10 top tips for better online meetings

How are you managing with the move to online meetings?

Are you finding that they are less focused? Are attendees taking it as an invitation to multi-task? Are you finding that a couple of participants are dominating the conversation while others seem to be zoning out?

As we all try to adapt to new ways of holding meetings with our teams, customers, and suppliers, these are some of the issues that seem to be arising.

So, we held a webinar (which you can watch here) with one of our expert tutors Siân Jones, where she showed how to deal with some of these issues and how you can communicate effectively remotely to lead and reassure during these challenging times when online presence matters more than ever.

Whether you took part in that webinar, or couldn’t make it, we thought it would be beneficial to share Siân’s top tips in this blog, together with the response to questions that were asked by the audience.

1 Live or pre-recorded

There are lots of advantages to going live, and in most cases, especially with team meetings, this is what you are going to do.

But, if you are a CEO and have a complex, detailed message that you want to get across, it might be an idea to think about pre-recorded.

Although people are getting used to delivering their meeting down the barrel of a lens, many of us still find it uncomfortable. Delivering a pre-recorded message can make people feel more comfortable and gives them the safety net of being able to start again if they make a mistake.

A good format to consider here is a question and answer session where a journalist puts questions to the CEO. This can help them to come across as natural and conversational.

 

2 Time

Make sure you start and finish your online meetings on time.

There is nothing more irritating than hanging around online waiting for a meeting to start.

If you are hosting the meeting, get there early and make sure everything is working and that your audio and eye-line is good, so that when people start to join you, you are composed and ready to go.

If some people haven’t turned up on time, go ahead and start the meeting anyway, otherwise, you may annoy those who have managed their time well. Late people can always use the software to watch a recording of the meeting later.

Try to keep your online meetings concise and punchy. If it is a weekly catch-up meeting, for example, you may only need 10 minutes. For a more formal webinar, aim for something along the lines of 25 minutes for the main body of the session and then maybe 10 or 15 minutes of questions at the end, so that the whole thing runs to about 40 – 45 minutes.

Make sure you finish when you say you’ll finish as well.

 

3 Prepare

Preparation is everything and it begins with thinking about how you want to come across to your audience.

Presenting online requires a lot of energy, so I always aim to be professional, upbeat, enthusiastic and clear of the purpose.

The audience will assume that what they are seeing is a reflection of your state of mind, so it is crucial to consider the tone you want to set.

4 Background

Make sure your shelves are cleared and there is nothing on display to distract your audience - it is really easy for people to focus on book titles and paintings instead of you.

I was watching the lunchtime news last week and Norman Smith, the BBC correspondent, was broadcasting from his office at home. There were cluttered shelves in the background, a painting of someone in a military uniform that could have been his grandfather, a globe and a computer. I didn’t remember anything he said because I was too busy having a little snoop around his office.

Also, think carefully about your camera angle. Position the lens right so that it is straight on and pointed slightly down to your eye-line – we don’t want to be looking up people’s noses.

Put yourself in the centre of the frame and think about the lighting. People often forget about the lighting, but it is so important. If you are at home, don’t sit too close to a window because you might look a little bit washed out – if you have no choice, try turning yourself side-on, so that you look softly lit from the side or try playing with the curtains to see what works.

We also need to talk about audio because that is the Achilles’ heel of webinars and online meetings. Buy a decent microphone, speaker and headset if you can. It doesn’t need to be expensive but it can make a huge difference and make sure you are heard.

 

5 Body language

With webcams, you can be seen, but you are often restricted in terms of what you can convey with your facial expressions and body language.

If you are talking to your team, they will obviously know you, but if you rock up looking tired and washed out, people may not engage and might be worried about your wellbeing rather than what you have to say.

People might think it is weird to turn up to a weekly meeting in a suit and tie, but something that frames you gives you some authority and structure to the way you are working.

Block colours look really good on camera, navy and grey transmit authority. Avoid black and white because they are harsh and can make you look stern or washed out. Avoid patterns and stripes, which can create a strobing effect, and avoid large jewellery which could be a distraction. Keep hair off your face and shave.

The image you are projecting is important and says ‘we are still open for business and I am here to engage you and support you’.

Remember BBC – Bum in the Back of the Chair. Sit up and have your feet on the floor to improve your posture. When you slouch it says that you are tired.

Also, smile. It tells the audience you are confident, happy to be there and sets the tone of the meeting at the start.

Maintaining your eye contact is also crucial as wandering eyes can make you appear uncomfortable and shifty.

Finally, you could stand-up to add extra energy to your online meeting. We see people do this a lot when they are on important phone calls. Put the laptop on a high shelf and make sure you are well anchored otherwise you will sway from side to side.

 

6 Voice

This is so important but also something which is often overlooked. Connecting strongly is vital.

Talking in an online meeting has a different energy to speaking to a live audience, so make sure you start with the right tone.

Add vocal emphasis where appropriate, sound energetic, and watch your speed. If you are talking for a while, break your content up into bite-sized chunks that people can absorb. This will help you to build in natural pauses and help you reduce those umms and errs. You don’t need to try to get rid of these altogether, but it is important to know what you are going to say.

Focus on how you are going to begin and try to banish those errs and ums from there.  A script can be beneficial at the start and will help you to remember what you want to get across. But don’t try to script the whole meeting because you want to sound natural and conversational.

Have some water to hand and perhaps follow the example of Tony Blair and drink some warm water and honey before your meeting to lubricate those vocal cords. Drinking a lot of coffee will dry your throat and a lot of dairy can make you sound gulpy.

 

7 CARE

This is an acronym we typically use during our media training and crisis communication training at Media First and it something we are also using during our training by videoconference courses. It stands for Compassion, Action, Reassurance and Examples.

In times of crisis, you need to show compassion, that you are human and that you are listening. 

You also need to show what you are doing to help your people in these worrying times.

And you need to reassure people when they are concerned.

The E stands for examples – you need to provide examples of what you are doing, particularly around the action you are taking and the reassurance you are offering.

 

8 Content

As much as we’d like to think that people will be mesmerised by our performance and won’t be tempted to dip in and out of the online meeting and multi-task, that is unlikely.

So, your content must be clear and concise. Start with a strong opening, adopt a conversational tone, and limit the number of points you are trying to get across.

Don’t bore people with facts, figures and statistics – painting a picture is always 10 times better.

Whether you need to get something complicated across, or are looking to inspire, you need to refine that message. Refine and rehearse your opening words and make sure you know the purpose of the conversation.

Online meetings provide us with a great opportunity to interact and break things up with polls and quizzes

 

9 Slides

If you are going to use slides, keep them simple and visually memorable.

A lot of videoconferencing will allow you to share your screen and that is important for supporting key points.

But less is always more. Don’t ask your audience to read large chunks of text. Just have a headline or key message and limit and bullets to three or four.

Also, consider that online your slides are likely to be more heavily scrutinised than they would in face-to-face meetings, so make sure they have a purpose, are well produced and don’t have any spelling mistakes. 

How many slides should you have? Well, if you have 30 minutes of content then each slide should represent around two minutes of material. Any more than around 12 slides and I think you will start to overwhelm your audience.

There is a school of thought that having your face in the top of the screen and some slides can be too much for the audience, so you could consider switching to audio-only. Do you really need to be in vision when you are taking people through the slides? 

 

10 Interaction and finishing strongly

We’ve outlined lots of ways to make things impactful and conversational. Polls, quizzes, strong visuals, good body language and tone are all things that will make for a great online experience.

You can also invite questions. You can take them as you go along or you can leave them to the end.

Taking them as you go along encourages people to get involved. Personally, I prefer to take them at the end where they have their own dedicated section. 

 

Bonus tip

Many meetings are held on the hour or the half-hour. But with so many people having online meetings at the moment, and the pressure that puts on broadband, it might be easier to schedule it for ten minutes past or quarter past the hour to give the network a chance to catch up.

 

Questions from the audience

Should we be more relaxed when we are in internal meetings talking to our colleagues and if a child comes in, is that such a bad thing?

You want to be relaxed and you want to be yourself, and as much as possible you should try to carry out the meeting online as you would face-to-face. But we are all trying to juggle and multi-task. When I was having a meeting about this webinar earlier in the week, I was constantly being interrupted by a child asking where lunch was or if I could help with the online homework.  So, I don’t think it is a problem and I think people appreciate we are trying to be as professional as possible.

 

How can you become less reliant on filler words?

The first thing is to learn the opening of what you want to say, even if it is just an online chat. Other things to try are to make your content short and concise and have it in chunks. If you feel an err or an umm coming on, take a pause. The other advantage of this is that people will appreciate being given time in between those chunks of information to absorb what you have said.

 

How do you maintain energy and engagement when just staring at the camera?

This is a key one. You do need to have lots of energy. Online it is more important than ever to be yourself but to raise it by about 10 per cent so that it is a performance. You need to come away feeling absolutely exhausted, particularly if it is a formal webcast.

 

How do you stay in control if you are asked a question that feels like it could catch you off guard?

Different styles of meetings allow people to interrupt and if someone does interrupt online you often have that awkward Ping-Pong moment where it becomes disjointed and you are talking over each other. Be clear about when you will take questions and the format and purpose of the meeting. If you do want to take them as you go along, be aware that it could derail you. But saying things like “I’ll come back to that one later” or “you and I can talk about that separately” can help and shows you are in control.

 

What tips do you have for those blank moments where you completely lose your train of thought?

It is common to have brain fade and forget where you are supposed to be going next. When you are presenting online, you can have bullet points near you and I think people will expect you to have some kind of aid or prompt. You could also turn it into an opportunity to take a pause and recap on what you have already said or ask a question. Once they have answered, you will hopefully have taken the opportunity to glance at your notes and get things back on track.

 

Get in touch with your account manager to find out more about how we can help you with your internal and external communications challenges. Our bespoke, training by videoconference can help you make the most of online technology, whatever your experience level, ensuring you get your personal branding right and that you continue to communicate with confidence and clarity – wherever you are.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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