Darth Vader and the Virtual Meeting
Back in 1980, George Lucas and his production company, Lucasfilm, released a little movie by the name of The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Looking back (and compared to today’s standards), the special effects were a little corny and the costumes were pretty outrageous. But something happened in that film that was light years ahead of its time:
A virtual meeting.
Granted, the meeting took place by way of a hologram. (What else is an evil sith lord to do when he can’t make it to the other side of the galaxy for a sit-down with his pupil Darth Vader?) Nevertheless, it was a virtual meeting—and it made doing business a lot quicker and simpler.
How a Teleconference Brings People Together
Virtual meetings are the easiest and most efficient for you to meet with colleagues and clients. They’re just as useful to provide training, get people together to review or approve plans, or to deliver sales presentations.
What exactly is a virtual meeting? It’s a meeting that uses video-teleconference software to bring people in separate locations together.
Maybe everyone in on the virtual meeting is in the same city but different buildings, or maybe they’re in difference cities (or even on different continents!). The great thing about the internet is that it doesn’t matter where you are. You can schedule a teleconference with anyone, anywhere to communicate “virtually” face-to-face, as long as there’s a computer or mobile device with an internet connection around.
Virtual Meetings for Everything
Whether yours is a large or small business, or if you sell a product or a service, you can and should be holding virtual meetings whenever possible.
That’s not to say every meeting should be a teleconference; there’s still plenty a true face-to-face conversation can achieve that can’t be replicated with a webcam. But if all you really need to do is check in with your staff or a colleague to review a task or get an update on a special project, a virtual meeting is all that’s necessary.
Virtual meetings are especially beneficial for businesses that don’t have enough space to hold large gatherings of people.
Rather than trying to cram 50 people into a small conference room or pay to rent a suitable space, you can set up a teleconference instead. Everyone connects to the internet, navigates to a webpage, and enters login credentials to be a part of the meeting.
The same holds true for training events, seminars and workshops. Many virtual meeting platforms allow you to record the meeting, too. This can be particularly helpful when someone on your team is sick or otherwise can’t make the teleconference in real time.
Don’t worry about needing high-priced video conferencing software, either. Even the smallest business can hold virtual meetings for free. All you need to do is familiarize yourself with how to set up a meeting and invite people to join in. If you don’t have any experience with virtual meetings, here are a few no-cost options to check out:
- ezTalks Meetings
- Apache OpenMeetings
- Google Hangouts
There are many others out there, and they all present the same benefit: They allow you to communicate through video with other people for a more personal experience.
Plan Your Teleconference Wisely
Let’s suppose you own a medium-sized business and you want to set up a teleconference with your supplier in the next state. As the host, what should you do?
First, you need to choose which virtual meeting software you want to use and spend some time getting to know how it works. There are literally dozens of YouTube videos that will help you learn the software and show you, step-by-step, how to set up your virtual meeting.
Next, you should put a plan together. A virtual meeting may seem more informal than an in-person meeting, but it’s never a waste of time to put some thought and effort into planning.
While the ability to “meet” with other people from practically anywhere can certainly be advantageous, it can also be a big disadvantage. Consider any distractions you may encounter during your virtual meeting. Where will you be?
At home: You don’t want your child, pet, or other family members to distract you while you’re involved in your virtual meeting.
On the road: If you’re logging in from a train station or airport lounge, you probably won’t be able to control the noise level around you.
Off-site: Working from a local coffeehouse or a shared workspace is a nice change of pace, but will you have the privacy you need to fully engage in the virtual meeting?
Come up with a format the others in the meeting will be most responsive to. We suggest planning your teleconference in 10-minute segments to match the average person’s attention span. Remember, the people sitting in on this meeting are joining from behind a desk or on their smartphones. These are places they already spend a significant amount of time each day. At the 10-minute mark, insert some sort of a break to avoid losing your audience’s attention.
If you’re the one leading the virtual meeting, keep in mind a teleconference doesn’t progress exactly the same way an in-person meeting does. There’s usually a two- or three-second delay due to the fact you’re communicating through the internet. That means it’s a good idea to linger on a pause after asking a question to give everyone a chance to respond.
One more thing: Look at the camera, not the screen, when you talk. It will make your conversation with the others participating in the virtual meeting look and feel more natural.
Video Conference Follow-up
Just like a follow-up message is appropriate after an in-person meeting, it’s equally important after a virtual meeting, particularly if the meeting ended with action items. It’s always a good idea to send out a follow-up email to your virtual meeting to review the teleconference’s purpose and what’s expected now that it’s over. If there are deadlines to be met or tasks to be completed that were talked about during the meeting, reinforce them by including them in your email. You might also want to touch on the good ideas and feedback that came out of the virtual meeting, too.