A virtual conference is a great way to keep in touch with staff and colleagues, regardless of their geographical locations. It can take the form of a video conference via a common website or a teleconference where everyone is linked by phone.
Running a virtual conference is like holding any meeting; there are certain steps that must be followed if a successful outcome is to be achieved. There are also some dos and don’ts peculiar to its ‘virtual’ nature.
Distribute the agenda
Distributing a copy of the agenda to every participant before the conference ensures that everyone knows what to expect and can prepare any questions or contributions they may have. It also gives them a guide to follow during the conference.
Nominate a chairperson
It is a good idea to have one person in charge of proceedings. Their role is to keep the meeting on topic and on time and to ensure everyone gets to have their say. It is a good idea to also appoint a note taker and a timekeeper.
Test the equipment
Whether it’s video conferencing or teleconferencing, be sure to check that everything is working and that everyone has signed in before the meeting commences. Make sure you know how to operate the equipment you are using and have a backup plan for if it fails.
Common rules to observe during a virtual conference include:
- Everyone to introduce themselves before commencing
- One person to talk at a time (nominated by the chairperson)
- State your name when you speak
- Give the conference your full attention (no multi-tasking)
- Make sure there is no background noise or distractions at your end
- No side conversations
Allow some time towards the end of the conference for people to voice questions, concerns and suggestions. This can be useful for revealing unforeseen issues not covered by the agenda.
In the case of a teleconference, be aware that other participants cannot see you and therefore can’t pick up on your non-verbal cues. If they don’t understand what you’re talking about, you won’t know, so you need to be extra clear when making your points and even describe how you feel (i.e., “I’m excited about this!”), because they won’t know otherwise.
It is much harder for the chairperson or facilitator to maintain interest when the audience is not in the room, so be sure not to bore them. Mix presentation and information with participation and interaction. Keep everyone engaged. Check in with participants who have been quiet for a while to ensure they are still focused.
Keep it simple
Virtual conferences will always be a compromise on face-to-face meetings because of the inability to read body language and the potential for misunderstanding. Therefore, it is often better to use them for routine information sharing rather than for motivational purposes or matters involving the emotional exchange of views.
To ensure your virtual conference has a successful outcome:
- Make sure your participants are prepared beforehand
- Use only the technology necessary and know how to use it
- Be clear and interesting and encourage participation
- Keep the meeting short and to the point