One of the things that have started to become the new ‘normal’ in 2020 are online meetings. When people say class, we no longer think of a classroom. When they say board conference, we no longer think of a round table with important officials seated. When they say seminar, we don’t picture a speaker on a podium, addressing all those who are gathered. We now think of a screen with multiple faces staring at us, as we attempt to get our point across.
Just because this is supposed to be the new normal doesn’t mean everyone is already used to it. A lot of people still struggle with online meetings, as they miss the person-to-person interaction. Online meetings can be challenging in more ways than one. Failure in overcoming these challenges can affect their overall performance at work.
There are certain tips and strategies that you can incorporate during your online meetings to make communication more effective. Making some slight changes and adopting some new habits can do wonders to improve your experience with online conferences.
Here are some tips on how to make your virtual meetings more effective.
Know the platform
The first thing to do to improve the effectiveness of your online interactions is to familiarise yourself with the platform through which the interactions will take place.
It happens often that we open the app or communication platform for the first time at the decided time of the meeting. Now since we’re using it for the first time, it is an alien environment for us. We start to panic the minute we don’t understand how a certain feature works.
We might not be able to turn our mics or cameras on and off as per requirement. We might not know where the option to record the meeting is. We might spend the entire meeting scrambling to find the right option to click on.
Not only does this give off the impression of being unprofessional, but it also wastes a lot of time. Most official meetings have a fixed start and end time, and we can’t spend most of it focused on trying to understand the platform rather than what should be discussed.
It makes matters worse if you are the organiser. If the person organising the meeting is confused throughout, what one can expect from that meeting is pure chaos and very less productive outcomes.
Once a platform for a meeting is decided, make sure to install that platform immediately. Try out all the options provided. Check to see if any of the options are giving you any trouble so that you can fix the problem before the meeting. Organise a mock call with a friend to go through all the features and practice on how to use them. You can also do this by using two of your own devices, in case help is unavailable at that moment.
Don’t have the ‘ if I know one platform, I know them all’ mentality. The features of one platform can vary widely from another. You can know one platform like the back of your hand and still face multiple problems with another. Every time you are asked to join a meeting on a new platform, make sure to do your homework on that specific platform before the meeting.
Avoid background distractions
Sometimes we put a lot of effort to ensure the platform won’t give us any trouble during the conference call, but we still end up causing a distraction and diverting the focus of the other attendees. This happens if the attendees are looking at our messy room instead of us, or if the lighting in our room is too harsh. Sometimes family members are not aware of our meeting and keep interrupting us. If these distractions persist throughout the meeting, people tend to stop taking you seriously.
To avoid this, first, make sure to clean and organise the room you’ll be seated in during the meeting. A messy room gives the impression that you are not taking the meeting seriously. Secondly, try to pick out a wall which is plain, or preferably a bookshelf as your background. Make sure that there is nothing inappropriate in your background, such as posters of any kind.
If you cannot arrange for a space with an appropriate background for your meeting, it is advisable to use a virtual background. While choosing your virtual backdrop, try not to pick one with extremely bright colours or too many shapes. Choose one which is simple, sober and adds to your professional value.
Inform all your family members or roommates about your conference call beforehand, so that they don’t disturb you whilst it’s going on. Close your windows so that noise from outside does not distract you and other attendees. Try not to sit in a place where the lighting is too bright or harsh.
Imagine how odd it would look, if a person has a neat and professional-looking background, but they’re attending the conference in their sleeping suit and with uncombed hair. It completely negates the ‘work’ part of ‘work-from-home’.
People will analyze you according to your appearance even before you get a chance to speak. They might overlook or underestimate you during the meeting if they deem you to be lacking seriousness. Later, even if you prove yourself to be resourceful and efficient, they might continue to hold a bias against you.
When you have a conference call scheduled, get dressed for it as you would if you were going to your office. Iron your clothes properly. Pick out outfits that are decent and sober. Comb your hair and style it appropriately. Do not give any opportunity for complaint or misjudgment.
Make eye contact
If the meeting requires you to keep your cameras on, always maintain eye contact with the speaker. If you are the speaker, make eye contact with each attendee and change your focus from time to time, as you would if you were speaking on a stage.
Eye contact gives an air of confidence for the speaker, and an impression of concentration for the listener. Which means that as a speaker, if you make eye contact with the other attendees, you come across as confident and prepared with whatever topic you’re discussing. As a listener, eye contact and an occasional nod is a reassurance to the speaker that you are paying attention to what they are saying.
Another benefit of making eye contact with the other attendees is that this helps you avoid looking at yourself during the meeting. Often, when we focus on ourselves during a video conference, we become too conscious of ourselves.
We are constantly checking to see if we are sitting properly, or if our facial expressions look weird. We end up losing track of what’s going on in the meeting. So try not to look at yourself during the meeting. Just be natural and confident, and remember to make eye contact.
Use visual media
When you are the presenter during a video conference, prepare several visual aids to support the topic you are addressing. This can include a PowerPoint presentation that highlights all the points being discussed, bar graphs and pie charts, as well as images, audio, and videos that help explain your point better.
For instance, if you are conducting a seminar for teachers on how to make online classes more effective, make a presentation highlighting all the measures being talked about. Perhaps you can show a video of an ideal online classroom to solidify your point further.
These visuals can make the meeting more engaging and will make it easier for you to put your point across to all the members attending. If possible, you can also incorporate a few minutes of interactive sessions between the meeting or at the end of it. The feeling of being an active participant in the meeting will increase the concentration of those attending.
Humans are adaptive to almost any change in their social environment. It might take them a while to get adjusted, but eventually, they overcome their challenges and conquer any platform they are on.
Online meetings might seem inefficient and confusing as compared to face-to-face interactions, but adopting certain changes can make them just as effective, if not more. For example, it is easier to display visual media in an online meeting than it is in an offline interaction. Moreover, online meetings allow more people to attend. An online seminar can incorporate hundreds of attendees, with no trouble of finding a spacious venue.
So make the most of these opportunities. Be professional in your choice of background as well as your outfits. Prepare what you are going to present beforehand, and use visual media while presenting them.
Try not to look nervous. Make eye contact and point your across with confidence and a smile. Give adequate pauses after each topic to allow people to give their input without talking over you. Keep a list of pointers of the topic at hand with you while presenting, so that you don’t forget what you’re saying midway.
Remember. Treat online conferences as you would any other meeting. In the end, you need to show up on time, be professional, and give it your best.
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