Between poor connections, annoying background noise, participants not knowing what’s being discussed and off-topic conversations, a conference call can quickly run off the rails. As with any other type of meeting, no one wants to sit through a call where nothing is accomplished. This is especially true with the awkwardness traditional phone-only conference calls can inspire when body language and nonverbal cues are missed.
However, remote and hybrid work arrangements are becoming the norm, which means conference calls are here to stay. Fortunately, videoconferencing can ease some of the issues surrounding typical conference calls. With that in mind, we’ve put together a primer on how to maximize productivity in video meetings to ensure they’re a truly useful communication tool for your business.
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To help business owners host productive videoconferences, we sought advice from seasoned professionals who regularly host and participate in these types of meetings. Here are 10 tips they offered on how best to boost productivity in videoconference calls.
As a freelance small business and communications consultant, Rob Swystun participates in numerous videoconferences. To make sure these meetings run smoothly, he is flexible about the videoconferencing software he uses. For example, some clients may prefer Skype, while others use Zoom. [See our comparison of Zoom versus RingCentral.]
“I always let the clients choose [the platform] 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., general manager of the Senior Savings Network, said choosing a quiet and appropriate location is critical for those who are hosting or participating in video calls outside 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, CEO of House of Who, said a lot of time is wasted when latecomers join the meeting 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 videoconference 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 [for some attendees], 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.
Videoconferencing 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, said that to ensure the meeting starts on time and runs smoothly, check that the conferencing service is working properly before your meeting begins.
“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, videoconference participants don’t turn on their video cameras 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, explaining, “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 videoconference call. That’s why Ciara Hautau, a senior digital marketer at Sparro, believes it’s vital that everyone turn their microphones 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 videoconference expert advises. A set agenda lets everyone attending know exactly what will be discussed. That way, participants can come prepared to weigh in on those topics.
Daniela Andreevska, a freelance content strategist and creator, said an agenda helps people prepare for the meeting and follow along with the discussion.
“For maximum productivity, it is recommended to have [listed] not only the topics 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 detail in which you’d like to discuss it.”
For a meeting that’s organized throughout and concludes with specific results, you need to have one person who is 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.”
The host should coordinate with that person to help prepare the agenda.
“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 [them] 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 videoconferences productive is to stay on topic and limit the nonwork-related chatter, said Carlo Borja, head of online marketing for Time Doctor.
“It’s OK to talk about personal stuff in between [topics], but it should not distract everyone from the agenda,” he said.
Following proper business etiquette is particularly important in client meetings.
With remote work, or variations of it, here to stay, videoconferences have quickly become the meeting method of choice for many organizations. That’s because video technology enhances the communication experience more than a typical phone call.
Joe Manuele, former senior vice president of corporate and business development at communications platform company Dialpad, said audio-only 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. [Learn about Dialpad’s videoconferencing tools in our detailed review of the Dialpad business phone system.]
“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.
Furthermore, videoconferencing connects people regardless of location, allows participants to present information on-screen, and makes collaboration easier. You just have to use such meetings wisely.
“Hosting productive video meetings is mission-critical in today’s current work environment,” said Manuele. “When meetings become time sucks, they lead to frustration for everyone involved and waste money for the business.”
Underscoring the importance of videoconference meetings — and the need to run them efficiently — are findings from Dialpad’s State of Video Conferencing. According to the company’s research, the typical person has an average of 9 or 10 videoconference meetings a month. Altogether, almost 40 percent of workers spend between 10 and 30 percent of their week in videoconferences.
With that much time devoted to video meetings, they need to be worthwhile. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the benefits your business stands to gain from videoconferencing and, rather than improving productivity, you’ll end up lowering it.
Love them or hate them, videoconference calls are part and parcel of modern business. However, much of the inefficiency and awkwardness of these meetings can be easily fixed by following the tips above. For companies still struggling to find their flow, check to see if the platform you’re using suits your business-use cases. If it doesn’t, read our roundup for the best business phone systems for small businesses. A number of solutions feature stellar videoconferencing capabilities.
Jeremy Bender contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.