With the skies over Europe still (rather blissfully) free of planes, more people will be thinking about meeting by phone, video conference, telepresence or web-meeting. Like Fay Ripley and this groovy crowd in the dothegreenthing video strange meeting, part of their stay grounded strand.
On the cheap
If you have skype then teleconferences for a small number of people are possible at very low cost. If there are only two of you, you can video call using skype.
I expect that providers of web meeting software will find their free trials taken up a lot this week. Free trials are available on Citrix GoToMeeting , Webex and DimDim (which also has a totally free product). Acrobat Connect is free for small meetings - three people maximum. Elluminate.com is aimed primarly at a teaching / training situation, but their vRoom product is free for up to three people to meet.
If you aren’t used to this way of meeting, but have been forced to change your plans, here are some top tips for teleconferences.
Before the call
Ensure that someone takes responsibility for preparing and chairing the call - including
- confirming start and finish times.
- compiling an agenda and circulating it to everyone in advance. The agenda should be descriptive - that is, for each item, it should be clear what the ‘task’ is to be undertaken in relation to that item (hear an update, share views, reach a decision etc).
- ensuring that it’s clear what preparation is expected for the meeting (e.g. circulating a paper, reading the paper, etc).
- sending round details of the number to call, any associated PIN, and whether the number is toll-free.
- ensuring that someone has agreed to take a note of key decisions and action points.
All participants should make sure they are calling in from somewhere quiet and with minimum distractions.
Let the chair know if you cannot make the call.
At the start
When you join the conference, announce your presence.
At the start of the call, make time for
- a round of introductions
- confirming the agenda and altering it if needed
- confirming the end time
- discussing and agreeing any ground rules
During the call
- During the teleconference - and this may sound laborious, but it really helps - for each item or point, the person chairing should give everyone a chance to contribute by going around the group in a set order, e.g. alphabetical order of first name, (with people ‘passing’ if they like). People should say when they’ve finished on each point, so that others don’t interrupt or get twitchy about how they’re going to catch the chair's eye.
- If the conversation is flowing more freely, people should state their name when talking.
- Keep interruptions and distractions to a minimum - rustling, snuffling, chewing, tapping, side conversations all add to the background noise for everyone.
- Some conference call systems have a ‘mute’ facility, which automatically mutes people’s phone lines when they are not talking.
At the end
At the end of the meeting, make time for
- a final round of checking that there’s nothing else people would like to raise
- confirming action points
- confirming the arrangements for the next meeting
- feedback on anything that needs to be done differently at the next meeting (process review)
Gillian Martin Mehers has blogged about preparing for a video conference.
Facilitate Proceedings blog about virtual meetings.
If you’re interested in exploring how to facilitate really good group interactions online, there is also a curriculum for an online facilitation course, developed by Nancy White.
Practising for transition?
After the 7-7 tube bombings in London, there was a surge in the number of people cycling. This rise was sustained, and London still echoes to the swish of cycle wheels. Over the next few days, as people are forced to find ways of doing business without flying, perhaps some of the experiments will be so successful that they’ll be added to the set of options which are considered ‘normal’. Maybe we’ll look back and discover that we were experimenting and practising for transition to a low-carbon economy.
Have fun with your experiments.
Small print: I don’t have any business connection with any of the products mentioned, nor does their presence here imply any endorsement etc. Just blogging to be helpful.