Video Meetings & Conferences: How To

Video meetings and conferences can be a very useful tool, as we have all seen during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to helping us maintain physical distance, video meetings and conferences allow people to stay at home who might not be able to travel to an in-person meeting, whether due to cost, time, disability, lack of vehicle, or other reasons. We are all getting used to video calls, and knowing the etiquette and less-obvious tricks can help us feel more comfortable and ensure everyone can participate equally. 
Here are tips and suggestions for hosting and participating in a video meeting or conference. The first section is for all meeting participants, and the second section is tips related to hosting a meeting.

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For Meeting Participants 

  • Test your computer video and mic before joining the meeting. 
  • Consider viewing an online tutorial before the meeting if you are unfamiliar with the particular meeting software. 
  • If you have poor internet connection which disrupts the audio and video feeds, you can try :
      • Closing other windows on your browser, and if applicable, consider turning off Wi-Fi on your phone so that there’s more bandwidth for your computer. 
      • Turning off your video but keep your mic on. You’ll still be able to see people, and people may be able to hear you better. 
      • If neither of the above work, consider leaving the meeting, and then rejoining the meeting by calling in on the phone.
  • Sound:
    • If you’re unmuted, remember that people can hear everything around you, including your phone buzzing, others in your house talking and moving around, traffic, you crunching on chips, etc. 
    • Keep yourself on mute if you’re not talking.
    • Remember to unmute yourself when you start talking.
  • Video:
    • Video during a meeting is up to you. 
      • You may not wish to enable video because: 
        • You are not comfortable showing the location.
        • You do not have the internet capacity.
        • You do not feel comfortable being recorded on video.
      • You may wish to enable video because:
        • You are speaking and seeing your mouth will help people hear.
        • The conversation will benefit from facial expressions to help with nuance or relationships.
      • Some options are: 
        • Only start the video when you are speaking, and turn it off when you are not speaking.
        • Many video software tools will allow your screen to show a still photo of yourself, which can be a compromise.
    • If you do choose video:
      • Remember everyone can see you.
        • No one expects you to be wearing business attire while working from home, but ‘office casual’ may be appropriate.
        • People can see if you’re moving the screen or your computer around trying to find the best angle. 
        • People can also see that grimace you’re making!
  • Positioning and background: 
    • Ideally, choose to sit or stand where the sun or a light isn’t directly behind you—otherwise people will only see your outline. 
    • Check your background to ensure you are comfortable sharing the background with the group on the call.
  • Look at the camera when speaking so people with hearing impairments are able to read lips if necessary.
  • Chat function
    • Most video conference programs have a chat function—this can be helpful if people can’t hear you very well or if you want to insert a thought into the flow of conversation but can’t quite get a word without interrupting. 
    • Most chat functions also let you choose the chat recipients. Make sure you’re sending it to the right person or people! You can typically address the whole group OR a specific person (a private chat).

For Meeting Hosts

Planning the meeting
  • Develop an agenda and meeting objectives.
  • Consider whether this meeting is best served by video conference or whether a conference call would suffice. 
  • Decide how you want to manage participation, and communicate your plans to participants.
    • Will you call on people or let them jump in verbally?
    • Do you want people to use the chat function or the ‘raise hand’ function? 
    • Will you mute all participants as a default at the start of the meeting?
  • Consider accessibility. Are there meeting participants who don’t have access to high-speed Internet? Are there meeting participants who have hearing or visual impairment? Many video meeting platforms have accessibility features, like closed captioning and screen reader support. Look into these beforehand and prepare appropriately. 
  • Are you running a meeting where some people are joining virtually and some are joining in person? This can be tricky. Check out this video from UNH Extension for tips on “hybrid meetings.” 
  • Learn how to use the screen share function, breakout rooms, etc. before you start the meeting. Ideally, run a practice meeting with friends or coworkers before the real meeting. 
  • When you share the meeting invite with participants, make sure you share the WHOLE invite from the video conference software so that people can see the various ways to join the meeting, including the phone-only option. Re-send the invite right before the meeting so participants have the link at their fingertips when it’s time to log on.
  • Ask participants to join a few minutes early so they can test their audio and video.
Before the meeting
  • Start the meeting a good ten minutes early so you can test the video and microphone and troubleshoot before others join. 
  • Consider starting the meeting from within your meeting software account rather than clicking on the link you provided to participants. This way, you can better control the meeting settings and reduce the risk of spammers joining the meeting. 
  • Give your participants a way to reach you if they lose the connection and are unable to rejoin.
  • If you are facilitating the meeting, ask someone else to take notes. Especially if you’re screen sharing, it’s too confusing and complex to juggle everything yourself. 
  • It’s helpful to record the meeting for people who miss it. Send the recording to participants after the meeting. 
During the meeting
  • Introduce people as they join—especially when some participants have joined by phone rather than video and not everyone can see who has joined. For example, say, “Hi Doreen. Welcome. We’re joined by Tommy and Ana already.” And then go around the ‘room’ again once everyone has joined so people can hear names again. 
  • Introduce the meeting the same way you would an in-person meeting. Talk about logistics, go over the agenda, and explain when people can ask questions or when discussion should happen. Lay out how to use the chat function if you want people to use that. Provide the framework and structure so that the meeting is contained and clear, especially since some of the nuance and non-verbal cues present in person are lost on video conference. 
  • Figure out a way to make sure everyone gets heard. Either call on people in the order in which they appear on your screen, or choose one person to start and then ask them to choose the next person to talk and so on. 
  • An in-person meeting longer than an hour or 90 minutes is more time than most people can comfortably listen and participate. A virtual meeting is the same. If planning a long meeting, give people time for a break and considering using breakout groups so that people stay engaged. 
  • Keep an eye on the chat bar for comments, questions, a plea to speak up, speak slower, etc.
If you or others have poor internet connection
  • Consider holding a phone conference instead.
  • Turn off screen sharing—this can take up bandwidth. Instead, email documents or slides to the group beforehand so they can follow along on their own. 
  • Close other windows on your browser, and if applicable, consider turning off Wi-Fi on your phone so that there’s more bandwidth for your computer. 
Prevent your meeting from being hacked
  • You have likely heard on the news about so-called ‘Zoombombing,’ where hackers take over a meeting with hateful or offensive content. The New York Times shares these tips for preventing this:
    • Don’t share your meeting link or code on social media
    • Set a meeting password
    • Create a waiting room 
    • Set screen sharing to “host only”
    • Restrict other features as needed in host controls, like private chats and custom backgrounds.
  • Here is another article from UC Berkeley about preventing your meeting from being hacked

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility held an excellent webinar called “Mastering Virtual Meetings, Webinars, and Remote Workshops” – watch it here.

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— Bethany Fleishman, Transportation Program Manager

Bethany Fleishman was born at the old Mary Hitchcock hospital in Hanover, N.H., grew up in West Hartford, Vt., and now lives in Hartford Village, where she can see the White River and the trains from her window. She has a biology degree from St. Lawrence University and has worked in public health outreach, as a line cook in San Francisco, a pastry chef in Hanover, and as a member of the Town of Hartford Selectboard. She serves on the board of directors for both Advance Transit and Upper Valley CarShare and is a lifelong bike commuter.