female delivering video conferencing tips at blackboard

Videoconferencing: How to Embrace This Mostly Hated Technology

Colleague #1: Hey, did you hear we’ve got a mandatory videoconference tomorrow?

Colleague #2: Oh No, I’d rather have a root canal!

We’ve all been there. 

Sometimes easier is also harder. Videoconferencing fits the bill. While on the surface, “meeting” with people via video technology rather than having them gather in one place seems far easier. But as you likely know, videoconferencing is rife with its own challenges. I was reminded of this recently as I hosted a training session with people from various parts of the world.

The business development training session I was delivering was important, valuable, and challenging just by the nature of the content. Adding video conferencing upped the challenge quotient! Not having everyone in the same room to play off one another reduced the spontaneity of debate. I had to be wary that the presentation didn’t become unidirectional with me doing all the talking. I also had to understand that videoconferencing requires the leader, in this case me, to be hyper-alert to people losing interest. I’m sure you’ve seen people blankly stare into their screens with the enthusiasm of a mortician. Worse, a distracted one. You run the risk of coming across like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day, “Bueller?, Bueller?, Bueller…?” 

Why People Hate Videoconferencing

So many reasons, so little time! As often as videoconferencing is used in today’s connected world, you might think people have accepted it as a normal way of doing business. In my experience, they have not. Why? Here are few excuses people use:

  • I’ve got deadlines to meet, I don’t have time for this
  • I don’t have anything to add to this meeting
  • I don’t care what the outcome is
  • This is “so” not urgent
  • The people in the meeting are the wrong people
  • Can’t this just be put into an email?

But the real reason people hate videoconferencing? Ineffectiveness of the conference leader! People tend to run videoconferences as they would an in-person meeting. And that is a big mistake.

The Key to a Successful Videoconference

As insinuated above, the key is YOU. As the leader, it’s up to you to make the videoconference compelling, interesting, and useful. If you’ve led a session, you know how much pressure this can put on you. However, in the end, whether the meeting is successful and worth the participants’ time falls directly on your shoulders. That’s a heavy load to carry. 

Let’s face it…in-person meetings are better. People are more connected. Distractions are left outside the meeting room. You can more easily interpret body language. You can see if John is checking his texts rather than paying attention! In short, you can read the audience and adjust your presentation on the fly so that you keep their attention. So much harder to do with a videoconference, right?

We can’t ignore, however, that videoconferencing is here to stay. They are far less costly than in-person meetings when you factor in travel expenses and lack of productivity/availability while traveling. Given that, you can host video meetings with far more regularity than in-person meetings. Can you imagine flying everyone in for a weekly check-in? Of course not. So, they do have a place in our current business operations. Let’s just work together to make them better, ok?

How to Increase the Effectiveness of Videoconferencing

Based on my experience with video conferencing sessions lately, I’m glad to offer you some key tips that will make your next session more impactful.

  • Call on People: How do you make sure people are alert, paying attention and engaged in a video conference (or any meeting, really)? Call on them! Establish up front while delivering your agenda that you intend to call on people to determine if what you are saying is resonating, if there are any questions, if there is anything needing further explanation, etc. As you might imagine, this will help make sure that people stay focused, ignore distractions, and are ready on a moment’s notice to answer a question. Fear of “looking bad” in this case is a great motivator!
  • Present an Agenda: I’ve stressed this many times on this blog…you HAVE to have an agenda to run an effective meeting. Get consensus on it up front. Stick to it. If someone tries to take the meeting in a different direction, table it! You can address that issue in another meeting or offline. 
  • Summarize every agenda point: Make sure people understand each agenda item and the goal that discussion around each point should target
  • Know your audience: Make sure you know why each agenda item and point is important to your audience. If you can’t define this, that’s a good indication that what you are presenting is not going to “land” with them.
  • Draw people out to fully frame an issue: On a videoconference, people will tend to “hide out” and not participate. It’s your job to get them to vocalize their thoughts for the benefit of all. Get participants involved so that it is “their” meeting, not just yours. Listen to how they react to what you are saying so you can understand their perspective. Define next steps: 
  • Listen to participants as though you are wrong. It fosters better participation.
  • Operationalize what needs to happen next: Make sure people understand their responsibilities, expected outcomes, and deadlines
  • Master the technology: So important! You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law, right (I wrote a book about it!). You must understand how your videoconferencing technology works. Work with your IT team to determine the potential pitfalls so you can solve issues before they happen. If the technology doesn’t work, nobody is going to blame Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or GoToMeeting. They will blame you! 

You Can Be an Effective Videoconference Leader 

Videoconferencing is only increasing. Embrace it, don’t run from it. See yourself as part of the meeting’s solution and stay on the playing field of the meeting. Do not sideline yourself.

Doing these actions shows your desire to make a genuine difference with the topic at hand and the people in the meeting. When the business day completes, you will be more fulfilled by having played and participated. Our hectic, heavily politicized, uber-connected world needs you and me to do this!

Have a videoconferencing nightmare to share? Post in the comments below or shoot me an email! – SG