Video conferences shouldn't feel like a downgrade from face-to-face discussions – or, worse, like a waste of time. Follow these tips for the most productive video meetings.
Video conferencing is an essential part of modern global business operations. Thanks to the internet and advancements in high-speed data transmission, anyone can communicate online – not only with text and voice but also through live video.
Video meetings are not a simple process, though. To make the most out of the technology, there are things to take into account. It's not as easy as putting on a microphone-and-camera headset and talking to someone while seeing their face on a monitor. Take note of these essential points before conducting your video meeting.
1. Make sure you don't have technical issues.
You need dependable hardware and software for effective video conferencing. On the hardware side, you must have a quality microphone and earphone set to make sure that you can hear what the other party is saying and that you are clearly audible to the person on the other end of the line. Don't settle for cheap devices, but don't fixate on the branded ones. Look for durable hardware with reasonable prices.
It's not enough to have quality devices for speaking and listening, though. You also need to properly set the hardware up. Fortunately, most teleconferencing platforms come with setup assistants or wizards, which can guide you in making sure your hardware is correctly installed and fine-tuned.
When it comes to the software, it is advisable to choose based on the following criteria:
- Reliabilty. The platform should not be experiencing frequent downtimes and bugs. It does not matter if it's browser-based (no installation needed) or client-based (client software has to be installed) as long as there are no responsiveness or downtime issues.
- Features. You don't have to get the platform with the most bells and whistles. Choose one that suits your needs. In most cases, what you would need is something that supports a high number of video conferencing participants, file and screen sharing, participant hiding or muting, private chats, video and audio recording, room systems, integration with other apps, and mobile compatibility. [Related: See Business.com's reviews of the best video conferencing software.]
- Accessibility. It is preferable to choose a popular platform, as it'll be easier to get. Also, more users mean that issues affecting the platform are likely to be discovered and addressed sooner.
- Ease of use. Choose the most intuitive video meeting platform for the convenience of everyone.
- Support. Ascertain that the system comes with responsive technical support, especially if you are paying good money for it.
Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the video conference software that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.
It is also preferable to have someone in your company who can readily provide the needed assistance if you encounter technical problems. Often, problems are easily addressable by someone with intermediate tech skills, so you don't have to go through the typically tedious process of getting customer support for your teleconferencing platform.
Reliable technology is integral to running a global business, even more so for those that provide globalization services. How can you assure clients of dependable services if your company is not even backed by a solid tech infrastructure?
2. Inform the participants of the discussion points and set expectations.
Before holding a teleconference, it is recommended that you distribute the meeting's agenda to the expected participants. Those who are unaware of the topics to be covered in the meeting are unlikely to have meaningful input. It's important to give enough time and guidance for everyone involved to be ready with what they can contribute. There's no specific guideline as to how much time you should take for preparation. It depends on the breadth of the topics to discuss or issues to settle. In some cases, a day or a few hours is enough. In others, it may take a week or more to collate the necessary information and documents to present.
Surprises are almost never welcome in meetings, especially in online video meetings. This is not an avenue to test the competence, knowledge or preparedness of employees. Help participants prepare instead of creating hurdles to achieving a productive video conference. Productivity in meetings is extremely difficult to achieve without preparation.
The agenda does not have to be formal or extremely detailed, but it should comprehensively state what the meeting needs to cover. Along with the agenda, it helps to send relevant references and resources. These may include links, documents, multimedia files or instructions.
Moreover, lay out the expectations or desired outcomes of the online conference. Clarify the roles of the participants. Do you want them to just listen to what you or the team leader has to say, or do you welcome suggestions and attempts to challenge the positions you present?
3. Be punctual and have an estimated end time.
It's important to develop punctuality as a habit. Meetings should always start at the time stated in the announcement. Also, it is preferable to project the total time the meeting will take. Avoid open-ended or indefinite meeting times. Teams tend to be more productive when tasks or activities are allotted their respective timelines.
Setting limits when tackling the meeting agenda benefits both the management and employees. For management, it improves efficiency, as it creates urgency to complete discussions as soon as possible and come up with the desired resolutions. For employees, it allows reasonable control over their work time. Meetings are mostly perceived as disruptions to the regular schedules of employees. Keeping employees in meetings without a definite end time may throw them off their schedules.
4. Avoid noises and disruptions.
As much as possible, everyone participating in the teleconference should be in an enclosed room free from noises and interruptions. The door should be locked. Put phones in silent mode.
Cafes and even work desks are not suitable locations for video conferences. However, if it's inevitable for some participants to be in a location prone to noises and disruptions, advise them to position their cameras so that people passing by don't appear in the monitor. Ask them to use unidirectional microphones or bring their microphones closer to their mouths when speaking. Of course, these also apply to you as the presiding officer.
5. Come up with a standard format or process.
Make the video meeting predictable as to the flow. The introductory portion is essential. It's important to properly introduce participants to each other. It may also be necessary to put up name tags, especially when there are more than five people in the conference and if some can only participate with their voice (no camera feed).
In the middle of the video meeting, icebreakers are helpful, especially when the participants are not familiar with each other. Also, it is advisable to have occasional breaks, particularly in serious discussions where participants may become tense or agitated.
The end of meetings should generallly include the following:
- Summary of the details discussed
- List of topics that have not been adequately covered and should be addressed in the next meeting
- Resolution of issues
- Assignment of tasks if there are any
A productive meeting covers most, if not all, of the bullet points in the agenda. If anything has not been sufficiently discussed, it should be prioritized in the next meeting. If the agenda lists issues or problems that need to be addressed, they should be addressed at the end of the meeting or scheduled for another round of discussions. Lastly, a productive meeting results in courses of action in response to what the participants agree or what the team leader assigns. These assignments should be clearly listed and transmitted to the intended persons or departments.
6. Gather feedback and secure meeting records.
Effective video meetings entail positive feedback from the participants. To know if the feedback is positive, it only makes sense to ask the participants. You may have attended meetings (in person) before where the moderator or presiding officer jokingly asks if there are "any violent reactions, comments or suggestions" upon ending a meeting. This jocular inquiry actually serves a purpose even in teleconferencing: It provides an opportunity for the participants to air their concerns in an informal manner.
Additionally, it's important to maintain records of the meeting. Almost all video conferencing platforms already come with recording functions to document everything discussed in audio or video format. This function makes it unnecessary to keep traditional minutes, but there's nothing wrong with having supplementary written records, especially to take note of the most important discussion topics. You have to ascertain that the meeting record in the teleconferencing platform has been properly secured or, in the case of confidential discussions, encrypted and stored somewhere safe from unauthorized access.
As remote work becomes more common and business operations go global, many will have to rely on online video meetings to simulate personal interaction. However, it's not enough to just have plain online conferencing; it has to be effective and productive. Interruptions should be minimized or eliminated. Goals should be achieved and the agenda sufficiently covered. Moreover, the meeting should have an organized structure and secured records.