Many IT consultants find themselves using the full range or remote working tools. Of those, online conference tools can be the most useful and the most difficult to use correctly. Once you have solved the problems of scheduling through multiple time zones, giving your meeting attendees easy access and managing effective online meetings, it gets easier.
Problems still exist because people fill the meeting spaces. And people have different habits, viewpoints, idiosyncrasies and come from many cultures. Self-awareness is important.
Here are some things to consider during online meetings:
If you participate in an online meeting, be present. Don’t multi-task, because there is no such thing. You don’t want to be embarrassed when you are asked to comment on a topic you should have been listening to. We’ve all been there, and there’s no replay button.
Be A Mute Master:
Mastering control over your Mute button, whether it be on your phone or computer, is one of the most important skills you will use. All too often, I’ve heard coughs, burps, slurping, sighing and heavy breathing, sneezes, background scratching, office hubbub, yawning, traffic, babies and children, keyboard hammering (also known as typing) and a multitude of other distracting sounds. Refuse to be part of the problem by embracing your inner silence when it’s needed.
But be ready to toggle the mute button instantly when it’s your turn to speak.
Avoid Causing Echo (Feedback):
Audio feedback, digital echo, whatever you call it, it’s one of the most off-putting things that can happen during an online meeting; it can appear unprofessional and waste everyone’s valuable time. Typically it is caused by someone using audio speakers (rather than a telephone’s handset speaker or a headset or in-ear buds). Quite often, the person causing the problem is unaware of it because it does not manifest itself at their end of the connection.
- Person X and Person Y join the call.
- X is using in-ear speaker buds with the microphone on the cable.
- Y is using the laptop’s internal speakers and microphone. The speaker volume is loud.
- Person X speaks and their voice is loud over Y’s speakers.
- The sound is so loud it repeats back into Y’s microphone and X hears their voice back (with a small delay).
- Person Y is unaware of the problem because they can only hear the laptop speakers at their end.
- Person Y lowers the speaker volume (this may reduce but not eliminate the problem).
- Person Y uses a headset or in-ear speaker buds with cable microphone.
Be Audible & Clear:
If you find that connecting to the meeting audio through your computer (know as “VOIP” or Voice Over IP) results in a bad audio signal quality, find an alternative means of connecting e.g. dialling in through a telephone number or by improving your audio equipment or internet connection. Most online meeting systems provide a method of testing your audio signal by recording you and playing it back. Do this in advance to verify you’re not part of the problem.
Manage Audio Delays:
In many cases, particularly when calls span large geographical distance (and due to other factors) the audio signal from any one of the callers may be subject to delays. When this happens, it adds a new level of difficulty to the meeting. When you notice people taking longer than usual to respond to questions, this is often an indicator.
If delays exist in a meeting and you are in a position whereby you can address all attendees and set the scene, it’s often useful to point out to others that delays are happening on the call and ask them to take this into account. Give everyone talking a chance to complete what they are saying. Ask the attendees to be specific to whom they address their questions to avoid ambiguity. Show patience in allowing attendees to respond to questions and to progress the discussion.
The reality is that this is a tough one – there’s no hard-and-fast fix. But awareness of the problem is important, and if everyone is patient and aware, the path can be a lot smoother.
One sign of an experienced or unprofessional consultant is premature interruption. Particularly when dealing with customers, allow them to finish what they are saying, even if you are champing at the bit to put them straight on something, to question something they said or to offer them your comfort with your great answer to their questions or concerns. Let them know you’ve heard them and want to hear all they have to say.