For the last few months, I've seen around a million posts on social media condemning virtual meetings. Whether insightful or hilarious, my main takeaway was that those meetings are one of the biggest double-edged swords of 2020.
On one hand, it's absolutely astounding that a large number of people have been able to work from home and stay safe without missing a step in their career. On the other, walking into a conference room and taking a seat is much easier than setting up a brand new piece of software, with its own technical problems and limitations. It gets even worse when your team meetings could have a dozen or more people in them, because when one person doesn't mute their microphone at the right time, or talks for too long, or any one of a hundred different things, it can ruin the meeting for everyone involved.
The weird part is, I've never run into that problem. The last few months I've spent working from home have been fantastic, and I owe that in large part to the way virtual meetings are run here at Verb. So after seeing all of the negative views toward those meetings, I thought I'd compile a list of tips anyone could use to improve their experience. Because if we have to be alone while we're trying to be together, we might as well make it as enjoyable as possible.
Lights, Camera, Action
It's crazy to me that we're months into this working from home trend, and I still jump into meetings where some of the participants have their cameras turned off. I'll be the first to admit that when this all started, I was very against showing myself on camera. I didn't like the way I looked, and I had a strange case of “stage fright”-like anxiety. But trust me when I say that in meetings where everyone shows their face, it feels like you're in the room with them.
I can't overstate what a difference that makes. A lot of what I'm going to talk about in this post will help replicate the feeling that you're in a room with real people, and being able to actually see them is an easy first step. There is no text-based substitute for the reactions of those around you. I mean, there are emojis, but you know what I mean.
Here's another thing I didn't understand when virtual meetings started taking over my life: virtual backgrounds. I saw them as too distracting or imperfect, every time I tried to use one it would cut off my hair or something. They were just kind of annoying, but I get it now. I understand how valuable they can be in making you feel more comfortable in virtual meetings.
Sure, you can jazz up whatever's behind you if the room you're actually in is a little bare. But I think the real benefit comes from using them as a conversation piece. Think about your hobbies. Love building with Lego? Google "Lego Zoom Background." Enjoy architecture? "Architecture Zoom Background." Is today a holiday? What's your favorite movie? Fill in the blank for yourself, and you'll get hundreds of cool images you can use to express yourself.
It's like keeping a toy at your desk, it invites conversation. You'd be surprised what people will respond to, and I've easily had comments that stretched into five minute conversations. The people you work with have interests that you might not even know about, and the more you can relate to your coworkers, the less you'll mind being stuck in a Brady Bunch-esque nightmare with them.
Want some Verb backgrounds of your own? Click here!
Keep the Small Talk
Speaking of conversation, when I'm leading a meeting that starts to go off track, I just let it happen. As long as we’re talking about something work appropriate, what's the harm in spiraling into a discussion about the latest movie release or a fantastic recipe from dinner the night before? A lot of the time, the excitement and positive energy that comes from people talking about what they love is infectious. And more than that, when everyone in the meeting is feeling happier and more energetic, it feels better when you buckle down and go through the real work. It's easier, things seem to flow more smoothly, and you'll be surprised to find that it can make meetings feel all the more productive.
So while it might be counterintuitive, letting people get that water cooler talk in helps a lot more than you might think.
It's not all about bringing a more human experience to the virtual world though. You are still using a piece of software, and that means occasionally it won't cooperate—you can't find the button you're looking for, or whatever else that happens to turn a simple meeting into the most frustrating experience of your day.
Familiarize yourself with the keyboard shortcuts for whatever software you're using for your meetings. Now while, verbLIVE is in beta with plenty of features in development , I've got the ones for Zoom and Microsoft Teams bookmarked. You should be able to find the list for any software with a quick Google search. It's incredible how a little bit of confidence in the software you're using can take away all anxiety you might have about using it.
With that list in hand, you'll be able to mute yourself (or others, if you're the host), share your screen, join meetings, change your view setup, and even record your meetings with a simple two or three key press. No more looking through menus and drop-downs for a specific setting. You'll save a ton of time, keep meetings running smoothly, and feel like a freaking wizard.
Finally, it's surprising how just a little bit of social etiquette can improve the lives of everyone around you. I'm a big advocate for keeping yourself muted at all times unless you've got something to say. Why? Because in real life, the people around you don't have their ears right next to your mouth all the time. You never know what your microphone is doing, is what I mean. It could be rubbing up against some fabric you're wearing, it could be positioned just right so that every time you breathe, it fills your coworkers ears with the dulcet tones of static, it could be any number of things. Not to mention that in meetings where you're in the same room as everyone else, you don't notice the ambient noise. Every room has its own quirks. A tone in the background, an air conditioner in the background, even a particularly loud computer fan can cause a major distraction to all those around you.
I know it can be annoying when you actually do have something to say and you forget to unmute yourself, but with enough practice, it's second nature. And trust me when I say, the amount of peace and harmony added to your day when you and your coworkers can communicate in a clear and concise way is absolutely immeasurable.
Those are the main tips I've got for improving your virtual meeting experience. At the end of the day, virtual meetings exist to ensure that your team is on track to meet deadlines for the company. It's a tool to help productivity and keep everything running smoothly. But we're not robots, and the hardest part of these last few months has been letting go of our ability to socialize. You and those around you are going to be much more satisfied day to day if you strive to bring a little bit of that to this virtual lifestyle we've all found ourselves in.
With all of this in mind, check this nice little how-to: