What to consider when pivoting to virtual?

Virtual meetings have been part of our lives for many years. In recent years the popularity of digital meeting tools has increased tremendously. These tools are easier to use than before and offer more and more functionalities.

As companies scramble to protect their employees from the spreading Coronavirus with remote work arrangements, travel restrictions but also limitations in allowed attendance of live meetings, virtual meetings have become even more popular than before.

But with the increased popularity it also turns out that people are struggling with organizing or attending an online meeting. At Parthen we have created a new service: Virtual Meeting Support. This service will give you practical advice as well as tips and tricks but also offer more extensive services like a helpdesk, technical co-host/concierge services, and hardware setup rental.

How to organize or attend a virtual meeting successfully?

  • Design your meeting

What is the purpose and design of your meeting? Attendees often interpret virtual meetings as a license to multi-task. And it is not uncommon for one or two attendees to dominate the meeting while others sit back and tune out.

Ensure that the outcomes of your event meet your goals. The goal will dictate the structure and virtual meeting tools that will be the most effective. For instance, if learning is the objective, you may introduce a gamification component or fun game show element to your virtual meeting. On the other hand, if brainstorming is what you are looking for, you may focus on virtual meeting software designed to capture ideas such as mind-mapping tools,

Set clear objectives and send a pre-read if appropriate. During the session, use an agenda or program time table, set meeting ground rules, take breaks, and clearly outline the next steps after each section and at the end of the meeting.

 

  • Use video

It might sound like a no-brainer. To make people feel like they are all attending the same meeting, use video conferencing rather than conventional dial-ins. Technology such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting etc. helps to personalize.

 

  • Provide an audio dial-in option

Although there is a strong preference for video conferencing, it does rely on a strong Internet connection that may not always be available. Attendees need the ability to participate via audio, but make it clear that video-first is the new norm.

 

  • Infrastructure

It seems obvious, but it is very important. What infrastructure is needed? Not only for all participants of a virtual meeting but especially for organizations, moderators and speakers it is extremely important to have a stable internet connection, preferably wired.

Use equipment with a working camera and audio. Whereas for attendees the camera and microphone of the device itself is good enough, it is different for moderators and speakers since a higher standard is demanded there. It is important to avoid background noise. A directional microphone in the set up helps.

The same applies to light. Enough light is necessary. Both too much and too little light will prevent you from being clearly visible. Avoid light from the background like windows and do not sit in bright daylight. At the evening any normal lamp will aid the visibility. Even better are softbox video lights.

For more professional equipment we can advise you and even have hardware kits for rental available.

 

  • Test the technology ahead of time

Nothing kills the momentum at the start of a meeting like a delay because people need to download software, can’t get the video to work, the sound is not working properly, etc. Prior to a meeting all participants, but especially speakers and moderators, should test the technology and make sure they are comfortable with the major features.

  • Audio transcription and video recording

Many digital meeting tools offer audio transcription and the possibility to record the meeting. Audio transcription means that all spoken text is typed by the application itself during the virtual meeting or presentation. The recording ensures that images are also captured. This enables the possibility to share presentations afterward but also ensures that there can never be any uncertainty afterward about agreements made during the meeting.

 

  • Dress code

Preferably business or business casual, depending on the usual dress code for that event. Colors are allowed, but to avoid distraction rather than no patterns, stripes, or checkered clothing. Busy shirts, as well as large shiny jewelry, do not transmit well on video conferencing platforms.

Suggest to participants that they wear basic colors against a neutral background for best speeds.

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  • Test the technology ahead of time

Nothing kills the momentum at the start of a meeting like a delay because people need to download software, can’t get the video to work, the sound is not working properly, etc. Prior to a meeting all participants, but especially speakers and moderators, should test the technology and make sure they are comfortable with the major features.

 

  • Avoid distractions

You can easily be distracted during a video meeting. E.g. by a mobile phone or other programs that are open in the browser. These tips can help to increase concentration:

  • Switch your mobile phone to silent, or even better to airport mode
  • Close programs on your computer which you don’t need during the meeting
  • If possible, sit in a room without colleagues, family, other housemates or pets
  • Mute your microphone when you are not speaking, so not every noise distracts other attendees or even makes the screen jump.
  • Use a chat box function to field questions.

 

  • Insist on eye contact for stronger connections

Video conferences are more effective when people can see each other’s facial expressions and body language. Ask participants to sit close to their webcam to help to recreate the intimacy of an in-person meeting. While this seems like a small thing, by doing so everyone on the virtual meeting will feel as if they are facing one another instead of their peers looking off into the distance at their screen. This small suggestion makes a big difference in helping people feel connected to one another. Seeing everyone’s face side-by-side will further cement the team element.

Non-verbal communication will be lost when not seeing someone’s face.

You may also want to ask participants to identify themselves by name when they say something. Even though you are using video, it is possible for screens to be frozen and some participants may be relying more heavily on the audio component.

 

  • The angle of the camera

Everybody knows that a view from below with a view of somebody’s underside of a face is not very flattering, so the angle of the camera during a video call is very important. At least you don’t want that in a business meeting. Yet many used devices like a laptop, a tablet, or phone are when placed on a desk in a lower position which gives that result. So make sure that the camera is positioned in advance so that it looks directly at your face. Use an adjustable stand or simply put a box or some books underneath to place it likes this.

Especially for moderators and speakers, we advise to use a standalone camera, or even multiple cameras to switch and enable a more lively presentation.

 

  • Background

The background determines the tone of your conversation. If there is a distracting background like moving people or objects, disorganized closets, etc. it will lead the attention away from your presentation. Make sure you are in the middle of the camera and that no objects in the background create strange situations with your head. Various services offer standard virtual backgrounds, or you can upload an image to be used as a background.

For moderators and speakers, it might be useful to use a green screen. This makes it possible to give a webinar with a fictitious background. You can use an image or video as a background.

 

  • Use multiple monitors

When using a computer or laptop it is very useful to connect a second monitor. By using two screens you can open and share documents on one screen, but you can also continue to see the other participants in the meeting on the other screen.

 

  • Assign a facilitator

It is usually harder to manage a virtual discussion than an in-person one. It is helpful to assign one individual to guide the conversation. This is meeting concierge allows the other participants to focus on the content. The facilitator should be able to resolve basic questions on the technology being used, but can also use a polling system on certain questions and ensure that all voices are heard. Gathering and processing input during a virtual meeting can be challenging, especially since visual cues are harder to read. Therefore it is wise to use a separate polling tool, separate from the video conference to avoid disrupting the meeting.

 

  • Share files and/or screen

A very useful function that many meeting tools offer is the ability to share media, rather than sending files. Documents, images, videos, presentations or even the entire desktop can be shared with the other participants easily. Many systems offer a whiteboard function that is useful to present or even if you have to create something together.

Nevertheless, one of the most common problems which occur is when the person who is supposed to share their screen or files is unable to do so. While screen sharing is a very engaging and practical way to keep the attention, it is wise when the virtual meeting facilitator will have copies of the data content being shared ahead of time. In this way, it can be shared by the facilitator even when screen sharing is difficult or impossible.

 

  • Virtual experience for your attendees

Of course it is impossible to create a similar experience to a live meeting. You cannot replace the experience of visiting the host city. You cannot replace the experience the personal meetings at networking opportunities at coffee breaks, lunches, drinks, and diner. A virtual meeting is simply different than a live meeting.

Nevertheless, you have to create a similar experience for all virtual attendees. The idea is that a similar experience for everyone across the globe at the same time is transcendent, to feel the power of the global connection and their community.

Sending a participant package for online attendees to their home or office addresses in advance of the meeting helps to create their virtual experience.

 

  • Pricing

Many organizations are struggling these what pricing they should use, compared to what they asked for when they were organizing a live meeting.

Some intend to do it for free. Please do not forget that ‘when it is costs nothing, it is worth nothing’ in many opinions.

Some intend to ask for the full fare compared to the live event. You might justify this since there is way more content available for a virtual attendee than there is at a live event. Where a live attendee can only visit one breakout session at the time, it is possible for the virtual attendee to see all breakout sessions at a time it suits (of course when all these sessions are recorded and published). So basically that means more content for the same price.

The majority of the organizations though intend to price somewhere in between, mostly around 50-70% of the fare for the live event.

Important is to justify a price that suits the content you are providing at the virtual meeting.

And furthermore ...

  • Video in start

Make sure you have a video (or more videos) ready, just in case something goes wrong like a speaker loses connection during his presentation. In that case, you can play the video and buy you some time. This way your audience is still engaged.

For keynote presentations and other important presentations, it is wise to have a tryout the presentation on beforehand and record this. It is not only very helpful to practice the presentation, but in case there are technical issues and a speaker loses connection, the recorded presentation can be used instead.

 

  • Length of meeting

Minimize the presentation length. The only thing worse than a long presentation in person is a long presentation during a virtual meeting. It is way harder to stay focused during a virtual meeting. As a speaker or moderator, you like to keep the attention of the attendee.

If someone needs to present, use screen sharing to guide the conversation, so attendees can literally “be on the same page”. It also helps to provide background information on beforehand.

 

  • Make it interactive

Here are a few tips on how to make sure everyone on the virtual meeting is engaged. It depends on the kind of virtual meeting through which tips are or rather not so much applicable to you.

 

  • Start with a musical intro or a video and begin the conversation as soon as the moderator logs on. This will ensure people are an active part of the meeting from the beginning. It sets the tone for contribution, not muted listening.
  • Have each participant introduce themselves and ask them to share something no one else will believe (obviously this is hard to do when there are many attendees)
  • Make sure everybody gets a copy of the program or agenda ahead of time and then ask people to submit questions and comments in the chatbox or via email before the meeting begins. Be specific on the agenda about roles and assignments. If there is something you want everyone prepared to discuss, place that on the agenda.
  • Use polls early to illustrate that this will be an interactive meeting, not one where you’re there to sit and listen only.
  • Encourage social media sharing or tweeting if the content allows (i.e., it’s not a company-unveiling or other privileged information).
  • Throw in the occasional funny poll to see who’s paying attention (such as what should the CEO go as for an upcoming costume party? If you’re worried about sarcastic comments you can give multiple-choice options).
  • Some funny physical exercise or task all together works even better. It will create bonding among the virtual audience and give the enlighten during the more serious presentations.
  • Show poll or survey answers in real-time.
  • Cater lunch in for all participants (if you are in the same time zone). If lunch might be too complicated at least have some breaks together, like a coffee break. If you are not in the same time zone this might be the morning coffee break for one attendee, but the afternoon drink for the other.
  • If you have a light-hearted culture, occasionally during the virtual meeting “spotlight” one of your attendees on everyone’s screen. This idea is similar to what they do at sporting events when they show someone on the big screen in the stadium. It will ensure everyone stays at attention. No one wants to be shown on the big screen asleep.
  • Call out particular participants and ask their opinion on what’s being discussed, even by virtually “going around the table”
  • Use software that is fun to use and allows for social sentiments like giving “thumbs up” to something someone said.
  • Create a video collage of all participants when there’s a discussion going on.
  • Use an element of gamification to encourage participation such as a leaderboard of ideas shared.
  • Enable personal chat. This may make some meeting planners worried but one of the best ways to ensure people stay engaged is to help them connect with one another.
  • Promote discussion though a facilitator and open-ended questions. “Report-out” style should not be used in virtual meetings. They are boring and provide an excuse to zone out.
  • Set the expectation for the environment you want. For instance, if you want every problem to be followed with a proposed solution, make that a stipulation for bringing up an issue. The open it up for others.
  • Lead by example. Especially, if you are a moderator or a speaker, but also if there are a group of attendees (like employees or colleagues) at one location with you, remember their eyes are on you (and management) too. Don’t let them see you checking emails and leaving the room for a drink or a stroll around the office.
  • Mute is sometimes a necessity when someone is presenting an idea and there is a lot of background noise at different locations. However, if this is necessary, encourage people to place comments in the chatbox and read them at the time. If possible, don’t save them until the end when the conversation or point loses some of its shine, Instead, present them as they’re happening as long as they are on topic.
  • Assign tasks during the meeting, such as “when we get to this, remind me of this.” These sorts of things will ensure multiple people are following along.


Which service to use?

There are many digital meeting tools available. Most of them have free and paid versions available, of which the paid version obviously offers more possibilities. Most systems can be used on Windows as well as macOS and on smartphones with Android or iOS. We have listed the most popular digital meeting tools.

 

Zoom

  • Available in Basic (free) and Pro (paid)
  • Host up to 100 participants
  • Basic limits on 40 minutes on group meetings
  • Pro limits on 24 hours
  • No Zoom account required to join a video call, but participants will need to download before they can join
  • Screen sharing
  • Ability to chat
  • Virtual background possible
  • Multiple views possible
  • Record meetings (Pro version only)

 

GoToMeeting

  • Available in Professional and Business (both paid)
  • Free 14 day trial
  • Host up to 150 participants (Professional) or 250 participants (Business)
  • No limitation on the duration of the meeting
  • Unlimited meetings
  • Screen sharing
  • Ability to chat
  • Record meetings

 

Cisco Webex Meetings

  • Available in Free, Starter (paid) and Plus (paid)
  • Host up to 100 participants
  • No limitation on the duration of the meeting
  • Unlimited meetings
  • Screen sharing
  • Multiple views possible
  • Record meetings (paid versions only)

 

Microsoft Teams

  • Part of Microsoft Office 365, which many people have access to through their employer
  • Primarily intended for B2B use
  • Screen sharing
  • Ability to chat
  • Virtual background possible
  • Maximum 4 participants clearly visible
  • Record meetings needs a paid subscription

 

Google Meet

  • User must have a Google account
  • Session must be started by paying user
  • Host up to 250 participants
  • Limits on 60 minutes on group meetings
  • Screen sharing
  • Ability to chat
  • Record meetings


Need help?

Free service:

Practical advice and Checklist
Practical guidelines on how to make your decisions on your virtual meeting and your online presentation. List, how-to tips, comparisons, and things not to forget are offered on our website. Of course, there are limitations to what we share in written text, just drop us a note, and we’ll help you with questions or a challenge you might have.

Services:

Helpdesk / PA / Digital Lifeguard (per 15 minutes) 55 EUR/hour
Quick help questions regarding settings and set up, features of Zoom, Goto Meeting, and other platforms and setting up meetings, inviting and onboarding participants.

Zoom operator/ Technical Co-host / In meeting concierge 55 EUR/hour
Whether you need on-site assistance or a remote technical co-host, we provide excellent service so that you can focus on your participants and get your message across. Whether it is about participants who can not access the platform or a hick-up in your internet connection, the operator is there to assist and make sure your participants have the best possible experience (min 2 hours).

Use of Zoom / Gotomeeting /WebEx Pro accounts included*
Are you using these services only once or once in a while? Then we can set you the meeting for you, and you have all the Pro features at your disposal.  

Hardware rental:

Rental kit 250 EUR/day**

  • Zoom Q2n camera (4k)
    This is the ultimate camera for musicians and video recorders and can be used as a webcam. With high-resolution 24-bit/96 kHz audio, a 160-degree wide-angle lens, ten lightings presets, and an ultra-portable design, the Q2n captures beautiful audio and video in any setting.
  • Tripod
    A tripod is used to stabilize and elevate a camera. All photographic tripods have three legs and a mounting head to couple with a camera.
  • Rode desk microphone
    A highly versatile side-address microphone is ideal for recording any kind of vocals with all mainstream recording applications, as well as video calls or online presentations. A premium pop-filter is included, which fits onto the base of the mic, positioning the filter the ideal distance from the capsule to minimize plosives during the speech. The microphone can be connected via USB to your computer. No additional software needed.
  • 2 x Soft box video lights
    A Softbox is a box built around a continuous light source, made of reflective internal material, and a diffusion panel in front of it to reduce the harshness of the light. The softbox improves your appearance on video. You can use at least one softbox, but preferably two, and place them at a 45-degree angle to add dimension to your set.
  • BOYA USB-C Lavalier microphone
    The BOYA lavalier microphone records pure and clean sounds, adapts for an interview, live broadcast, and video recording. Works with USB-c port and no need to install additional software. A professional USB-C type lavalier microphone, no worry about out of power, friendly design, easy to use.

Optional: Laptop

*included when two services or more are purchased

** excluding transportation or courier services


Contact Virtual Meeting Support