More and more meetings take place online instead of in a conference room. Technology changes some aspects of planning and conducting a meeting. Here are some tips to make your presentation more enjoyable for your audience.
1. Realize That Virtual Meetings are Different
Humans are social and emotional beings. By their very nature, virtual meetings hinder social interaction and emotional cues. They are great for conveying information to people in multiple locations simultaneously. Visual aids look better for less money online than on printed handouts. But if you want to arouse enthusiasm or solve major disagreements, a virtual meeting won’t work. Even training sessions or other informational meetings work differently online than in person. You must plan your virtual meeting with theses limitations in mind.
2. Design the Meeting First, Then Choose Technology
You have to use services provided by companies like Blue Jeans in order to broadcast live streaming video. That much technology is a given before you even start to plan, but your service provider will offer a rich set of communication tools. Each tool serves a particular purpose. It can either enhance communication or hinder it.
Therefore you need to decide the purpose of the meeting, the content of the meeting, and what you need to know in order to measure the meeting’s effectiveness first. Then you can decide which tools will help you accomplish your goals. Some of the tools are easier to use than others, so learn to use these before attempting the flashier ones.
3. Become Familiar With the Technology
Larger face-to-face meetings require a microphone and some kind of projector and screen for visual aids. Some people have trouble enough using these basic tools effectively. In addition, virtual meetings require a camera, and all of the software necessary for everyone to log on and participate.
You know how distracting it can be listening to a speaker who is uncomfortable with a microphone or can’t get slides to display properly. Keep in mind that every additional tool adds additional ways for the presentation to fail. So once you decide which tools to use, practice with them often enough to become comfortable using them.
4. Don’t Overuse the Webcam or Bulleted Lists
It matters less what you wear and what is behind you when you are addressing people in a room. What people won’t notice in a room can become major distractions when they’re looking at a screen. In a virtual meeting you occupy the entire screen. You must keep in mind three factors of what the screen will look like when you plan and give your virtual presentation.
First, you need to make sure there are no distractions, such as multiple objects behind you, a gaudy mural, or your own clothing. A solid backdrop, perhaps with the company logo, is best, as is solid colored clothing and discreet jewelry.
Second, don’t forget to look directly into the camera; it is the closest approximation of eye contact you can achieve.
Third, talking heads are boring to watch. Various visual aids are more important in a virtual meeting than in person. They should be visible for more time than you are.
Speaking of boring, have you ever attended a presentation when all the slides are bulleted lists and the speaker basically reads what’s on the slides? Bulleted lists are great in their place, but be sure to include pictures, graphs, drawings, and so on to provide variety for your audience.
5. Keep Segments Short
Our attention spans are getting shorter, and watching a screen presents a far less rich sensory experience. Research indicates that video meetings require shorter sessions and more breaks. Ten minutes may be the ideal length for a segment.
Unless participants are alone at their own desks, the breaks give them a chance to interact with each other. Or you can use a break to seek input from the audience. Chances are many people will be checking email or otherwise being inattentive. So plan how to ask for input—not just in general, but call out each locale, and if the groups are small enough, individuals.
6. Label Emotions
Your facial expression and body language convey emotion, but they are totally lost when not everyone is visible on the screen. You might be excited at some point in a discussion, surprised another time, or worried at still another. Everyone else will experience a variety of emotions as you discuss an issue. And these feelings are every bit as important to good communication as your words. In an online discussion, you need to verbalize what you are feeling and encourage everyone else to do the same.
Virtual meetings save the company and all the participants a great deal of time and money. Investing some of that time in planning around the technology can make the difference between success and failure.