Written by Nathaniel Stevens, Esq.
It’s becoming clear that Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms will continue to be used as a replacement for face-to-face meetings, and for longer than first anticipated when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Knowing how to effectively run or participate in virtual meetings is increasingly important.
As the novelty wears off and people gain experience with video-meeting platforms, there is a greater expectation that each host or participant will be competent to run or take part in any kind of virtual session, whether court proceeding, business meeting, public hearing, seminar, or otherwise.
Regardless whether your meeting is on Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, Verizon’s BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams, or another software platform, you are expected to be seen and heard while seeing and hearing what is going on in the meeting.
Here are some tips to make you a better meeting host or participant. Let’s start with group meetings. Later articles will give tips for public hearings, depositions, negotiations, court hearings and trials.
Test Your Setup Well Ahead of the Event
- Create or find a quiet place where you are least likely to be disturbed.
- Make sure your internet connection is strong. Moving closer to or connecting with an ethernet cable to your WiFi router can help strengthen and make more reliable your connection.
- Turn on your laptop or mobile device’s camera to check what others can see in the background.
- Test any virtual background you want to use because it can have a glitch at the last minute.
- Try for a clean, noncontroversial, and uncluttered background without distractions. If this is challenging in your physical space, consider using a virtual background that meets these criteria.
- Particularly avoid the appearance of background objects projecting out of or through your head.
- Test your microphone and speakers, earbuds, or headset that you plan to use. Be sure they are plugged in or sufficiently charged to operate through the meeting.
- Your camera should be just above or below eye level and between two and four feet from your face, so that it is easy to maintain eye contact. The farther away, the more of your body is visible as would be the case in an in-person meeting.
Arrange Your Room, Lighting, and “Quiet on the Set”
- Lighting is critical to properly show your face so you don’t appear as a shadow or with the dreaded Zoom double-chin. The primary light source should be above and in front of you. If you wear glasses, be wary of reflections in your lenses.
- Close curtains or blinds on windows behind or beside you which, if open, will make you appear as a shadow.
- Setting up proper lighting takes time.
- Check that you have adequate bandwidth for your internet connection to maintain video and audio throughout the event. This might mean scheduling internet use with others in your household or adjusting your router’s settings to prioritize the device you are using.
- If you have limited bandwidth, instruct others sharing your internet to avoid them massive downloading a season of Game of Thrones or setting their own virtual meetings at the same time as yours. This might also mean upgrading the speed of your internet service, which could take time to do.
Just Before the Event Begins
- Double-check your set-up, especially your lighting.
- Plug in your laptop or other mobile device.
- Have any meeting materials, whether printed or on another screen, as close to your meeting screen as possible so you can look at them without turning away from your camera, especially if you are presenting or speaking.
- If you are presenting and will be sharing your screen, close any programs and program windows that you will not be using, and neaten up your desktop in case the screen sharing inadvertently shows these things.
- If you are presenting, have a glass of water within reach in case its needed, but not so close as to ruin your computer or mobile device if it spills.
- Silence or mute any other devices you have nearby, such as your phone, just as you would do if you were attending a meeting in person. Put your phone away and don’t look at it during the meeting, unless there is a specific meeting-related reason for you to check it.
- Dress appropriately for the meeting – and fully dress in case you have to stand up!
Don’t be Late
- If you are hosting, send participants a reminder of the meeting and login information 15 – 30 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin, even if you originally scheduled the meeting by a meeting invite with all that info. It will serve as a reminder and help participants arrive on time by not having to search for the original invitation.
- If you are a participant, log in to the meeting several minutes before it is scheduled to begin. This allows time for you to submit the passcode and any credentials, and allow any last-minute internet or technology hiccups to be addressed. Get familiar with the format.
- If you are a host, log in even earlier to be sure all the settings and meeting controls are as you want to set them. This is especially important if you share an account with other users. Logging in early also allows you to allow participants to join as they log in (if that control is on), and help participants with any technical issues or if they are new to the platform.
- Arriving late to a virtual meeting is bad form, and noticeable with a virtual meeting platform which counts the number of participants and rearranges everyone else’s screen as you enter the meeting. Some platforms are set to ring a bell or announce your name as you enter, so you cannot do so quietly.
At the Beginning of the Meeting
- As you enter the meeting, be sure to start your video as well as your audio. If you’re not using audio over the internet, call in to the meeting by phone.
- If you are telephoning in for meeting audio instead of through your video device, inform the host as you may appear to the host as two separate participants (your video and your phone).
- If you’re using a virtual background, be sure that it is appropriate to you and the event. Also check that both you and it are displaying properly, not making you look like you’re using a transporter from Star Trek, which can be distracting. Regardless, if you move around, your image may flicker and be incomplete.
- Wait for instructions from the meeting host about how the meeting will proceed using the platform, such as whether you will be automatically muted, whether you should use a “raise your hand” function if you wish to say something, whether the “chat” function will be used, or whether you will be able to share your screen.
During the Meeting
- When you speak, try to look at your camera as much as possible rather than the other participants’ images on your screen. This is because the other participants see you through your camera rather than their eyes as shown on your screen.
- As in a real meeting, maintaining eye contact other than for occasional glances at your notes is critical to appearing credible and convincing.
- When you speak, speak at a steady pace and with a strong voice. Speak too quickly or too softly and the software may cut you off if it hears a sound from another user. Speak too slowly or with long pauses and you may put others to sleep or get interrupted.
- When you are not speaking, mute yourself. This will make it easier to handle documents and mask any unanticipated interruption. Just be sure to “un-mute” yourself when you have something to say.
- Remember that your video is on and others can see you even when you are not active in the event; stay focused and avoid checking your phone.
- Refrain from eating during the meeting. You should appear focused on the meeting, not on satiating your hunger. Drinking occasionally from a non-descript (non-alcoholic) beverage container is acceptable.
- Refrain from touching your face or leaning your elbow on your desk. With most cameras capturing just your neck and face rather than your whole body, such gestures are magnified and distracting where they would not be in an in-person meeting.
Following these tips will let you be and appear to be focused and involved in your event. This will allow you to be more efficient and effective for a shorter, better meeting. Some people are coming to enjoy virtual meetings even more than the old-fashioned, in-person kind!