from distracting you during the meeting. If you use a messaging service like Microsoft Teams, set yourself to ‘Do Not Disturb’. Getting distracted in a meeting will look extremely unprofessional, and you risk being forced to provide an answer to a question you didn’t hear.
Additionally, remove the distractions for other people. We just mentioned that bookcases and other backgrounds could catch people’s attention. Use zoom virtual backgrounds, and you won’t have to worry. At Hello Backgrounds, there are over a hundred different HD photos and videos from which to choose. If you are presenting to a client, using the same background for each member of your team can create a sense of continuity to the meeting.
Review the Meeting Agenda
As with any meeting, it is vital to review the agenda and be aware of any topics that will arise. However, in a virtual meeting, this is especially important. With everyone spread over different locations, without a clear idea of the agenda meetings can devolve into either everyone speaking over each other, with all the confusions that can cause. Or, no one speaks at all.
By being aware of the agenda, and considering any points you would like to raise, it can help keep the meeting on track. It also gives you a chance to consider where you can use the innovative features of video conferencing software, such as virtual whiteboards or screen sharing.
Learn Good Etiquette
As with all interaction, you want to appear polite and friendly. However, with virtual meetings, there is a whole new world of do’s and don’ts to remember. We’ve already explored a couple: testing your equipment before the meeting, reviewing the agenda, or removing any distractions. But here are a few more to bear in mind:
- If you’re not speaking, mute yourself
- Choose a quiet location
- Remove pets from the room
- If possible, ask someone to look after your children
- Speak clearly and confidently
- Look straight into the camera
- Don’t multitask (particularly answering non-work-related messages)
If you follow these essential tips, you are on your way to a successful and productive virtual meeting. All it takes is a little extra preparation.