Whether it is Zoom or Microsoft Teams or another platform, we need to face up to the following: this is part of our new normal and we need to learn how to use these platforms effectively. I have used them before, for a variety of meeting events. But nothing like now. For the past month six weeks they have been a constant in my life – one day I had seven Video conference calls back to back to back . . . from Zoom to Microsoft Teams back to Zoom. And I am sure that my experience is not unique. Along the way, we are all learning a thing or two along the way and observed who is and who is not most effective through these vehicles for ‘group’ or committee engagement. I offer the following observations . . .they might be helpful.
First, of course, know the basics: from the need to mute, to how to get on line, to the use of passwords, to how to use the chat function or the ‘share’ function. All basic. Know the platform. It puts you at a distinct disadvantage when you are stumbling around and it is a disservice to others when you do not use the platform effectively or have to be coached while in the meeting.
Second, take full account of your own setting . . . including, crucially, see how you are being seen. In normal circumstances, I am careful that when seated I am at a similar level to the other person – not below or above them, and that the lighting behind around us is conducive to good social engagement. In my office I try to avoid having my back to a window so that the person across from me is not squinting into a glare or not able to see my face because I am only presenting a silhouette against a bright sky. I also try to avoid having distractions – visual clutter – behind me so that we can both be focused on each other – which means, of course, on the face of the other. We might not think all of this out each time around, but it is all about the face. We are “facing” one another.
Well, the point is that we need to think about this when we move into a video conference setting. What is around you and behind you? What is the lighting and is it truly conducive for personal engagement with the other? Is there a glare from window behind us or to one side or the other. There is no avoiding the headshot, but as much as possible raise the camera so you are not looking down into it but across – much as though you were present in person to the other. Lighting. Angle of the screen shot. And perhaps a little distance so you are not only a talking head but more of your upper body is visible – just as it would be if you were sitting across a working table or board table with the other person. Lack of clutter behind you. That is, you are trying to re-create the kind of context or environment that is as close as possible to an in-person meeting – to what makes an in-person meeting most fruitful.
Side note: should we talk about how we are dressed? Why not? I am perplexed that so many assume that if they are working from home that their dress no longer matters. Why is hyper casual suddenly okay – socially acceptable – just because we are not meeting in person?
And third, if you are the host or the chair, then take the lead. This is essential for an in-person meeting; it is doubly if not triply more crucial on line. The host-chair-moderator needs to be very present to the exchange, alert to who is participating and wants to make a contribution to the deliberations and attentive to who you bring a discussion or a debate to closure and resolution. The larger the gathering the more complicated. If it is a gathering of more than 15 then you likely need to have someone else monitoring the ‘chat’ function or the indication that someone would like to speak to the issue at hand.
Main point: this is a new normal; we need to master the art of the on-line video conference call.