Video conferencing is a remarkably useful technology that allows team members to meet and discuss projects, no matter where they live or work. However, these meetings can run into some snags, and not all of them result from technical problems. Because attendees are in different locations, it's easy to accidentally start talking over each other, getting into the loop of saying "no, you go ahead." Meetings can get off-track easily, especially when you're keeping notes, facilitating discussion and trying to stick to the meeting agenda.
Despite the challenges, video conferencing is a necessary tool with so many now working remotely. [Related article: Check out these virtual team-building activities your team can do via video conference.]
We asked entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share their methods for conducting effective video conferences. Here are their suggestions:
1. Create an agenda, and stick to it.
"One of the easiest ways to ensure everyone stays on the same page and any meeting is productive is to have an agenda reiterated at the outset of every meeting. 'In today's meeting, we hope to accomplish X, Y and Z. Sound good?' It's your job to facilitate from here and ensure you accomplish what you set out to do." – Zachary Burkes, Predictable Profits
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2. Have a moderator.
"Video conferences with more than a few participants can quickly get out of hand. At our company, every meeting must have an 'owner' who is responsible for a form of moderation. This includes owning an agenda, ensuring the conversation stays on topic, and moderating individuals to ensure people are heard while also not monopolizing the conversation." – Ryan D. Matzner, Fueled
3. Ask for opinions.
"First, have an agenda to tackle the main purpose of the video conference call. Once all items are checked in the agenda, simply ask … the participants if they have anything they wanted to voice up. By doing so, it allows everyone in the video conference call to participate and share their thoughts. The biggest breakthroughs always come when each person is allowed to share." – Fred Lam, iPro Management Group Corp.
4. Align the objectives.
"There have been many times where I am left wondering why I attended a specific meeting in the first place. Most meetings are usually not productive. However, I noticed that when everyone's goals are aligned, then the meeting is productive. We have timed meetings for approval processes. Anything else besides approvals is done outside of the meeting via chat." – Sweta Patel, Silicon Valley Startup Marketing
5. Use PowerPoint presentations.
"While bad PowerPoints can happen to good people, a well-done PowerPoint can help organize unruly conference calls without muting anyone. The key is to keep PowerPoints simple and engaging. Specifically, avoid using small text, avoid clutter, and keep the slides visually engaging. A well-done PowerPoint can streamline calls, encourage questions, and keep everyone engaged and on task." – Shu Saito, Fact Retriever
6. Have a system for notifications.
"Most video conferencing channels will have some form of interaction in the main forum, and even a 'hand raise' that signals someone wants to ask a question. Rather than blurting questions out and talking over one another, make it a practice to use these notifications when someone wants to speak. That way, time can be found to halt the conversation and address the concern, question or comment." – Brandon Stapper, Nonstop Signs
7. Go 'around the horn.'
"The majority of our team works remotely, so we conduct a video meeting every week. The one thing I do every meeting is 'go around the horn.' I have each person answer three questions: what they accomplished the past week, what has them stuck and what is the plan for the coming week. I also ask a weekly question like 'What is an important fundamental of the job that you sometimes forget?'" – Brian Greenberg, Medicare Supplement Insurance
8. Encourage participants to use the chat window.
"One way to keep the meetings organized is to have participants make comments and ask questions in the chat window. Then the meeting organizer can call on people based off of the order that they made the comment. That way, everyone that wants to talk gets a turn to speak." – Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights
9. Leverage system features.
"I've never been a fan of micromanaging conferences, where you're so busy muting feeds and organizing windows that you miss the content. Fortunately, VoIP software has come a long way. You can customize your platform to detect audio to minimize background noise and use round-robin options that give everyone a chance to speak. This reduces the effort of video calls and lets you focus on the details." – Raad Ahmed, LawTrades
10. Have someone take notes.
"Having a note taker while performing a call is really helpful, as you can just focus on keeping the conversation flowing, and it is more relaxing knowing that there is someone keeping track of the call. What I personally like to do is to have questions ready, and then more questions following with any kind of answer they may have. It makes the call way more natural than thinking on the spot." – Brian Condenanza, Fluo Shoes
In addition to the suggestions from YEC members, other ways to ensure your video conferences run smoothly include:
11. Control mute buttons.
Whenever you're not speaking during a video conference, keep your microphone muted. Although this rule is among the most basic video conferencing best practices, it's worth mentioning here. Certainly, you've attended a video conference with participants whose noisy backgrounds interfere with the discussion.
If you're hosting a video conference on Zoom, you can mute participants' mics by default upon entry. Additionally, while hosting, you can often set participants' mics to mute at any time. Don't be afraid to use this power liberally. However, you also want to make sure that anyone who wants to speak is heard.
12. Use non-distracting backgrounds.
If you can help it, avoid taking calls from locations that have a lot of background noise. Resist the temptation to join a video conference as you're driving in your car or while you're walking around your neighborhood.
Non-distracting backgrounds extend to your visuals, too. While those omnipresent Zoom green-screen backgrounds can be fun, they're usually distracting. And the fewer distractions, the better.
13. Use headphones.
You might be tempted to use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop's built-in speakers to hear the audio from your video call; however, by doing so, you run the risk of other participants experiencing audio feedback or echoes of their own speech. For others in the meeting, the reverberating sound can be both annoying and distracting.
14. Remember: You're on camera.
Just because you're not physically in the same room as other people doesn't mean you should act differently. When you're on camera, everyone present can see or hear you (even if you're not speaking) if your mic and video camera are on. If you need to step away for a second, you should turn both off, but it's best to stay put – every time you step away, you could miss critical information. It can also be distracting to others if your camera keeps turning on and off.