Video conferences have become the most important working tool for everyone. We connect every day with other people to make decisions, share information, train and learn.
Our working effectiveness is largely dependant now on our ability to participate in a web conference or online training session. But are we sure we are using this tool in the right way? In my opinion, not always. Video conferences are not used to their full potential because people are not yet used to them, in spite of what they believe.
Let’s run through the 5 main causes of inefficiency I’ve found so far when I meet other people online.
1 – Keep your camera turned off
Video conferences are intended as a substitute for a physical meeting and not as a telephone call. When you meet other people in a room, you usually see them. Seeing other people and being seen is the best way to reinforce relationships and trust. But I find that in every meeting, someone keeps their camera off without any explanation and the chair says nothing about it. I understand many of us are connecting from home and we worry about whether our homes look professional enough. However, everyone is now used to seeing kitchen shelves and kids’ pictures on the wall in the background, and actually this can bring a nice personal touch to the meeting. I think that unless you are presenting to a client, the background is not an issue and you should definitely turn your camera on. To kill the video conference quickly as a participant, hide yourself from the others without any explanation, limiting your presence to a black square with your name on it. To kill it as the chair, don’t tackle the people who are hiding and don’t ask them to turn their cameras on, don’t say that it’s important for you and the others to see them, and just accept their refusal to make an effort to communicate properly with the others.
2 – Stay silent
If you have been invited to a video conference, this normally means that your contribution is relevant. When you participate in a physical meeting, you have many ways to communicate your presence and send signals. In a remote meeting, you only have your face on a screen and your voice to express yourself. If you stay silent, you run the risk of becoming invisible, since the attention of the participants is absorbed by the person that is talking at a particular moment and all the others tend to fade into a blur of thumbnail-sized faces (at best, since many video conferencing tools present only dots with the person’s initials on them). Hence, if you are a participant, the best way to sabotage a video meeting is to not say anything for the whole duration of it and let the others wonder if you are still alive or not. If you are a chair and want to conduct a dull meeting, accept people who don’t say a single word and interact only with those who are willing to speak up and collaborate. If you are a trainer, don’t invite the silent people by name to participate because this feels a bit scary, so stay in your comfort zone and accept you will be talking to a mixture of real people and ghosts.
3 – Talk too much
This is the opposite of the previous point. Some people seem unaware that they aren’t the only one interacting with the chair or trainer, so they talk every time they possibly can. Even worse, they not only act as if there is a prize for being the first to speak, but also as if the prize is bigger if they talk for longer. So they repeat the same concept several times just to give the impression they are saying a lot, when in fact they are just taking away others’ opportunities to intervene and not adding any value to the conversation. As a participant, if you want to kill a video meeting, whenever the chair says “Does anyone want to add something?” you should speak as much as you can, and never get to the point. You will probably find a chair or trainer who doesn’t have the courage to stop you or ask you to get to the point, so they’ll be collaborating with you while the others get bored. If you’re a chair or trainer, don’t tell people what you expect from them at the beginning of the meeting, and don’t stop people who talk too much; then your video conference will be a fantastic failure.
4 – Connect late
If a video conference is scheduled for 16.00 it means that it will start exactly at 16.00. Being synchronised when starting a visual meeting is not only a general assumption, but is key to working effectively when in remote mode. Practically speaking, this means that you are expected to be connected at least 3 minutes before the scheduled time or you’re probably already late. If you’re a participant and you want to undermine the video conference you’ve been invited to, don’t pay attention to the scheduled time, connect late without sending any warning message in advance and do so without giving any explanation. Some people will probably think that you’re a very busy and important manager. But most of them will understand exactly what you are: unprofessional and rude.
5 – Leave before the end
In a perfect world, a video conference should end at the scheduled time. In the real world, sometimes it ends some minutes early and sometimes some minutes later than planned. Since the attendees are usually there to work on something, they are expected not only to start together but also to end the working process together. Therefore, if you want to leave the impression you don’t care at all about what you’re doing, here are some simple rules for ending your participation. You can say goodbye and disconnect exactly when the conference was scheduled to end, not a second later, regardless of the importance of the topic being discussed. You can also leave the conference before the scheduled end, leaving a note on the chat so the others will be aware that you had something more important to do. Even better, just leave before the end without saying anything at all. After all you don’t owe any explanation to anyone, because you’re the one who works so hard and you don’t want to lose time like the others. Maybe the others will assume that you’re needed to close an important deal elsewhere or to attend a way more important meeting. In any case, the reality will be evident: you aren’t engaged in whatever is being discussed and the collaboration you’ll provide is close to zero.
In summary, each of these five habits contributes a little something to undermining a video conference. Following them as a participant will contribute to the inefficiency of your company. Following them as a chair or trainer, ignoring these warning signs and choosing to do nothing when you notice them, equates to failure for your meeting and for you as a leader.
So let’s be honest, how many video conferences have you helped to kill recently?
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