I had a gap in my career as many people do. Mine was a little over ten years and was spent home with my two young daughters. When I returned to the workforce, while the basic skills needed to be successful in my job were the same, the tools to achieve that success had changed significantly in my time away. Technology had opened many options that had not been readily available previously. As my background had been in software quality assurance testing and I was very comfortable with technology, I was confident in my ability to learn the new tools quickly and feel strongly that because of the speed with which things do change the flexibility to learn and adapt is sometimes more crucial than which technology skills you already possess.
But, beyond just learning the rudimentary skills needed to understand the basics, is learning how to capitalize on a specific technology tool and fully utilize all the functionality it may offer. One of the more interesting tools, but also one that can be quite frustrating, are those that provide you with the ability to host and participate in remote meetings.
Having now participated in hundreds of these meetings I have some thoughts on this particular technology tool and have put together what I see as some of the pros and cons. These are my just my opinions and other participants may have a different view on what is great and not so great about this type of meeting format. Keep in mind that this list would vary depending on the type of meeting you are trying to host remotely such as whether it a larger meeting with multiple attendees versus a one on one training. This list is geared towards a multi-person web based meeting. There are many factors that can impact your success.
- Schedule Flexibility | It requires less coordination and is generally easier to fit into attendees schedules. In addition, it is easy to run multiple web based sessions of the same meeting allowing more options for live attendance.
- Attend from Multiple Locations | Everyone does not have to be in the same location for a web session. If you have employees that work from home or you have more than one office, each person can access the meeting from their own location. This can be extremely helpful when people are not located geographically close to one another and help reduce travel expenses while still allowing everyone to participate in key meetings and events.
- Focus Presentation | With web meetings you can present software screens and highlight specific content more easily. While this can be done with an on-site meeting, the ability to zoom in and really highlight key points that you are making is done more easily with a web based meeting where everyone is viewing the same screen.
- Record Sessions | One thing I find especially useful is that web sessions can be recorded. If someone is unable to attend, they can still view the presentation at a later date. Or, if you've forgotten something or need a refresher or some training you completed previously, you can revisit the recorded presentation.
- Transition Between Presenters | While this one can sometimes get a little clunky, for the most part, it is easy to move between multiple presenters during a web based session. While you can certainly have more than one presenter at a live meeting as well, the ability to bounce back and forth between presenters is more streamlined with a web based meeting. Sharing screens and making other attendees the presenter is usually just a click away.
- Incorporate Visual Aids | While there is a range of success in this area, a web session does allow for a more dynamic presentation where you can engage the attendees through visual and audio cues. The key is to spend time preparing for the meeting and making sure what you are presenting utilizes the range of options available and that it packs a great visual punch.
- Communication | With larger groups on a web meeting, it can be hard to know when to talk as you can't physically see when someone is about to speak. I have found that It can be helpful to have a meeting coordinator who monitors the chat box and screens for input from attendees. They can be the primary person to relay questions that may come up. Also, allowing regular breaks to ask for input and feedback giving others an opportunity to join in can be helpful. Sometimes using these breaks to address specific, directed questions can be more successful in generating conversation among the group.
- Silence | Because it can be difficult to communicate or callers have been muted to improve meeting acoustics, there is often complete silence other than the presenters which can make it hard to gauge if participates are understanding a presentation or when is the best time to move onto the next topic. Some of the items listed with the above bullet point can help in this area as well.
- Lack of Visual Cues | With everyone remote, you cannot see their faces and therefore don't have the typical body language clues as to whether or not they are grasping the material or engaged with the meeting. Some meeting options allow you to use webcams to include participants visually in the meeting. I have not used these extensively so can't speak to their success but I am intrigued.
- Loss of Personalization | I do find it a bit more impersonal to do a web meeting versus an onsite one partly because of the communication and visual issues listed previously but also because they are usually targeted, specific meetings within a set time frame and there is often no opportunity for casual conversation and informal discussion.
- Technology Issues | One of the biggest drawbacks to these types of meetings can be technology problems. For example, if your internet is down, or someone forgets to mute themselves during the meeting. The list of technology problems that can impact the meeting is significant. To minimize this as much as possible, as the presenter you need to take control and mute attendees as well as login ahead of time to be sure things are running smoothly and you have access to the necessary programs you will need for your meeting.
We present a lot of online content to our customers from informal support sessions to more structured webinars or other web based meetings. We are always discussing ways we can improve and engage more successfully with our customers during this type of format. We would love your comments as to what your experiences have been and what you feel works or doesn't work with online meetings.
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