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Moving your offline meetings online

23 March 2020: Della Hudson is a veteran of running online courses and webinars and she shares her tips to help businesses using the technology for the first time.

With face-to-face contact restricted due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, what is the difference between online and offline meetings? Many businesses are already ‘digital first’ but, for some, it may be time to experiment. There are various free platforms available and some which are worth paying for.

Steve Briginshaw, founder of Clarity HQ says, “Before I sold my accounting firm in 2015, I used Skype, and later Zoom, for online meetings with UK and worldwide clients, which was about 50% of all meetings.

“Online meetings are great for convenience and time saving, for both parties, and I tend to have Zoom video calls now instead of phone calls because I feel the human connection is so much better.”

As a first-time organiser you may wish to practise first and get used to the technology by holding an online test meeting with a colleague. Will you speak directly to them (face to camera) or will you want to share your screen or use a whiteboard to explain something? Test all this before you send out the first invitation. You may also want to record your meeting which will save you taking notes.

One of the limitations of online meetings is the ability to share videos as the upload speed of most domestic broadband services is much slower than the download and so may result in “buffering” (when the video freezes or stutters)

Reminders for the host:

  • Log in ahead of time to check the technology, camera and microphone.
  • Shut down all windows except any screens that you plan to share.
  • If bandwidth is a problem, then ask other home users to stop playing videos and music for the duration of your meeting.
  • Start the meeting on time and adopt the level of formality that you would face to face.
  • Don’t forget to switch on your microphone.
  • Smile while you speak, even if people can’t see you it will affect the way you sound.
  • Don’t forget to press record if that is your plan.
  • You may have to chair the meeting quite rigorously if people try to speak over one another.

Reminders for first-time attendees (you may wish to send these out ahead of time):

  • Log in ahead of time to check the technology, camera and microphone if you’ve never used the software before. Even if you have then log in and test a few minutes before the meeting is due to start.
  • Keep mic on mute when not speaking.
  • Minimise background noise. You may want an “on air” sign to warn family not to walk in.
  • Software picks up the sound from one speaker at a time so your background noise may force the main speaker on mute.
  • Dress appropriately for the meeting.
  • Remember that you can be seen even when not speaking.

For internal meetings you can be less formal but with clients you will want to look more professional and not as if you’re winging it in unprecedented circumstances. There are a few things that you can do to make the most of your videos:

  • Ensure good lighting on your face.
  • Place your camera at the right height to be flattering.
  • Ensure that you have a tidy background. Some online tools have ‘background blurring’ functionality which can help. 
  • You can use the computer’s built-in mic and camera in your laptop, but external ones will provide even better quality.

For larger events it may be worth paying to upgrade your software for a larger audience. Briginshaw found a recent web event was hugely oversubscribed. “This could be for a couple of reasons,” he commented. “More people are available online due to COVID-19, the topic or both.” With more businesses working from home you may find that your attendance is higher than usual as clients are desperate for information and advice.

For large audiences it is helpful to have somebody else to monitor the technology while you present so that you’re not trying to multitask. They can filter questions and deal with any attendees with tech problems.

If you haven’t tried online meetings before then now is a good time to start and sustain your practice through challenging times.

For advice for those working from home because of coronavirus (COVID-19) click here.

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