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Grow Your Business Technology

10 Tips to Host a Productive Video Conference

image for wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Between poor internet connections, annoying background noise, participants not knowing what is being discussed and off-topic conversations, a video conference call can quickly run off the rails.

With remote work on the rise, video conferences have quickly become the meeting method of choice for many organizations. Joe Manuele, CEO of video conferencing service provider Highfive, said conference calls are subpar because they don't give participants the opportunity to see those who are speaking and get the full meaning of what is being said.

"Seeing someone face-to-face in a video ensures they can communicate verbally and nonverbally and create an in-room feeling for remote callers that allows them to feel comfortable and fully participate," Manuele said.

As with any other type of meeting, though, no one wants to sit through one where nothing is accomplished. Any video conferences you hold should be a productive use of everyone's time.

"Hosting productive video meetings is mission-critical in today's current work environment," Manuele said. "When meetings become time sucks, they lead to frustration for everyone involved and waste money for the business."

Unfortunately, he said, video meetings are often unproductive. Research Highfive conducted found that it takes eight minutes to start a typical video call, while two-thirds of those surveyed have calls with audio issues. Overall, just 17% of workers are satisfied with their video conferencing systems.

"This means that today's workers are feeling bogged down when their technology doesn't work – and even more so when the meeting itself isn't productive," Manuele said.

Editor's note: Looking for the right video conferencing service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

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To help you host productive video meetings, we sought out advice from those who regularly host and participate in these types of meetings. Here are 10 tips they offered on how best to boost productivity in video meetings.

As a freelance small business and communications consultant, Rob Swystun participates in numerous video conferences. To make sure the meetings run smoothly, he is flexible in the video conferencing software. For example, some clients may prefer Skype, while others use Zoom.

"I always let the clients choose so they are comfortable," Swystun said. "This guarantees that there won't be any fumbling around and wasting of time with a service that they are unfamiliar with."

Christopher Westfall Sr., owner of MedicareAgentTraining.com, said choosing a quiet and appropriate location is critical for those who are hosting or participating in video calls from outside of the workplace.

"The environment where the participant will be connecting to the meeting is important," Westfall said. "Babies crying, dogs barking, kids running through the house are not conducive to a productive exchange."

Shannon DeJong, owner and CEO of House of Who, said there's a lot of wasted time when latecomers join and give the obligatory apology.

"This takes significant effort, since punctuality is deeply rooted in a company's culture, and especially apparent with inter-company calls," she said.

To develop video conference punctuality habits, DeJong suggests having meetings start at five past the hour, or at another odd time so people take more notice of the start time. She said to put in the description of the agenda, "We will start exactly at 9:01" or "Please be punctual."

"If punctuality is difficult, begin the meetings on time anyway, and embed a culture of 'don't be late, but if you do, come in quietly' to avoid all the small talk and apologies," DeJong said.

Video conferencing tools like 360-degree cameras, screen sharing and virtual meeting hosts help ensure all employees can follow what's going on and stay engaged, said Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs.

"But most importantly, these tools will help remote participants feel like they are in the room, instead of just a fly on the wall," he said. "Remote participants are more likely to contribute to the meeting when they don't feel like their presence was an afterthought."

Dave Crenshaw, a productivity and leadership consultant and instructor on LinkedIn Learning, said that, to ensure the meeting starts on time and runs smoothly, it is important to make sure the conferencing service is working properly before the meeting starts.

"Ensure your face is visible and clear, that you are able to screen-share for easy collaboration, and that background noises are minimized by being in a quiet, private space," he said.

Too often, video conference participants don't turn on their video stream during meetings. Suz O'Donnell, a portfolio leader at Point B, said this is a huge miss.

"The whole conversation changes when your face is also on the video," she said. "You can see each other's expressions, feel more like a team, and it will prevent almost everyone from multitasking."

O'Donnell said multitasking is significantly more difficult when others can see you. "This means your remote workforce cannot be in a meeting with you while also checking email, finishing a spreadsheet or checking their phone. This will kill your organization's productivity."

Background noise can be particularly distracting during a video conference call. That's why Ciara Hautau, a lead digital marketing strategist at Fueled, believes it is critical that everyone turns their audio off when they aren't talking.

"You can't imagine the things that we hear in the background: other employees chatting, people typing, street noise, etc.," she said. "It's super distracting. Ensure that the only person who has their audio on is the person speaking. This helps keep the meeting more focused, and everyone can clearly hear and communicate."

Preparing an agenda and sending it out prior to the meeting is a step nearly every video conference expert advises. A set agenda lets everyone attending know exactly what will be discussed. That way, they can come prepared to weigh in on those topics.

Daniela Andreevska, marketing director at Mashvisor, said an agenda helps people prepare for the meeting and follow along with the discussion.

"For maximum productivity, it is recommended to have not only the topics which you need to go over but also how long you plan to stay on each," she said. "This will show participants the importance of each issue and the level of details in which you'd like to discuss it."

For your meeting to be organized throughout and conclude with specific results, you have to have one person in charge of the discussion, according to Andreevska.

"This doesn't necessarily have to be the person who hosts the meeting or who has organized it," she said. "You can delegate the task to your colleague with the most expertise in the issue that's the focus of the meeting."

That being said, the host should coordinate with that person to help prepare the agenda, she said.

"At the beginning of the meeting, if you are the host, start out the meeting by introducing the topic and the person in charge, and then let him or her lead from there on," Andreevska said. "Of course, if you see that the meeting is losing focus, you can intervene, but try to keep your interventions to a minimum."

One way to keep video conferences productive is to stay on topic and limit the non-work-related chatter, said Carlo Borja, head of online marketing for Time Doctor.

"It's OK to talk about personal stuff in between, but it should not distract everyone from the agenda," he said.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has spent more than 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.