With school closures due to COVID-19, not only are students trying to adapt to working from home, but school leaders, so accustomed to traditional, productive, in-person meetings, are working hard to learn video conferencing technology to maintain administrative continuity until schools can reopen their doors. While most video conferencing platforms are built to be intuitive and easy to use, many first time virtual meeting goers may feel otherwise. Overall some basic best practices can help ensure your virtual presence is as efficient and professional as your in-person one. Continue reading for a quick start guide to successfully participating in a virtual meeting. And make sure to share this with your team.
How to Log in to a Video Conferencing Tool as a Participant
If you are invited to join a video conference, the meeting host may be likely to use a virtual conferencing platform such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans, join.me, or Google Hangouts. To join the meeting, you will need a reliable internet connection and either a mobile device, laptop, or desktop.
If you are a meeting participant, the host—the individual who scheduled and invited you to the meeting—should provide you with:
- A meeting link.
- An optional dial-in phone number.
- An optional log-in password.
Depending on the video conferencing tool used, you may need to download a version of the conferencing software onto your computer before you use it for the first time. Plan to dial-in to your meeting early in case you need to complete this step.
When you click the meeting link, the software may prompt you to provide your name and email address to confirm that you are an invited participant, and so that the software can identify you by name to the other participants.
Optimizing Your Audio
You may also have the choice of using your computer’s speakers and microphone to hear and speak to participants, or you may choose to dial in separately from your phone. Most video conferencing tools typically perform best when you use your computer’s microphone and speaker rather than attempting to use your phone and computer—two separate devices that may not be synchronized. However, if you are dialing in to a meeting while multitasking, commuting, if you do not have access to a computer, or you are experiencing technical issues with your computer, your phone will serve you as a reliable back-up.
To ensure the other meeting participants can hear you clearly when you speak, use headphones with a built-in microphone that are compatible with your computer or mobile device. For long meetings, if possible, use wired headphones that plug into your device, rather than wireless headphones whose batteries may not last for the whole conference.
How to Set Up Your Screen During a Video Conference
If you were meeting in person, you might talk to colleagues while referencing paper documents on digital files on a personal tablet or laptop. On a video conference, you will still want your critical documents to be accessible and visible. If you don’t have possession of paper copies, you can reference files on your computer during your video meeting.
If possible, set up your home work station with two computer monitors. Additional external computer monitors are relatively inexpensive and can easily be connected to your computer to extend your digital workspace. By using a separate monitor, you can see your meeting participants on your video conferencing application on one screen, and reference your meeting documents on the other.
If it is not feasible to set up a second monitor, open only your video conferencing application and your reference documents on your computer during your meeting. Close all other applications to help minimize application confusion and simplify the navigation experience during your session. If you can, try to manually shrink the size of your meeting software window so that you can see both your participants and your reference documents. If you need to view your documents in full screen, toggle back and forth between your materials and your video platform so that you can stay engaged in dialogue while accessing the content you need.
How to Share Your Screen Distraction-Free
If you want to show your meeting participants what you are looking at, most video conferencing tools allow a host or meeting participant to share his or her screen. Using this functionality, meeting participants can see a file or your computer’s desktop within the video conferencing platform window.
If you plan to share your screen, close out of all other applications on your device to make it easier for you to manage your application windows and to minimize distractions for your viewers in case your other applications are triggering pop-up alert notifications. Closing out of all other windows will also ensure that you don’t accidentally share a window or file that you don’t want everyone to see, such as a teacher’s performance evaluation, student grades, or your personal email correspondence.
How to Look Your Best on Camera
The value of video conferencing technology is the connection you feel with your meeting participants by merely being able to see their faces. To maintain professionalism, you will want to make sure that your participants can see you well and without distraction. To look your best:
- Make sure you have proper lighting. Situate yourself where you are well lit from above or in front (e.g., if you are facing a window). Avoid being back-lit, which makes you appear silhouetted against a brightly-lit background.
- Choose a distraction-free background. Everyone is sympathetic to those working remotely from home. Still, if you can, situate your computer’s camera so that you are in front of a distraction-free background. For example, a blank wall or curtains are less distracting than an open room with lots of furniture and in which others may be walking past, or a wall heavily decorated with pictures or paintings.
- Dress the part. An unexpected benefit of working from home is that we are all spending more time in our most comfortable clothes. For your virtual meetings, though, dress as if you were meeting in person in business casual attire.
Until we beat COVID-19 (which we will), and our schools can safely reopen their doors, virtual meetings will remain a critical tool to help administrators maintain administrative efficiency. Embrace this modern technology. By familiarizing yourself with some software access fundamentals, investing in reliable equipment, situating yourself in a distraction-free setting, and dressing the part, your virtual meetings will be just as productive as your in-person ones.