As we continue to navigate COVID-19, many of us have become familiar with the Zoom meeting and webinar platform. This has certainly been the case for the staff of the In Trust Center. In the last few months, we have held multiple seminars, springboard meetings, webinars, and facilitated conversations with large groups. And on a smaller scale, we have also had weekly staff meetings and meetings with colleagues on Zoom.
Here are a few things we have learned during this time about how to host effectively and participate fruitfully in Zoom meetings.
1. Prepare. Whether you are hosting a meeting or participating in someone else’s meeting, the best way to improve your Zoom skills is by practicing. And not at the last minute — and especially not once you are in a meeting!
2. Test with a colleague. User experience should always be at the top of your list of considerations. When you are hosting a Zoom meeting, do a few test runs with a colleague and go through the entire process, including planning, facilitating, and leading. Identify all potential tech problems. Do you know how to enable screen sharing? If you are making a presentation, can you switch from presenter to presenter? Test audio and video beforehand and make adjustments as necessary. On the day of the event, log in early and be ready to help users with login problems and other logistic issues.
3. Consider your environment. When we participate in virtual meetings from home, we are inviting colleagues and strangers into our personal space. Kids and pets may be charming to some people, but they may also be a distraction. If possible, find a place where you have privacy and quiet — and no unexpected visitors.
- Good lighting is important! Be sure your face is clearly visible so it doesn't not look like you're broadcasting from a dark cave. Optimal lighting comes from in front of you or from the side.
- Your background should be simple, not distracting. If your background is less than ideal, or you simply do not like the idea of inviting your Zoom colleagues into your living room, consider setting up a privacy screen behind you. You may also want to try Zoom’s virtual background feature, but — and this is important — test your virtual background with a friend or colleague before using it with the wider public.
4. Watch what you wear. If you want to be taken seriously while on a work-related Zoom call, it’s best to dress as you would at work. Choose colors and patterns carefully. If you have a solid color background (whether a wall or a screen), consider wearing a top that is a different color so you don’t blend in into it. Also, certain prints and patterns can be surprisingly distracting. I made the mistake of wearing a blouse with a busy print to a Zoom staff meeting. Unfortunately, the black and white pattern was noticeably dancing and shimmying on the screen. I will not be wearing that top on any videoconference again!
5. Communicate with attendees. Before the meeting, share your agenda and offer tips that will help attendees navigate the Zoom meeting you are hosting. Consider sharing a cheat sheet that includes links to websites you may want them to open and information about Zoom functions (including how to mute oneself, chat, ask questions, take part in polls, raise a hand, and share a screen). Let everyone know whom to contact for troubleshooting. At the top of the meeting, lay out your expectations for the meeting and address any concerns about how it will be run. Be sure that everyone’s voices are heard and responded to — especially in larger groups.
6. Work with a team. For larger events, or more interactive ones, and for meetings where there are several presenters, designate someone to be in charge of behind-the-scenes work such as screen sharing, muting participants at appropriate times, and answering chats and Q&As. This will let the presenters focus on presenting.
7. Have a backup plan. In the event of technology problems — and they will inevitably happen, as we have discovered firsthand — a contingency plan can save the day. If you are the host and you lose your power, your internet connection, or your Wi-Fi, is there an alternative location you can use? Be sure that you have the phone numbers of your speakers, along with their presentation materials, so if they get cut off, you can take over. Give presenters alternate login information and ask them to print hard copies of their notes and PowerPoint slides in case they need to dial in by phone. In that case, you as the host can advance their slides while they continue with the presentation.
8. Keep it interactive. Depending on the length of your meeting and the number of attendees, it can be hard to keep an audience engaged. Can you start with an icebreaker such as a poll to gauge feedback on a particular topic? Encourage people to raise their hands, use the chat, and ask questions in order to keep them involved and interested.
Have other tips that weren’t included? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below you’ll find additional resources on how to effectively engage Zoom for your stakeholders: