Web Conferencing Tips – Part 1: Before the Meeting
June 10, 2008 @ 06:00 AM | By Dan Uhlmeyer
When I’m on an audio conference call or web meeting, there is nothing more frustrating than hearing background conversations, keyboards pounding, instant messaging chimes or simply “dead air.” It always makes me question my content and delivery style. What would I be doing if this information was being presented to me this way?”
Multi-tasking avoidance is one small hurdle you need to overcome when leading virtual web meetings. Sure, you can mute the person’s line but what is the point if they are not listening? At the end of the day, people are going to multi-task if you don’t give them a reason to stay engaged. I know this because I’m often guilty of it. Heck, none of us would get our jobs done if we didn’t do a little multi-tasking. However, you wouldn’t have invited these people to your meeting if you didn’t need their input, so you’ve got to make sure you can keep them tuned in.
Be the Engaging Teacher
I think back to a boring high school class where the teacher brought nothing to the table other than bold copy from the school issued text book. This was the perfect time to doodle in spiral notebooks, stare out the window or cram for an exam in a completely different subject. I didn’t need to pay attention to that particular teacher because the only requirement for acing this class was bold print memorization in the comforts of my own home.
In my professional life, it is very likely my web conferencing participants are doing the same thing. They know I’m going to email the documents, meeting notes and maybe even a recording of the meeting after it ends. So, why should they listen now when they have 150+ emails sitting in their inbox?
1. Ask Yourself ‘Will I show something worth looking at?’
How do I know when to use an audio conference call and when to add web? I’ve been in Web Conferencing for eight years and I am also the product manager for a Web Conferencing service. So, pretty much every meeting is a Web Conference for me. But if you have folks join the web – you need to show them more than a participant list! If you don’t, folks will most certainly bring up other windows
So when should you enhance your audio conferencing with a web conference? I say anytime your discussion is centered around:
- Pre-existing content or documentation
- Collaboration on a document, idea or concept
- Desktop tool / online application review or demonstration
- Future action items and take-ways
2. Be Considerate When Scheduling
When at all possible, be a considerate scheduler. Don’t expect an audience that is rushed or under pressure to be highly engaged or interactive. I do not schedule outside the normal business hours of my participants without asking I’m always cognizant of time zone, individuals pre-existing meetings and lunch hours. Even though many people eat at their desks these days, I try to avoid competing with food.
I also try to avoid scheduling meetings that would create “back to back” scheduled meetings for my participants.
InterCall Web Meeting integrates with Outlook so you can easily check everyone’s calendar prior to sending out the invitation.
3. Don’t be a Meeting Spammer
Yes, I also fear the “Why wasn’t I included in that meeting?” question. However, try to avoid inviting the world to your virtual meetings just because InterCall Web Meeting will allow up to 3000 participants. Don’t get me wrong, there is a strong need for webinars and large presentations, and a ton of features to keep event participants engaged. But if the goal of the meeting is collaboration and gathering feedback, lots of irrelevant bystanders may water down the effectiveness. By the way, these flies on the wall are usually the ones creating all of the background noise.
Also consider this - people may be less apt to participate in discussions with a larger group. Spend some time figuring out who really needs to be there and schedule accordingly. For those on the fence, you can provide the recording, meeting notes etc and schedule follow up discussions if necessary. Everyone wins in this scenario.
4. Plan Ahead
Sometimes it pays to be a “glass half empty” thinker, from a technical perspective. Have a back up plan in the event your network or home office connection is down or your computer is not cooperating. What would you do if you are unable to run the meeting from your laptop or PC? Knowing the power of web conferencing, I would say reschedule. If that is not an option, make sure you:
Have an electronic copy of the documents you plan to share available for emailing.
Send final docs to a colleague for them to forward on in the event your computer crashes
If you are dealing with a new audience, send out a link to pre-install any needed software. It is better to troubleshoot compatibility issues prior to the meeting versus at meeting time. Many platforms, including InterCall Web Meeting, offer a “light” client for participants that can not install software
Determine if there are service limitations prior to creating content for your meeting. For instance, check to see how the service treats PowerPoint animation before you spend time creating a PowerPoint.
This is more about keeping your audience engaged EARLY. If you lose them in the beginning due to technical issues, it may be tough to recover.
In my next post, I’ll delve into the actual meeting and how you to keep your audience engaged. So, make sure you subscribe via RSS feed or email and please feel free to post or email your comments or questions to me – I’ll be happy to get you some answers!
Dan Uhlmeyer is a Sr. Product Manager and the "Web Conferencing" blogger. He has over eight years of product experience in Web Conferencing and currently manages InterCall Web Meeting, InterCall’s proprietary unified communications tool. When not punching on the keyboard, you can find Dan enjoying time with his wife and two children or running a marathon.