How to replace travel with successful tele-conferences! A checklist

In this blog, I would like to argue that  current standards of tele-conferences can and should be further improved and tele-conferences may help to reduce job-related travels and carbon emissions.

I used the title “AV in an AI world” because I am still surprised to see how low the quality of tele-conferences (AV=audiovisuals) in many companies and organizations is, considering the huge progress is made in other areas of technology (AI=artificial intelligence) and how many well-educated people are on the line. So some learnings and suggestions to make tele-conferences more effective by technology but also behaviour modifications are provided below:

  • Simplify IT!
    • It’s a pain to have to ask around what sort of digits you actually have to dial to use an international number, because you dont know what the leading dial-out number is, the country code (yes, the US has also a country code).
    • It’s a pain if you are hot-desking (bluetooth headsets (batteries!), laptops, docking stations, extra monitors) and you have figure out how to connect everything, check whether it is working, and spend time debugging.
    • It’s a pain if you have to figure out different IT in different meeting rooms. Use the same IT in all meetings rooms!
    • It’s  a pain if you have to carry all your IT stuff and meeting documents from one meeting to the next, and desperately wish you would have a laundry basket or an IKEA blue bag at hand.
  • Audio rules!
    • Choose a good quality phone line (landline, mobile, VoIP), whatever works for you.
    • Use a gaming headset to improve sound and reduce background noise.
    • Choose quiet environment, reducing background noise, including keyboard noises.
    • Using laptop speakers and mic maybe look convenient, but often gives low sound quality in both directions.
    • Personally, I would argue for a “silent disco” approach, where all participants wear gaming headsets even when they are in a single meeting room, but others are online.
  • Skip video!
    • Usually you don’t want/need to see the same pale, tired, old faces all the time.
    • You can reduce social stress for yourself, if you cannot be seen.
    • If visuals are shared the presentation/documents is more important anyway.
    • Presentation/reports can be also shared offline, but you have to walk the audience through it (On slide x  you can see …)
    • Skip visuals if bandwith may be limited and impair the audio.
  • Speak clearly!
    • Many participants will be non-native speakers with accents in the meeting language of choice, mostly English.
    • If you are a non-native speaker:
      • practise pronounciation (but not in the meeting) of the standard language.
      • adapt your language to your language skills and the audience
      • share supporting documents (slides, reports, email) supporting your ideas in advance or live.
    • If you are a native speaker:
      • practise pronounciation (but not in the meeting) of the standard language.
      • adapt your language to the audience (avoid slang, complex words, …)
      • share supporting documents (slides, reports, email) supporting your ideas in advance or live.
      • (maybe support others in expressing their thoughs, eg by providing the proper vocabulary in a polite, non-offensive way eg by repeating or summarizing what others said (“bootstrapping”)).
    • Avoid abbreviations or explain them!
  • Think clearly!
    • Express your ideas clearly
    • If you are just brainstorming, or sharing unstructured thoughts, make this clear as part of your meta-communication.
  • Be friendly but concise!
    • The moderator should spend some time to create a “social basis” for the meeting by introducing each others names and roles, some (modest) joking, to create a open and relaxed atmosphere (as appropriate), which will support the flow of information, and sharing of worries, concerns, and errors.
    • This a question of personality and style, but I usually try to be concise while not appearing unfriendly. Make your core messages stick out!
  • Define a moderator!
    • A moderator should make sure people known each others names and roles.
    • A moderator should make sure that things are understood by asking participants to speak louder, slower, take a break, give other people a chance to talk, summarizing things.
    • Especially when talking about complex topics, or if people are not so well prepared, participants may be just afraid to tell that they did not understand for whatever reason, which result in a meeting with embarrising silence, everybody pretending there are no questions and everything is clear.
    • If nobody is in charge of moderating the meeting or making an agenda, you may consider just skipping the meeting.
  • Define a leader/decision maker!
    • Somebody should have the competence and authority (formal/informal) to summarize the meeting, explain things, and make a decision if their is no consensus.
  • Clarify (implicit/explicit) roles!
    • present: just listening in, but not really interested
    • observer: just passively listening in
    • contributor: actively discussing
    • moderator: supporting the flow of communication
    • leader: asking questions to  extract relevant information, making decission, summarizing results
  • Manage time!
    • The moderator should make sure IT is working fine before the start of the meeting. This may also be an assistant.
    • The moderator may want to share the meeting details again just 5 minutes before the meeting, to avoid participants being late because they could not find the contact details.
    • Start in time! If 10 people wait for 6 minutes, until all participants have joined and IT is working, this is an hour of worktime lost.
    • When you are presenting, ask people to collect their questions and offer an Q&A session after your presentation. Often I find presenters trying to appear overly audience-friendly suggesting to ask questions at any point, often leading to situations where the meeting gets stuck on the first 5 slides, meaning the presenters has to rush through or skip the remaining 25 slides. If deemed necessary you can have also a planned break in the middle of the presentation to make sure everybody is following.
    • Stop early! If the subject is clear and a decision can be made, summarize the decision, close the call early to use everybody’s time effectively.
  • Take minutes live!
    • A great way to save time for minutes and meetings summaries to do them during the meeting.
    • there are even some web platforms (e.g. BOX) who allow real-time collaborative writing which means all participants can add comments, pics, references to the meeting summary, which gives a rich documentation in a short time. (final editing by a single person may be a good idea though!)
  • Be flexible!
    • Nowadays only  a fraction of all situations when some professionals are communicating with each other, is  a formal “meeting”, ie with agenda, roles, decisions, and actions, so you are welcome to skip some of the formalities and recommendations above if you dont see a need for them.
  • Newbie booboos:
    • Sneezing, coughing, talking to others/on another phone, while you are not muted
    • Talking while your are muted (ok, that is not only a newbie booboo)
    • Having you mic to close to mouth or noise, providing others with a constant update of your breathing rate and lung function.
  • to be continued…..

For fun:

 

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