Although videoconferencing has shown steady growth over recent years the COVID-19 pandemic has vastly expanded its use. Daily users of Microsoft Teams have grown from 10 million at the end of 2019 to over 100 million in June 2020. Skype has also shown a notable upswing while Zoom has shown the strongest growth of all - from less than 10 million daily users to over 200 million daily users in the same period. At Galimatias we have already been using videoconferencing in language training for several years with very good learning results and client feedback. Here below we would like to share some useful hints for overcoming possible challenges in videoconferences in general and in English in particular.
Videoconferencing use has grown strongly in 2020 in Finland, which has been a world leader in adopting remote working or working from home. According to a survey by Taloustutkimus, over 1 million Finns switched to continued remote work during the pandemic. In addition to those already remote working, this meant that almost 60% of Finns could be working from home, using videoconferencing as a main method of meeting.
In the area of international meetings, videoconferencing has been shown to be a flexible and economical way to handle cross-border cooperation. The CAPA Center for Aviation, a key aviation industry analyst, warns that videoconferencing will challenge business travel well beyond the possible end of the pandemic. Now is the time to update and practise videoconferencing skills.
1. Overcome possible technical problems
It is always possible that some participants will experience audio/visual problems or drop off the line entirely.
- If you are expecting to present or share information prepare your files in advance, making sure that information is in the most compatible formats. It is good to limit the text on each page.
- In order to minimise potential problems, consider sending material in advance to the participants, if possible, or be prepared to alternate screen sharing with other participants who may have stronger connections.
- If connections are particularly bad, or it is a large meeting, consider switching all cameras off and using voice-only conferencing. Also use the chat box to alert your group to possible technical issues and solutions.
2. Ease the flow of conversation
Online most of our social cues, who is preparing to speak, who is ending their speech, and who they are addressing, are missing. Give your name when you enter the discussion “It’s John here,….". Refer to others by name to make it clear who are you are addressing “ Can I ask Rachel …”. Be sure to give exact references to document pages and lines, or PowerPoint slides, to ensure participants can follow the content of the discussion easily.
In large groups it is necessary to mute microphones to prevent background noise. It is a good idea to alert the person you wish to address a few seconds in advance. “ Fiona, I would like to hear your thoughts on…” . This should give the participants time to unmute their microphones and prepare to answer.3. Clear chairmanship
Even more than in a physical meeting a strong and clear chair is needed in an online meeting.
The chair should set out at a clear order or agenda for a meeting and try to keep to it.
The chair also needs to ensure that all participants have a chance to take part in the meeting; bringing in quieter members with relevant questions, while trying to limit the speaking time of the more talkative members. The chair should also try to limit the scope and time of the meeting.
4. Pay attention to standard video conference etiquette
Pilita Clarke wrote an interesting article here on video conferencing etiquette for the Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/5d9adb0a-8542-11ea-b555-37a289098206
Some key points to remember include the following:
- A good general rule is that speaking for one minute or two is often enough in video conferencing.
- All voices will be broadcast at the same volume. Therefore, it is almost impossible to have two simultaneous conversations. Remember this and try to take turns by waiting for opportune pauses. If a side discussion is needed set up a break-out room (Zoom) or mini-group (Teams).
- If possible, try to use your cameras. Just seeing faces can make communication far easier and can add a lot of context. Cameras will allow you to more accurately gauge feedback to remarks and see who is preparing to possibly speak. Of course, in large meetings or meetings with technical issues this may not be possible. According to Galimatias’ experience, if using the camera is not possible, for example due to network reasons, you may upload a photo of yourself that will be shown when you have a video conference.
- Videoconferencing applications have introduced new features such as the “hands-up to speak” feature which will allow you to note your desire to participate, and the “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” feature to allow you to show your pleasure or displeasure. Zoom also includes a voting feature to allow you to vote in a meeting.
- Keep a close eye on the participant list to see who is currently online and use the chat box to give or receive questions and information while the meeting is ongoing.
Check out videoconferencing key phrases here!