We’re six months deep into a global shift of the way we communicate, and it has become apparent that even as restrictions ease in certain places, video calls and virtual conferencing will likely remain an important facet of communication for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re a huge fan of platforms like Zoom or Google Classroom or you absolutely dread using them, they’re a key component of our present reality and it has become exceedingly important to optimize the way we interact when using them.
Simply maneuvering the technology and hosting a video conference does not equate to a successful meeting — just as scheduling a meeting in the office doesn’t always guarantee an effective use of our time and energy. Whether it’s a business meeting or a personal gathering, there are unspoken rules and etiquette that we have grown accustomed to abiding by in-person, and now we must learn to identify and respect their implications in the world of virtual communication as well. Here are a few simple practices to maintain the integrity of your video conferences, however you may be using them.
Set a Time Limit
Studies have shown that interest in virtual settings begins declining after only about ten minutes, which doesn’t seem like much time at all! However, you would be surprised at how much can be accomplished in a fifteen-minute window if everyone stays on task. In some cases, scheduling meetings for extended periods of time becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a staff meeting may not have needed to be an hour long, but if the expectation was set that it would take an hour, it establishes the momentum at which the participants will operate. Try setting shorter meetings and see if you can accomplish what needs to be done — if you’re finding that your meetings often go over, you may be trying to cover too much. Assign open issues as action items and reconvene at a later time when everyone is at peak focus.
Have an Agenda
Creating an agenda and sending it out ahead of time to attendees is crucial for ensuring your meeting is a good use of everyone’s time. Include a list of topics that will be covered in your meeting along with the names of individuals who may be presenting or giving their input. When meetings are in-person, most professionals know to set time aside to prepare by reviewing talking points, gathering relevant documentation or materials, and formulating opinions on open tasks. However, as we’ve seen the physical transition of “going to a meeting” disappear, the level of preparedness seems to have dissipated as well. It’s often difficult to stop what we’re working on in the moment when we know our meeting is only a click away. Set the expectation that everyone should come prepared to participate in a meeting; and if an attendee is not expected to participate, consider if their attendance is an unnecessary addition to the clutter of faces and voices on the screen.
Designate a Moderator
As we just mentioned, sometimes virtual meetings of larger groups can feel more like clutter than cohesion. To prevent an overlap of voices (or worse…awkward silence) appoint a member as the Moderator or “Speaker” of the meeting. It’s relatively easy to decipher body language and facial queues when sitting around a boardroom table, however, in virtual meetings it is the responsibility of the organizer to ensure that someone helps facilitate those interactions. This person’s role should include welcoming everyone, introducing the focus of the meeting, outlining the agenda, and calling on specific parties to speak when appropriate.
If the meeting includes going around the “room” for input, be sure the moderator has a list of attendees to call from as it can be difficult to keep track of larger groups when looking at their screens alone. In the case of a more of a social gathering, the Moderator should be equipped with some ice-breakers or conversation starters to keep the chatter going.
Practice Your Setup
This honestly goes without saying at this point; if sorting out your technology bleeds into the time the meeting should be taking place, you can almost assume you’ve lost the attention of your audience (or at least their patience). Whether you’re a participant or the host, make it standard practice to join the virtual meeting at least a few minutes in advance to troubleshoot any potential issues.
Even if you’re a regular video-conferencing pro, Murphy’s Law states that Zoom will suddenly require a new update the moment you sign on, or you’ve been unintentionally logged out of your account, etc. When joining a virtual meeting as the host, I commit to signing in 10-15 minutes prior to the scheduled start time to ensure everything is ready to go, and no one is stuck waiting for me to adjust my volume or camera.
It’s a new world, and we’re all learning what works well for ourselves and our teams. No need to despair if your virtual meetings have been clunky up until this point, but now is not the time to remain set in our ways. Try new tactics to keep engagement strong, incorporate breaks and different timing strategies, experiment with agenda flows. Whatever you do, just keep working at it, and you’ll be a virtual meeting master before you know it.
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128