5 tips for a better Web conference
Getting comfortable with online etiquetteright down to the smiley emoticons and acronyms such as "FWIW" (for what it's worth)can be a challenge. Even more daunting can be learning how to conduct a successful online meeting.
But Web meetings are good for your business. They can save you money on travel, boost communication between workers and clientseven increase sales. With these greater rewards come risks: the chance that a misstep will cost your company a deal, or worse, a client.
It doesn't have to come to that, of course. Here are five things you need to remember about online meeting etiquette that will help you avoid an unnecessary loss.
1. Don't forget to pay attention. Not that there's going to be a pop quiz afterwards, but reallydo you check your e-mail when someone is talking to you? Do you take calls on your cell phone? Web meeting participants often mistakenly believe that because they are not in the same room as the other participants, they can engage in any number of activities. Moreover, if you take a snooze during a Web meeting, you could miss an important business opportunity.Do this: Minimize all of the windows on your PCespecially the one with all of your e-mailand tell your colleagues that you are in a meeting. (Which, of course, you are.) That's particularly important if you're a speaker. Remember, you're setting the tone for the meeting, so even looking distracted can lead to disaster.
2. Don't forget who the boss is. Whether you're leading a meeting of a dozen or several thousand, you need to keep in mind that you're not presiding over a democracy. Benevolent dictatorship is more like it. "Successful Web meetings require a good facilitator to promote the inclusion of diverse parties and to keep agendas and meeting goals focused," says Jennifer DeVoe, chief executive of White Horse in Portland, Ore., and an online meetings expert. "Keep the agenda very tight and on target. The designated facilitator should play an active role in keeping the participants involved and engaged."Do this: Create an itinerary and stick to it. If there are questions that can't be addressed within the meeting's time frame, you can always invite follow-up conversations by e-mail. (Of course, you can be polite about staying on tracka good moderator doesn't alienate the audience.)
3. Don't forget about your real-life surroundings. This applies to youwhether you're a moderator or a participant. As both a featured speaker at Web meetings and as a participant, I'm annoyed at panelists who don't bother to shut the door to their office or who type e-mails while they're on the line (you can hear the clickety-clack of their keyboards), or who fail to turn off their cell phones. Needless to say, these things don't reflect well on you or your company, and should be avoided. Do this: When preparing for a Web meeting, imagine that your office is on stage and that the "audience" is in the room. Don't say anything, wear anything, or do anything that you wouldn't in real life.
4. Don't forget: It's still a Web meeting. One of the most difficult concepts for Web conferencing first-timers to grasp is that a Web meeting isn't a phone call. And it isn't an in-person meeting (although many of the same rules apply). There are a few new rules for Web meetings, and they must be learned. "You have to communicate differently with a Web meeting," explains Matt Abrahams, a former vice president of education for Openwave, Inc., who is now an instructor at De Anza College, in Cupertino, Calif. Do this: After each point, the presenter shouldn't just ask if there are any questions. "Both presenter and audience are better served by asking specific questions that are more likely to inspire a direct and useful response from the participants," he says. "For instance, does anyone have a question about the 'x' feature?" Most of these rules are learned with practice, which should be done internally rather than with customers or prospective customers.
5. Don't forget to synch the audiovisuals. During an in-person, non-virtual meeting, your company's audiovisual department can be forgiven for displaying the wrong slides or surveys on the wall (in fact, it's often expected). But with an online meeting, when participants sometimes have nothing else to look at, it's a no-no. Proper Web meeting etiquette requires that the content match the rest of the presentation. "It's important to make sure that any presentation materials that are broadcast along with the conversation are used in connection with the actual topic being discussed," warns Richard Nicholas, chief executive of E Solutions Corp., a Tampa, Fla., application development firm. "All too often, the images sent to the participants may not be relevant to the current topic being discussed."Do this: Knowing how important polls and slides are, you might consider assigning those duties to a dedicated person. That way, the moderator can focus on the content and the A-V person can take a cue from him or her.