Posted: Wed 30th Jan 2013
Richard Thomas, from the OmniJoin webconferencing team at Brother, knows all the tips and tricks for putting your gem of a business under the video conferencing magnifying glass. When you're using video conferencing to connect your small business with the great wide world, there are a number of things you can do to come across as bigger than you are and as professional as your work deserves. These little tricks fall roughly into the following four groups:
technical equipment (hardware/software)
preparing virtual meetings
running/moderating virtual meetings.
The right technical set-up is always a good starting point, but even if you find yourself on an impromptu video conference on the move, there's a lot you can do to impress. Let's start with the techie bit.
Big video conferencing rooms with all the latest gadgets never fail to impress, but they're not cheap (or even practical), unless you're a big corporate enterprise. Smaller businesses are usually better off with something flexible, that can be used in a sleek meeting room one day and on a laptop in the coffee shop the next. This is called "webconferencing" and pretty much only requires internet access and a licence for a (professional) webconferencing service like OmniJoin, which supports high-definition video and broadband audio. These kinds of systems work on existing equipment (such as built-in laptop webcam and speakers) straightaway, but gradual investment in a good, high-resolution camera and microphones can make a huge impact on how you're perceived at the other end (thinner and lighter laptop often mean little room for decent speakers and cameras). And since the conferences are partly run on the computer you're logging in from, using the newest machine you've got at hand can improve the experience further. An often neglected part of the technical set-up is the quality of the internet connection (upload as well as download speed!). If you're a start-up and operate on a shoe-string IT system, make sure that your internet connection is not used heavily by another application or user while you're on the conference.
When "optimising" your working environment for webconferencing, it's the small things that make a big difference. 1. Control your background: When on video, make sure your backdrop is tidy and looks good on screen. A wall or screen in a strong colour works well, or even a branded poster or pull-up stand. Avoid windows and light sources behind you. Make sure the camera is in a good place, pointing at you and ensuring you're central to the screen. The closer the camera is to the screen you're looking at, the more natural it will feel (it'll look as if you're looking into the camera while you're looking at everyone else on screen). 2. Control the sound: Depending on where you are and how many people are dialling in from the same machine, it can be beneficial to use headsets rather than built-in microphones and speakers - to cancel out noise and avoid echoes. If someone nearby breaks into laughter, it's useful to know where the mute button is (in OmniJoin it's at the top of the window under audio). As a moderator you can help attendees control their background noise, by muting everyone apart from the speaker. When it comes to headsets, it can be better to use only one earplug - to ensure you retain a feel for the volume of your own voice (and don't start shouting down the microphone). 3. Control your co-workers: If you're sharing an office or are in a busy space, make sure you don't get interrupted while you're on a webconference. Remember that it can be difficult to tell you're busy if you appear to be quietly looking at your screen. A low-tech but practical solution for this problem is to stick a post-it saying "Shh, I'm in an important virtual meeting" to the back of your laptop. If necessary/possible, divert your phone or ask colleagues to pick it up while you're on the conference.
A well-prepared virtual meeting will make you look professional and will ensure a productive session that everyone enjoys. But the beauty of webconferencing is that you don't have to use it solely for important, bigger meetings, you can get together for a quick chat just as easily - and the more you use it, the more it'll become as simple as just picking up the phone, even without much prep.
- Start with setting up the meeting on your webconferencing system and invite people via e-mail/diary invite. If you suspect they're first-time users of that particular system, consider including instructions on how to join the meeting and what equipment they'll need (or rather won't need!) along with the agenda for the meeting. If they've never used any kind of web or video conference, it's worth having a five-minute "pre-conference conference" to make them feel at ease.
- Pull together all the documents you want to share during the meeting. If possible, upload them and arrange them in the virtual meeting room in advance (on OmniJoin you can distribute handouts, and share documents, presentations and application on screen).
- Be in the virtual meeting room a bit early to ensure everything is working and someone is there to welcome attendants. Use the time to pull up the agenda or a welcome message on screen.
A lot of the skills you've acquired running meetings in real life will help you during virtual meetings. Just as traditional meetings, but far less so than conference calls, webconferences require some moderating. But moderating video or webconferences is different, and you have different moderator tools at your disposal. Start with familiarising yourself with them - mute buttons, admin controls, layout settings. It's all intuitive, but always worth doing a "pre-flight" run-through.
- During the meeting, take an active role and make sure everyone can see and hear each other. Feel responsible for the technicalities ("Laura, I think your microphone might have unplugged itself"; "Ben, we can't see you anymore, you've just moved your chair out of frame"; "I'm just going to mute all your microphones, so you can hear me clearly while I'm giving you a little overview").
- Let everyone know at the beginning how to signal that they want to say something, but also keep an eye out for the usual signs (leaning forward, tentatively raising hands).
- Use visual means to guide through the meeting and keep the team focussed. This could be the whiteboard, a presentation or a document.
- Use the annotation tools in the software to point at shared documents. It is very tempting to use your mouse cursor to point at things on screen while talking - but unless you're sharing your desktop, people won't be able to see your cursor. Select the annotation tools in the software and attendees will be able to follow your mouse movements. This also allows you to underline, scribble or write on documents.
- If you make changes to a document together on screen, let all participants know how and when these changes will be captured and circulated.
- Use the private chat function to help discreetly with individual technical or other issues (people new to video conferencing may need reminding that they are on camera!).
- And last but not least, don't forget you're on video yourself, and in HD at that! As the moderator, more often than not, all eyes will be on you.
I hope these little tips and tricks will help you set your business soaring - and if you've got any personal experience to add, please do share them in the comments below. Richard Thomas is Product Planning Manager at Brother International Europe. He and his team have launched Brother's new HD web conferencing service and collaboration platform, OmniJoin, in Europe last year. OmniJoin has all the features mentioned in this article, as well as enterprise-grade security and encryption.
Be seen and heard is supported by Brother, the technology company for small and medium-sized businesses. Brother can help businesses of all sizes communicate like big enterprises with OmniJoin, the new high-end webconferencing software at a small business price. Free trials are available here.