Managing On-line Meetings Like a Pro
In response to the unprecedented events that have put “a pause” on the Winter 2020 semester, there is a renewed interest in exploring various options for on-line meetings. Having facilitated many on-line meetings in the last 20 years, I have learned some tricks and habits to help my meetings move more smoothly that I would like to share with you.
There are many commercial options for on-line meetings with various price points and some open source solutions. Among some of the more popular (in alphabetical order):
Your college may have chosen a solution for you. If not, it is a good idea to choose a solution that works on multiple platforms (PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS), since your students or colleagues will be attending with a variety of digital devices (laptop, tablet, smartphone).
Get acquainted with the platform
If you are new to an on-line meeting platform, it is a good idea to kick the tires before you have to use the software for a real meeting. You can visit the company’s web site to see if they have some tutorials or check out YouTube to see if there is a recent tutorial.
You can also schedule a meeting with a colleague, friend or family member to try out the platform well ahead of your upcoming meeting. It is a good idea to review what functionality exists in the software. Perhaps the solution has polling and whiteboard functionality integrated. Very useful! The ability to share your screen is also an asset in an online meeting solution as you can perform different tasks in real time and have your participants follow what you are doing on screen. This is great for visiting websites or doing software demonstrations. You may even be able to serve video through the platform to have everyone watch the same video simultaneously, but start with the basics: a solid presentation and some built-in interactivity to keep your attendees engaged.
In the last few weeks, certain software providers have increased their security options to help meeting managers limit meeting access to authorized attendees and to better manage the interactions of attendees during meetings. It would be a good idea to get up to speed on these functions prior to your first meeting.
Getting ready for the meeting
Like any appointment, it is important to ensure that the date, time and the means of communication (software solution) are clear for your attendees. If you are using a password to control access to the meeting, make sure to put it in bold characters in your invitation.
Many of the software solutions above have configuration wizards that allow the participants to test their webcams, microphone and speakers before attending. Encourage your attendees to test their equipment well in advance of the meeting, or set up a drop-in time for them to try out their equipment with you ahead of the meeting.
Prepare any documentation including any slide presentations, software or websites that you want to show during the presentation. I have had some issues with presentation software and on-line meeting solutions over the years. It may be a good idea to export your slide deck to PDF and show the PDF instead of the slide presentation itself. You may lose a bit of the dynamic animation in your slide deck, but you improve the predictability of your presentation. It’s your call!
You may also want to organize an interactive component where attendees work in the same collaborative document on the cloud. Set it all up prior to the meeting and keep the address (URL) handy in a text document for reference or bookmark it in your browser in case you close a tab by accident.
Being the speaker and the person operating all the functions in a virtual meeting can be a very involved task, so you may want to arrange with a trusted colleague or student to make them a co-presenter for your meeting so that they can watch the chat window, help manage speaking rights and change documents while you are teaching or leading the presentation. Let your helper know beforehand so that they can prepare adequately for their task.
Just prior to the meeting
Around 30 minutes prior to the meeting, reboot your computer to ensure that it is as fresh as possible for the meeting. Once it is rebooted, make sure that all the documents you want to show are open. If you have these documents on a cloud-based office suite, you can open multiple tabs in your browser to make moving through documents a bit easier.
It’s best to use a wired connection to your network rather than WiFi, which can be less predictable during meetings, especially if you have a lot of video and screen sharing going on.
It is good practice to open your online meeting at least 15 minutes before the official start to allow people to arrive in your virtual space and perform a final test of their equipment. Try to make sure that you have adequate lighting and that there is no “contre-jour” effect (silhouetting) from too much light behind you pointing towards your webcam.
Many of the attendees' technical issues can be solved by having them restart their tired computers, or having them unplug their USB earphone/microphone headsets waiting a couple of seconds and then plugging them back into the computer (same thing for external webcams).
If all else fails and the attendees can’t get their audio working, some online meeting solutions have a telephone number that the participants can use, but make sure to check that it is toll-free for the attendees before proposing this workaround.
For certain on-line meeting software solutions, a mobile app also exists. Your attendees may want to install this on their phone or tablet as a backup in case their regular device is not working (you can do this as well). If you have a severe technical problem or your computer freezes during the meeting, you can use this meeting app on your phone to enter the meeting quickly and explain to attendees that you are working on the problem.
During the meeting
At times, managing an on-line meeting can feel like you are in a plate-juggling act. It may be easier for you to designate specific times to answer questions during the meeting to avoid interruptions during your presentation.
For your first meeting, you might want to go over some rules of netiquette with your attendees, such as using the chat only to ask questions, and refraining from offensive language during the meeting.
Try to find ways to re-engage your meeting participants during the meeting. If you want to have a class discussion, this can be a way to take the pressure off of you for a couple of minutes in the meeting.
One thing I have learned over the years is to cut my microphone when I have to cough, sneeze or chug some coffee! It happens. Attendees don’t appreciate having an earful of these noises.
As the meeting comes to a close, remember to acknowledge your co-presenter if you had some help during the meeting.
After the meeting
If you have any action items or notes to finalize after the meeting, it is good to have some time scheduled after the meeting to take care of this right away.
You can also try to log any issues that you had during the meeting that require a solution prior to the next meeting. Consult a colleague, your REPTIC or technician if you need help to find a solution.
Practice makes perfect
Not every meeting will go according to plan.
Adopt a healthy “continuous improvement mindset,” where you expect a couple of bugs to arise, and endeavour to do your best to overcome these issues. I have certainly made some spectacular mistakes over the years, but owned up to my responsibility with my attendees, usually with a bit of humour to reduce my general stress level.
Over time, your confidence will grow and you will be ready to try out new functions in your meeting solution and perhaps take some bold new risks!
If you have any pro tips or experiences you would like to share with the Profweb readership, please use the comments section below.