Business meetings will not be the same when professionals return to the office after the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. I summarized my thoughts in this guide on the impacts the changes will have on business meetings. In this guide I want to share how you can be a good attendee in future meetings.
Decide how you will attend
As I describe in this video, in the future, business meetings will have three types of attendees: 1) those who attend in person in the meeting room, 2) those who attend live through a virtual meeting platform, and 3) those who attend afterwards when it is convenient for them to review the material.
For each meeting you are invited to, you need to decide how you are going to attend. In the past, this may have not been a decision you had to think much about. In the future, even if you are in the office that day, you may not be able to attend due to room capacity restrictions that have drastically reduced the number of people who can be in a meeting room.
Professionals will also be thinking more about whether they have to attend every meeting they are invited to at the time it is being held. Attending later, when it is more convenient in your schedule, may become a more common option. This is not a sign of disrespect for the presenter or organizer, it is a reality of priorities being different than they were in the past.
If you are attending in person
If you decide to attend the meeting in the room, there will be virtual attendees as well. This will lead to some differences you will need to get used to compared to past meetings.
Connect to the virtual meeting platform
Since most meeting rooms don’t yet have the video and audio setup for a significant proportion of virtual attendees, each person in the room will have to bring a device, usually a laptop or tablet, and connect to the virtual meeting platform. This means you need to make sure the battery is charged, your wi-fi is connected, and you get to the room in time to get set up on the meeting platform.
Hearing the audio from virtual meeting participants
Not everyone will be able to come to the meeting in the room, so some people will attend through a virtual meeting platform. They may be located in the office or at home. You will want to hear them when they speak. Since most meeting rooms do not yet have the setup to broadcast audio and video from virtual meeting platforms, you will likely have to use earbuds plugged in to your laptop or tablet to hear the virtual attendees. I suggest you only use one earbud, the one with the microphone on it, so you can hear the people in the room as well. Earbuds will reduce the potential for audio feedback that can happen when using laptop speakers and the built-in microphone. If you have wireless earbuds that connect to your device, those can be a good option.
Allow virtual meeting attendees to see and hear you
Just as you want to see and hear the virtual attendees, they want to see and hear you. Until most meeting rooms have systems to broadcast video and audio from the room, each participant in the room will need to play a role. Ask the meeting organizer whether they want attendees in the room to keep their cameras on or not. It is usually best that you don’t leave your microphone on all the time because it will pick up the audio of the presenter and may result in multiple audio feeds to the virtual attendees. The focus of the virtual attendees should be on the presenter and their slides, so be mindful of what you are doing if your camera is on. Usually, you will unmute your microphone (and turn your camera on if it is off) only when you are speaking.
If you are attending virtually
Attending meetings virtually will be much more common in the future than it has been in the past. In order to have the best meeting possible, as a virtual attendee, there are some things you can do to help.
Leave your camera on
Just as it is important to pick up non-verbal communication cues from facial expressions when we are with someone, it is important for the presenter and others in the room to see your face during the meeting. This allows them to see if you are confused and address those concerns in a more timely manner.
Learn about lighting
Having your webcam on won’t be as helpful if the image others see is too dark or is washed out. Learn where you should position your computer to get good lighting for the camera. If you don’t have many options for where your computer is set up, you may need to consider some additional lamps or even invest in video lighting in order to make it easy for everyone to see your face. You may also want to consider a newer external webcam that is better resolution and has automatic light balancing to help.
Use a headset or ear buds
It will be much easier to hear what is said in the meeting if you use a headset or earbuds instead of the speakers on the laptop or tablet. This also helps in environments where the noise may disturb others or where confidential discussions should not be shared. Using a headset or ear buds that have a microphone is also a good idea because the microphone will usually do a better job picking up your voice and also reduce the possibility of feedback that occurs when using the device microphone and speakers.
Muting and Unmuting your microphone
The people on the meeting can’t hear you unless you unmute your microphone. But not all meetings will benefit from everyone having their microphone unmuted all the time. Find out from the meeting organizer how they want microphones to be used during the meeting. And become familiar with how you mute and unmute the mic on the meeting platform you are using. Sometimes there are shortcut keys for doing this. If you are in a noisy environment for the meeting, you will likely want to mute your mic unless you are speaking so that the background noise does not distract from what others are saying.
Make sure you can see the slides and people
If you choose not to make the meeting platform window full screen, make sure that it is large enough that you can easily see the slides, read the text, and see the video feeds of the other meeting participants. On some platforms, the number of video feeds you see will depend on how big the window is, so adjust accordingly depending on the number of people in the meeting.
Become familiar with the meeting platform
Just like you learned how to use other applications in the past, learn how to use the meeting platform app as well. Learn how to pin and unpin a video feed if you want to see their video larger than the others. Learn how to switch between the shared slides or document and a video feed so you can focus on the one that is most important at the time. And learn shortcut keys that will save you from clicking on the wrong icon in the control bar.
Don’t distract with a custom background
Many meeting platforms allow you to use a custom background that makes it look like you are sitting somewhere other than where you really are. While it may seem cool at first, many of the crazy backgrounds become annoying to others very quickly and it distracts others from what the presenter is saying. Unless you are using a background to eliminate personal spaces you don’t want to show, opt for the default of people seeing you in your real life.
Resist the distractions on your device
Because you are not in the meeting room with others, there is less social pressure to focus on the presenter. There is a temptation to try to multi-task with email, chat, web tools, or other apps. Please resist the temptation. Give the presenter the respect of focus that you would want when you are in that role.
If you are attending afterwards
Choosing to attend the meeting later, when it is more convenient for you, comes with some obligations.
Review the meeting materials in a timely manner
Respect the desire of the meeting organizer to get the feedback they need to proceed by scheduling in time to review the meeting materials within two business days of the meeting. By scheduling time when you make the decision not to attend, you block off the time and it will more likely get done.
Get familiar with a file that has slides and hidden details
Presenters will be creating a single PowerPoint file that contains the slides they used during the meeting as well as additional details that answer the most common questions. This will be a little different from what you have seen in the past, so take a few moments to figure out how to best move through the file to get the key messages (likely in the headlines of the slides) and determine if you need to look at any of the backup material.
Review the meeting chat
In the past if you missed a meeting, you missed the discussion that took place in the room. With meetings now also including significant virtual participation, some or much of that discussion may take place in the chat tool of the meeting platform. The chat can be saved and made available for review. If this was done for the meeting, scan through the comments and replies to get a deeper understanding of the discussion that went on during the meeting. If the chat took place on a chat tool like Slack, you may be able to not only review the discussion but add to it and get feedback as you review the materials.
Give feedback so next steps can be taken
Once you’ve reviewed the files and chat, make sure you provide the requested feedback or decisions to the presenter in the format they prefer (email, phone call, messaging, etc.). This closes the loop and allows the presenter to move forward with next steps.
The success of a meeting depends on both the presenter and the attendees. As we move into a new normal for business meetings, use the suggestions in this guide to be the attentive, engaged attendee you hope others will be when you are in the presenter role.
Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don’t overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 1.2 million times and liked over 12,000 times on YouTube.