Video Conference Tips

Personal Habits for More Successful Video Meetings

I spend a lot of time leading video meetings. These are a few really useful tricks I have found.

As a Leader

1. Push to Talk

Think of your audio like a handheld walkie talkie. Unmute to speak, mute when you’re done. A lot of people have a lot of unexepcted possible noise in their background (kids, hungry cats, spouses also working from home, mobile phones, etc.) Just stay on mute.

2. Say Their Name Early

If you need someone to answer a question or offer their opinion, say their name early before you start your question. They will pay attention more and they will hear the question better, and they will have found their mute button by the time it’s their turn to talk.

Bad: So I was looking at the data and I think we have fewer widgets this month than we had last month. How does the data look on your side, Wendy?

Good: Wendy, I'm looking at our data and I wonder if I can compare with yours. We are seeing fewer widgets this month than we had last month. What does it look like on your side?

3. One to One Most of the Time

Call on specific people to answer specific questions. Don’t open up to the floor broadly. “Does anyone have anything to add to this?” or “Does anyone have any questions?”. You can quickly lose control if there’s lots of comments, or you can find people making things up to fill in the uncomfortable silence.

This habit also supports inclusion and diversity. By being in control of who takes the floor, you can make sure some voices that might not normally be heard get heard. If there’s someone who doesn’t usually speak up, or if you want to make sure that certain members of the team get to have their voice heard, this habit helps.

In small groups you can go down the participant list and ask each person (if it’s a small enough group). Be mindful of time, though. This only works for small groups or situations where every single person really might need to comment.

4. Use the Chat for Questions

Many people can be a bit more articulate in typing than they might be verbally. If you have people who are not fluent in English (or whatever language you’re doing your call in), they might be able to write a question more clearly than they can say it.

Encourage people to type questions into the chat. This let’s you do 2 things: 1. you can prioritise and answer the most important or interesting ones first. If you run out of time, you only miss low-value questions. 2. You might see questions get answered by other people. It can actually speed things up. If someone types in chat “What’s the link to the document we are reading?” another participant might just answer, giving you more time to think.

5. Don’t Fear Silence

For whatever reason, people might not have done all they need to do before the meeting. Don’t be afraid to put a document up on the screen or paste a link into the chat and say “we are all going to sit here quietly and read.” Fluent readers (e.g., adults) can read as much as 300 words per minute. If you have a 1000-word story that you want them to read and discuss, you can do that during the meeting. This is a particularly common activity at Amazon. Spending 5 or even 10 minutes on it should allow everyone time to read it.

Give people time when there’s nothing being said, so they can think and reflect. It’s OK to say “For the next minute or so, I’m going to be quiet. If you have a question, type it in the chat.”

6. Learn to Mute Others

Many platforms allow the leader/owner of the session to mute other participants. Some (like Amazon Chime) allow any participant to mute any other. The free-for-all attitude is mainly useful for reasonable adults. If you have children, you probably don’t want to allow them to mute the teacher :). As the leader be aggressive about muting anyone who introduces background noise. Don’t wait to see if it gets worse (it will). Don’t be shy and don’t think it’s rude to mute people, if you’re leading, it’s helpful.

7. Mute Your Stuff, Hide Notifications

Since you’re leading, mute everything, especially if you have to use your built-in computer mic. Sometimes your mic will pick up the dings of your mobile phone, your email coming in, instant messages popping up, etc.

During your presentation, you might want to quit any programs that might pop up notifications. If you’re screen-sharing some slides and you don’t need email running, quit them. Shut the browser window, exit Outlook, whatever. If you’ve got Slack or Teams or some other instant messenger, disable it while you screen share. Participants might see messages they shouldn’t.

The folks at RescueTime have a whole blog on how to disable notifications which gives instructions for lots of devices (Windows, Mac, iPhones, Android).

8. Think About How You Share Your Screen

If you’re lucky enough to have more than one screen, use one for sharing and one for working. Take everything off that screen except what you want to share.

If you don’t have more than one screen, minimise and hide everything but the program you will need (documents, slides, etc). Consider quitting things that might use up CPU and or network resources in the background (music, web sites, videos, etc).

As a Participant

1. Again, Push to Talk

The vast majority of the time, you are not talking. In a balanced 1-to-1 meeting, you might talk 50% of the time. In all other scenarios where you’re not the leader, you talk less than that. So mute yourself.

2. Get a headset

Almost ANY headset will do. Even if you have headphones that don’t have a microphone, use them with your built-in computer microphone. The vast majority of feedback and audio problems come from open mics and speakers. People with headsets don’t introduce feedback. You’ll also hear better.

3. Don’t use Bluetooth

This is my personal opinion. But the audio lag from bluetooth headphones means that you look like a bad Kung-Fu movie. The movement of your lips and the audio I hear won’t be matched up very well. And Bluetooth headsets can disrupt conversations in a lot of ways: their batteries can die, they can unexpectedly disconnect, and they might not work well with your video software. If you can afford a Bluetooth headset, you can afford a wired one because wires cost a fraction of Bluetooth. The experience is better for everyone.

4. Maybe You Don’t Need Video

If you’re having trouble hearing and if the quality of the session is bad, and if your video is not important, stop sending video. If you’re having connection issues, video is your first go-to. Turn it off and see if things improve. Likewise for their video. If you’re looking at someone’s screen share, and you’re receiving video from other participants, you can disable the other people’s video and free up some bandwidth for the screenshare.

5. Put the Jackhammer Away

If you’ve got one of those really loud keyboards, don’t type while your mic is open. It’s super disruptive. If you’re using a laptop, the microphone is physically connected to the keyboard. So typing while the microphone is open is really loud. Just don’t type unless you’re on mute.

6. Find the Exit Button Before You Say Goodbye

Again, just a little social grace. Maybe it’s only important to me. But I always hover my mouse over the Exit button as I’m saying goodbye. That way, I can say “It was great talking to you, have a good weekend, bye bye” and hang up immediately. Just like I would do on the telephone.

Did I miss any?

You can ping me in the comments. Which are really Mastodon, which is better than Twitter in a bunch of ways.

"online meeting - 2017" by dt4lt is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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