5 Tips for hosting effective large video conferences
If your team has been hosting large group video conference meetings because of COVID-19, here are some key insights to maximize your meeting potential.
By Tracy Smitten
Article based on our Webinar: Hosting Large Group Video Conferences Effectively. Download the webinar.
Amid the COVID-19 public health emergency and for the first time in our history, society has committed to maintaining physical distancing with a strong need to work together to find new ways to communicate, collaborate, and connect with each other.
For the last 4 years, ET Group has grown as a productive, self-managed, collaborative unit, while working almost entirely remotely. Our team’s operate regularly in large group video meetings. We host virtual team connects that run up to 5 hours in length, host large group town hall meetings with over 40 people, and collaborate daily in large group virtual settings. We continue to explore new tools and practices that can enrich our team’s virtual experience. Technology strategy and design help increase productivity, but it’s not all you need.
Here are 5 key tips we have learned to make your next meeting more effective.
1. Identify the technology you will need
What are the technology platforms, tools, and equipment will need to use. Make sure to choose a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Webex that can take advantage of large groups using settings like gallery view. Equipping all of your team’s participants with the best audio and video equipment available will maximize everyone’s experience. This will ensure that everyone is on the same playing field, limiting technology issues and creating a more engaging experience for all.
2. Define your meeting roles
It is critical to establish a few base roles to ensure you create clarity and the ability to run a smooth meeting. Who will be the meeting hosting? Who will be facilitator to guide and hold space for the conversation? Who will be scribing and taking notes? Who will be responsible to manage the technology?
It may sound like a lot of roles but they are key to your success!
Host: Establishes the meeting context and the meeting objectives
Facilitator: Guides the conversation, keeps the meeting in check and on-time, while allowing the group to focus on the content.
Scribe: Takes notes and documents the meeting.
Technology Manager (Optional): Ensures the meeting is set-up, handles tech issues, and records the call if necessary.
3. Put together the structure for your meeting
What is the purpose of your meeting? What do you want to get out of it? What do you want people to experience?
Establish a structure for your meeting to make effective use of time and increase the clarity and expectations for participants. Create your meeting objectives, meeting milestones, determining meeting length, and choosing your facilitation style.
4. Choose your meeting practices and processes
Determine the level of engagement you plan to invite from your participants.
Check-in’s are a fantastic way to establish everyone’s place in the meeting. Asking a question such as, how are you arriving and what do you expect out of today’s meeting. It helps people feel engaged and not lost in such a large virtual group.
However, in a large group setting it can be tough to manage this in a timely manner. Instead, ask your participants to write their check-in via the chat window or using a collaboration platform like Webex Teams or Slack.
Use practices that maintain involvement and engagement from your participants. Send out periodic meeting polls or pose questions that participants can answer in the chat window, rather than out loud. This can also help manage time in a large group while involving everyone.
It is important that you use practices and processes that create an environment that invites everyone to participate. So that it is not the One-to-Many experience that so often plagues large group settings. This is one person speaking to a large group.
5. Understand the mindset of your participants
Understanding the mindset of your participants is key to an effective meeting. What mindset are participants potentially arriving into the meeting with?
Are they arriving with confusion surrounding the meeting? Are they unclear of why they are invited? Are they feeling excited or down?
As a host or facilitator, it is your job to gauge the room and ensure you can manage the group, shift gears if required, and draw the best out of everyone.
We would love to hear about your experience in the comments
We have sought and found virtual meeting techniques that enhance human connection. We have found video conferencing can be extremely productive! We thrive when we can bring harmony to our work and workplace with technology.
We would love to hear about your experience with remote working and how the 5 core elements of Effective Video Conferencing have worked for you. Contact us and let us know how you do!
Register for our upcoming webinar series
In an effort to help organizations and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are launching a series of webinars to offer our expertise.
Embracing technology for accelerated growth
I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a MacKay CEO Forums breakfast panel discussing embracing technology for accelerated growth. The speech was well received and a number of participants suggested I share some of the insights with a broader audience. This my attempt at doing so. I hope you will enjoy it and find some of the suggestions useful!
Some context. At ET Group, we help our clients weave people, space, and technology in a way that facilitates collaboration and fuels innovation, which I believe are two of the most critical creators of value and growth for any business. As such, we live and breathe different types of social and digital technology innovations and have had lots of learnings along the way.
Music adoption example
To get started, I invite you to answer the following questions:
- Have you ever owned a Sony Walkman?
- What about a CD player?
- What about an iPod?
- Now, do you still use any of these devices?
I bet most of you had or still have some of these devices and most of you do not use them anymore. Why is that?
Next question; Do you have a Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Music account?
Most of you probably answered yes.
Final question; Do you listen to music?
Assuming of course that most of you listen to music, we can deduce the following: most, if not all of us, listen to music, and listening to music is the “job we are trying to get done”. Listening to music stays constant, while the technology we use to “do the job” changes and evolves, and that change and evolution will continue.
I’m sure you would also agree that as good as they are, Spotify, Apple, and Google Music are not the end of the evolution of technology to help us listen to music.
This brings me to my key message: Using technology to accelerate growth for your business is not about focusing on the technology itself. It’s about having clarity on the “job to be done”.
Once you understand the highest value work that you need to complete, you can choose the right technology to help you get that job done faster, better, with greater collaboration, and with better engagement. By doing this, you will truly be using technology to enable accelerated growth for your companies.
As discussed with the music example, technology changes constantly. This constant change comes with a desire to embrace the “new”, to jump in with both feet now, so that we don’t feel left behind. But there can be a cost to being too quick to adopt technology simply based on a bigger, better feature set. We run the risk of being seduced by the allure of something new before we truly understand how it will support us to do the work we need to do.
I’ve experienced this first hand at ET Group, and it’s been a transformational learning experience for me and for my team.
A story about ET Group
I believe very strongly in the power of real time communication to strengthen team dynamics and collaboration. And so, inspired by this belief, we set out to improve real time communication and collaboration at ET Group.
We are a small enough company that has the luxury of experimenting with different technologies to see what works best for us. And “experiment” is exactly what we did.
In trying to improve our communication and collaboration; we installed Polycom hardware in one room and felt like we were off to a great start. Then we paid for a managed service to give us the functionality and quality we needed. This was expensive yet worthwhile. Once those were in place we wanted video at the desktop so we tried a number of platforms (Vidyo, Polycom, Cisco Jabber, Videxio, Microsoft Lync). Everyone now had video at the desktop. But not all platforms could connect with each other and we started to see “islands of technology”.
We had to make a choice, so we mandated Videxio as the single desktop video platform. As with most mandated decisions, it did not satisfy everyone. Instead of increasing collaboration, it was disrupting key business processes and people were getting restless.
After buying additional infrastructure to integrate some of the technologies we continued adopting new tools. Now it was time to try out Slack. Slack was a great platform for asynchronous communication and real time collaboration, but I didn’t get the right buy in or communicated its purpose clearly. Instead, I simply started using it and asking people who worked closely with me to use it as well, believing they’d see the value and embrace it. I thought that I had the perfect solution but the result was not what I wanted. 100% of the company was on the platform but only 20% were using it.
Things didn’t seem to be getting any better until we discovered Cisco Spark. At first, Spark looked like Slack with a smaller feature set. But soon we realized that this platform could potentially replace our phone system and video infrastructure, connect to our rooms, provide asynchronous communication and messaging. In short, it could lots of different “jobs to be done” that we really needed on a daily basis.
We went all in with Cisco Spark, and today we live and breathe with it. It has transformed how we work and how we get things done to fulfill our purpose and bring value to our clients. Through Spark, we can work in a more elegant and effective way.
Although we did eventually find a solution, we got there by taking the long path. A much longer path than we needed to. The most important lesson of the story: If we had started by clearly defining “the job or jobs to be done”, we would have been able to avoid spending so much time, energy, and money on iterative and redundant solutions along the way.
We learned a lot from our journey. And I want to share with you the five biggest things I learned and that I believe are critical for the search and adoption of any new technology:
5 key findings:
Approach with humility
First, approach the process with humility. Listen to different people and perspectives. We all know that listening well is one of the key attributes of great leaders and it’s absolutely critical where technology is concerned. Listening allows us to truly understand “the job to be done” in all areas of the business. As CEOs, we know how value is created, but we may not know exactly how the job is being done.
Choose the right leader
Second, choose the right decision maker. Identify a person who will gather input from all those who will be affected by the change, and have expertise around the matter. This requires humility and the ability to balance priorities from a range of inputs.
Bring in outside expertise
Third, bring in outside expertise when you need it to help surface the jobs that needs to be done. Some organizations are already great at this and if yours is, you’re ahead of the game already but many are not. There are fantastic advisors out there who can help uncover the information you need. Invest in using those advisors.
Clearly share the thinking
Fourth, clearly share the thinking behind technological change and allow people to own their part of the solution. This fosters engagement and buy-in from inception through implementation.
Invest the time
Fifth, and most important: invest the time up front to fully understand the “jobs to be done” before jumping to a solution. I can’t emphasize this enough. By slowing down, you’re able to hone in and identify the high potential technologies that will truly transform your business.
If you take this approach, you’ll be amazed at how smooth the adoption of technology will be. You won’t need to worry about buy-in, because the people using the technology had a voice in the decision making process. And this means that the solution you provide them is one they helped choose and one that will help each of them do the “job they need to do” better. The effect is extraordinary. I’ve experienced it myself, and it now informs every technology advice we provide to our clients.
To restate my key message, embracing technology for accelerated change is not actually about the technology. It’s about understanding the highest value work your internal teams and your customers need to do. Once you have that clear, your path to a solution is easy to chart.
3 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Collaboration in Your Company
Boosting your collaborative capabilities does not have to be a huge investment. To be clear here, I am talking about real time or interactive collaboration which is a combination of 4 different conferencing technologies – audio, web, video and interactive whiteboards (IWB).
A budding franchise business customer (Bud) recently called me in frustration and told me, although he loved Skype, he could no longer use it in his business. Why? In a one hour conference call, he would spend half his time managing the technology in the call and every second counts. The cost of using this popular conferencing technology was a lot more than nothing. Not only did he spend half his meeting time managing the technology but he lost his focus and his credibility with the other meeting participants – his franchisees.
Bud didn’t have a lot of money to invest in an extravagant room system but he needed a better collaborative experience because he was building his franchise business up and needed to hold regular meetings and more importantly, training sessions with his franchisees who were spread out over a large geographical area. Traveling in to a central location was not a practical solution. The franchisees could not justify the time out of the field, nor the investment in travel.
He thought that he needed to upgrade to a higher end video system which could handle multiple locations all tied into a stable, single video call. Although this type of solution would certainly enrich the collaborative experience for all the participants, a room based video system for all the franchisees was out of his budget and would not deliver as rich an experience as was available at a much lower price tag.
I suggested a three pronged approach.
He needed to enrich the audio experience because audio is “table stakes” for any type of collaboration or conferencing experience. If you don’t have audio, you don’t have a conference, no matter how rich the other conferencing technologies are. I recommended a new Polycom star phone for approximately $500 which is capable of analog or IP telephony. This investment will serve him today (analog) and tomorrow, when he switches to IP.
“Now when we talk, we don’t have to time when we talk because the Polycom system handles the voices coming from both sides of conversation without cutting off pieces of the conversation. It is a much more natural audio experience.”
He was thrilled with his investment because the richness of the sound quality of his conferences went way up. And it was little things that made a big difference.
I told him that he should invest in an interactive whiteboard from SMART technologies. The SMART board provides the richest collaborative experience available. When people discover what they can do with this tool they are amazed. And a power user looks like a magician on the board when they are conducting a meeting with it.
During a meeting you can use any application that runs on a PC, annotate and capture the image of the annotations on the application as a whiteboard (or flip chart) page. Websites, PowerPoint, Excel, Visio, PDF, etc. At the end of the meeting, everyone gets an email of the PDF of the pages of the meeting notes – instantly! And the board can be cleared up and ready for the next meeting in seconds by simply hitting the reset button.
These features alone can be worth the investment. And take note, this capability can be used in any meeting – even if there are no remote participants. So how did the SMART technology go over with the franchise company? They love it! But not without going through a bit of a learning curve because he had never heard of or seen a SMART board before I recommended it. Bud took the upfront training, but it wasn’t until he actually started using it and became comfortable with it, did he really start to appreciate his new collaborative tool and the richness it added to their meetings.
Web conferencing or sharing of the desktop. There are numerous offerings out there that are available from free to a WebEx or GoToMeeting price point of about $40-$50 dollars a month. In this case I recommended the SMART Bridgit software because it provides the features required and provides the ability to share the SMART board screens with any PC, Mac, iPad or Android tablet. The Bridgit software is particularly good for interactive training sessions, where there are many participants collaborating.
So none of Bud’s franchisees had to go out and buy new technology. They could use their existing personal technology to actively participate in the meetings being held at Bud’s office. The Bridgit software provides a richer platform for many-to-many collaboration vs the one-to-many collaboration which is the strength of the GoToMeeting and WebEx software.
Bud has taken a major step forward in collaborating with his franchisees. His meetings are now focused on doing business and not managing technology. The experience is richer which allows him to more effectively work with his franchisees and grow their businesses together.
The three quick hitters:
- Upgraded audio experience with a new rich and reliable Polycom SoundStation
- A SMART board to bring the collaborative experience new and enriched capabilities.
- Bridgit conferencing software to allow Bud to share the SMART board with the PCs, iPads, Macs and Android tablets of his franchisees
Bud still wants to add video to the mix in the future and he has some great options open to him:
- For $100 he can add a USB camera to the SMART board and turn on the video if he wants to talk live to the franchisees (this is not an HD experience but does provide video if you only need it in small doses)
- He can use a number of video software products that range from free to under $50/mth per port (HD, adaptive bandwidth, no special network quality of service (QoS) required)
- He can go to a high end room system with a dedicated codec, camera and large screens for video (there are a range of options here as well)
Upgrading your collaborative experience does not have to be expensive and the returns can be huge. Putting in the right tools to support and enhance how you work together with people and increase your velocity of collaboration is paramount.