Over the past several weeks, much of the global workforce has shifted to a working-from-home model. While nothing can replace in-person connections, video meetings are the next best thing and have quickly become the new normal in this unprecedented environment. However, virtual meetings can pose some challenges. Whether you are joining internal team meetings or hosting external client/prospect meetings, you want to make sure you are putting your best foot forward. In this week’s Broker Tool Belt, we share advice on how to run a successful virtual meeting, along with how to get over the initial discomfort so you can start building stronger and faster relationships.
This post has been written from the point of view of already having a video conferencing software implemented. If you don’t have the right applications to communicate with your employees and clients, the working-from-home model leans heavily on tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Slack. Determine which is the best solution for you and install it as soon as possible.
1. Make Sure You Have the Bandwidth
If this is your first time working from home, it’s important to make sure your connection is strong enough to allow for video conferencing. Being three seconds behind the rest of the group or having your face frozen on the screen could be the consequences of bandwidth issues. In addition, if you are sharing your internet access with your household members, the problems can be even greater.
Is your current connection enough to allow you to run a successful virtual meeting? To help you look into how strong your connection is, check out this article on Medium and follow the step-by-step bandwidth test.
If you discover your connection is not robust enough, consider shutting down all other programs open on your computer, so as to lighten the load when you are in a virtual meeting. Even though it undermines the purpose of video conferencing, if your connection is still choppy, shut off the video and stay in the meeting with audio only to at least participate in the conversation. If the problems persist, coordinate with your partner or other family members and set up rules about going online when you are on calls.
2. Conduct a Test Run
One of the first steps to make sure you can run a successful virtual meeting is to test your audio and video. Double-checking ahead of time that everything works properly will assure you and your attendees are able to get what you need out of the meeting.
To test your audio, make sure your space is quiet and that you have a mic. If you are using a newer laptop or desktop computer, you most likely have a built-in mic. If you are not sure, read this article to find out. If you don’t have a built-in mic, you have two options: you can purchase a stand mic or headset with a mic, or you can use call-in audio with your video conferencing software, meaning you have to use your phone to call into the meeting.
Similar to the audio circumstances, most newer technology devices have a built-in webcam you can use for video conferencing. If you find you don’t have one, purchase a camera that can be connected to your computer via USB.
Once your audio and video are set up, it’s time to run a test. Schedule a call with a coworker or someone that is willing to help you. During this trial run, make sure your audio is clear and that there isn’t any feedback coming through. In relation to your video, keep the test running for a couple of minutes to make sure the image is not breaking up and that the feel is professional. You can also use this trial to familiarize yourself with the software and all its functionalities, so that you feel more comfortable when you are in an actual meeting.
3. Present Yourself Professionally
There are different factors that play a role when presenting yourself in a professional manner and running a successful virtual meeting. Having proper lighting is essential to ensure professionalism. Try to prevent having light behind you—especially from a window—or directly overhead. The best setup is to have the light facing you, just like on TV. Your position on camera is also important. Think of your screen as a frame. You want to be front and center, sitting up straight, and showing your upper body from the waist up.
Next, get dressed as if you were going into the office. Your attire needs to remain professional, even though you are working from home. Make sure you have a proper top on, even if you are wearing pajama pants. Keep in mind that what you are wearing projects an image to your clients and prospects. Similar to your appearance, your background needs to be presentable. Ensure the space you are working in is professional. A messy room, kids or partners walking behind you, or pets playing in the background can be distracting to other attendees.
4. Set an Agenda
If you want to run a successful virtual meeting, create an agenda that boosts effectiveness. Today, the world is physical distancing and we might take any opportunity to connect socially. When you set up a meeting with clients or prospects, leave some room to catch up and make sure they are all staying safe, but create an agenda to get back to business and avoid getting off course. Remember to share the agenda with the attendees ahead of time and, if you are using a deck, put the agenda on a slide as a reminder to keep things on track.
If you’ve never created an agenda before, this article points out the most important steps. A good strategy when setting up your agenda is to list the topics as questions that need answers. For example, if you are having a meeting with a client and you want them to implement your benefits administration and HR software, instead of writing “consider a technology solution,” you can say “are you ready to implement a benefits administration and HR software to facilitate remote work?”
5. Stay Focused
When your meetings transition from in-person gatherings to online encounters, the change can be difficult. The attendees to the meeting can’t see your space and body completely, making the temptation to check your email, scroll through social media, or read Slack messages strong. To stay focused and run a successful virtual meeting, follow these simple steps:
- Avoid typing while you are on a call. Typing creates a distracting noise and also indicates that you are not fully engaged in the conversation. If you want to take notes during the meeting, paper and pen are a better choice.
- When you have in-person conversations, keeping eye contact, smiling, or nodding, are signs of engagement. If you want to keep the same level of connection in virtual meetings, look directly at the camera. It will help you generate trust and build stronger relationships.
- Don’t eat while you are in a meeting. This step might apply to both in-person and virtual meetings. However, when you are working from home, snacking while in a virtual meeting can feel more normal. Eating can be distracting and disrespectful; avoid it at all costs.
- Keep movement to a minimum. If you move excessively during your virtual meetings, the camera will catch those movements and it can create a lag. If your internet connection is not strong enough, video can run on the slower side, making the situation distracting.
- Mute yourself while you are not talking. When another attendee in the meeting is carrying the conversation, make sure to mute yourself so the audio is clear and everyone can follow easily.
If you’re hesitant about joining your first video call or worried about looking your best, these tips will help you stay professional and run a successful virtual meeting. By being aware of the challenges video calls pose, you can now ensure you and your attendees have a more productive and satisfactory experience. While the country strives for safety, use virtual meetings to keep business as usual while working from home and contributing to flattening the curve.