The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences Gihan Perera

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1 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences Gihan Perera Sponsored by

2 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences There s a growing need for organizations to engage in online calls whether they are for meetings, presentations, or even large conferences. Of course, there will always be a place for in- person meetings, where people meet face- to- face and in the same place. However, online meetings are on the rise because of telecommuting, distributed teams, outsourcing and offshoring, mobile workforces and simply because they can be more efficient. Online meetings, run well, can be just as effective as in- person meetings. However, some of the protocols and dynamics are different in an online meeting. This report will help you adapt, so you can be just as confident and competent as you would be in an in- person meeting and perhaps even more so. This report won t teach you how to be an effective presenter, facilitator, moderator, chair or meeting participant; rather, it assumes you already have these skills and can apply them effectively in in- person meetings. Now we ll look at how to transfer these skills to online meetings so you still come across as competent, professional and articulate. Here are the 7 biggest mistakes people make in web conferences: Winging it in your participation Starting late Not using the technology appropriately Treating it like an in- person meeting Saying no to video Not using a clear structure Losing your cool Now let s consider each in turn, so you understand them and can learn how to avoid them. 1. Winging it in your participation Not all online conferences are the same. For instance, even with a simple online meeting (rather than a webinar or training presentation), there are informal meetings, regular scheduled meetings, ad hoc meetings, internal meetings, external meetings, formal meetings (such as board meetings), sales meetings and so on. They all have some things in common, but they have differences as well. Just Page 3

3 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences because it s a different medium doesn t mean you should lump all conferences together into the online meeting category. Similarly, a webinar can be a promotional event, a product launch, an educational presentation, a question & answer support event and so on. And an online training event can be a single presentation, part of a multiple- session course, a public event, an employee induction program, a product training event and so on. The point is that every online meeting or presentation is different, so plan for it differently. Here are four key questions to help you prepare: 1. What is my role? Do you have a key role such as chair, presenter, facilitator, moderator or panelist? If you do, you ll have to put more work into preparing and conducting the meeting. But even if you don t, and are only a participant or attendee, you still have a role to play. 2. What outcome do I want? Regardless of your role, be clear about what you want. Sometimes this is purely for yourself for example, maybe you want to learn how to use a product, know the status of your project team or understand the trends in your industry. At other times, it involves other people for example, are you asking for budget approval for a new project, getting buy- in from senior management or persuading attendees to buy your product? 3. Who else will be present? Knowing some of the other participants can help you prepare, because you can plan to help them meet their objectives and enlist them in meeting your own. If you know some people are resistant or even hostile to your ideas, you can also prepare how you will persuade them to take action. 4. What will I do during the meeting? Based on the three previous questions, you can now plan how you will participate. For example, if you want the group to approve your project budget, don t just sit back and hope you ll get an opportunity to speak up. Instead, ask the chair to include this as an agenda item, send supporting material to participants beforehand, plan what you ll say to support your request, prepare responses to their likely questions Page 4

4 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences and objections, consider exactly how you will ask for their approval and send a follow- up after the meeting to record the approval in writing. 2. Starting late Many people don t think about the meeting until it begins or perhaps just a few minutes before it begins. Then it s a mad scramble to read notes, jot down some things they want to say, and find the log- in information. This often leads to technical problems and wasted time at the start of the meeting. An online meeting just like any other meeting should be more than just the time spent in the conference itself. An effective meeting is also efficient: It s designed to achieve as much as you possibly can in the time all participants are online. To do this well requires preparation, not only to ensure there aren t mistakes, time wasting, people dropping out and people joining at the wrong time, but also to make sure the online time itself is effective. Of course, this is obvious if you re presenting a webinar or online training presentation, because you have to prepare slides, handouts, polls, and other presentation material. But even if you re only an attendee, don t wait until the time of the event itself to prepare for it. Think about what you want to get out of the session and prepare questions to ask. A delayed start is frustratingly common, and it costs time, energy and money. For example, if there are 100 people attending a webinar, and their average salary is $50,000, a one- hour webinar costs $2,500. Every minute wasted is equivalent to $41! It s important to remember that if you re meeting online, you re probably doing so to be more efficient. It s easy to lose many of the efficiency gains if you re not prepared. 3. Not using the technology appropriately Web conferencing technology has come a long way since the early days, when an online conference was little more than just a group of people speaking on a shared telephone line. Now there are other ways to use the technology to enhance the experience and add real value to your meeting. Page 5

5 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences For example, you can: Share webcam feeds to connect more personally online Selectively mute and un- mute participants Send text chat messages privately to other participants Send text chat messages publicly to all participants Broadcast your screen to meeting particpant Give or gain control of the broadcaster's keyboard and mouse functions Send files and web addresses to all participants Record the meeting for future reference Use a moderator to manage questions and the flow of the meeting Bonus tip! Provide toll- Conduct live polls during the conference free or international Provide toll- free or local numbers to dial- in to the meeting If you don t use or even know about these technology features, you re conducting less effective meetings. Some people feel that they need to meet in person in order to connect personally. However, with video conferencing, you can connect in a face- to- face environment and experience the same relationship- building benefits as if you were in the same room and it saves you time as well. numbers into your meetings, so colleagues or participants can connect with ease from anywhere That said, using every feature of the technology just because it s available isn t very strategic. Use what s appropriate for your conference and ignore the rest. A good rule of thumb is to assess each feature based on whether it will make the meeting more effective, and if it doesn t, don t use it. For example, an online poll can be useful to find out what pain points a webinar audience is experiencing, but it also slows down the presentation so only use it if the benefits outweigh the cost. 4. Treating it like an in- person meeting One obvious mistake many people make with online meetings is that they don t adjust to the medium. Some of the dynamics in an online meeting are different from the dynamics in a board room, training room or conference ballroom. Some of these differences are obvious, while others are more subtle. Be aware of them so you can make the meeting or presentation as effective as possible. Page 6

6 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences Here are some of the differences, and how you can adjust for them: Lack of visual cues: If you re not using video, it s difficult to pick up non- verbal cues from participants. To solve this problem, use video wherever possible. In fact, this is so important we ll discuss it in more detail later. More distractions: Participants are usually in their own environment rather than gathering in one room, so they are more likely to be distracted by other things around them. This means you need to be more engaging and focused during an online meeting. Different time zones: Your online meeting can involve people from all around the world, and their energy will be different depending on the time of day. Take this into account during the meeting, and be aware of it when assigning actions and deadlines. Variety of channels: As we ve mentioned already, online meetings provide a variety of ways for people to engage with each other including video, audio, text chat, slide presentations, polls and sharing documents. Be flexible enough to switch between these channels during the presentation. Easy recording: Most in- person meetings aren t recorded, whereas it s easy to record an online meeting or webinar. In fact, it s difficult to prevent participants from recording an online meeting if they really want to, so all participants should act as if the meeting could be recorded and saved for reference. 5. Saying no to video With an online meeting, you ll miss some of the visual cues you get from an in- person meeting. Video conferences are the best alternative for in- person meetings, but even then, you have to be careful to pay attention to little things like fidgeting in chairs and distracted particpants to monitor your audience as you would in an in- person presentation. Although most people in web conferences understand that this is the case, few people adjust to it effectively. If you re new to online meetings and presentations, the need to pay attention in this way can take you by surprise. Experienced presenters, facilitators or meeting leaders might not realize just how much they rely on sideways glances, seating positions at a meeting and subtle nods from the key decision makers to judge how a presentation is going. Video solves most of this, so use webcams whenever you can. Then plan for ways to be just as effective in the online meeting as in an in- person meeting. Page 7

7 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences For example, you might have established certain signals with colleagues to send them a message in a meeting (such as kicking them under the table). In an online meeting, be sure you have an alternative plan in place such as sending a private chat. As another example, if you re an experienced trainer who s comfortable working in a seminar room, it can be unnerving to start an online training session with your audience not physically in the same room even if you allow your participants to share their webcams. Break down the barriers by opening the session before the official start time, turning on your webcam to let your audience connect with you and using that time to chat informally with the first participants who join the conference. This helps to put you at ease and increase your rapport with your audience members. This is also very important if you re chairing or facilitating a webinar. In a board meeting, for example, where everyone is physically present, the chair can quickly check for people s agreement by asking for it and checking that everybody is nodding. In an online meeting, they might need to be more explicit about getting agreement; for example, by specifically asking each person in turn to use the raise your hand feature or type yes or no into the chat box. When you become comfortable with the idea of adjusting to the medium, it can become an advantage to you. It s much easier to Google a data point during a web conference than to try doing it surreptitiously on your phone in a board room. And, online you can refer to notes frequently without anyone knowing. 6. Not using a clear structure Another consequence of people being unfamiliar with the medium is that they often don t structure the meeting well; it s poorly organized and wastes everybody s time. This can also happen in in- person meetings and presentations, of course, but it tends to be worse in remote events, because most people don t know how to bring a disorganized in- person meeting to order, let alone an online one. Many people also participate in online meetings from their office, home, car or other informal environment, where they are much more easily distracted. It doesn t take much for them to decide the meeting is no longer worth their attention. Follow these guidelines to improve the structure of every online meeting: Page 8

8 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences Before the meeting: Send participants an agenda or topic outline. Explain briefly what you expect to cover in the meeting, and also explain what outcomes you expect. When the meeting starts: Briefly summarize the agenda and outcomes again, to remind everybody to stay on track. During the meeting: If people are straying off topic, politely (but firmly) bring them back on track. You can say something like, This is an important topic that we should continue to talk about offline or in a different meeting. Thanks for bringing it up. Before the meeting ends: Allow time to summarize the discussion and confirm actions and commitments. After the meeting: Circulate the minutes of the online meeting, highlighting agreed actions and commitments. The exact steps will be different depending on the type of meeting. However, you can apply these guidelines to all your online conferences. For example, an online training presentation won t have an agenda and minutes, but it will have learning objectives and recommended actions for participants. These steps are easier if you re leading the meeting as a presenter, moderator or facilitator. However, even if you don t have one of these roles, you can still encourage the other participants to stay on track you just might need to be more subtle about it. For instance, if nobody circulates a list of actions after the meeting, you can do it yourself, explaining that you re just checking that your notes from the meeting were accurate. 7. Losing your cool Finally, the biggest mistake that people make with online meeting is that they don t realize that they re out of their depth. There s a saying about playing poker: If you can t spot the sucker at the table, it s probably you. Obviously, everybody isn t out to get you in every online meeting you attend. However, they are interested in getting their own needs met, and it often happens that the more confident, assertive and perhaps even aggressive participants do tend to dominate. These are the people who might interrupt others, speak for longer than other attendees, ask the most questions in an online training presentation or dominate the chat room in a webinar. Their behavior isn t necessarily intended to offend or intimidate. It s just that they position themselves Page 9

9 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences better, come across as more credible and professional and use the medium more effectively than the other participants. On the positive side, an online meeting magnifies your ability (or inability!) to be concise, succinct and professional. You don t have to be in a high- powered business environment such as a negotiation over a contract to experience this. Business is becoming far more competitive, personal credibility is becoming far more important and everybody is starting to feel under pressure to perform. If you re in a meeting where the other participants don t know you, they will judge you based on the way you present yourself. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, they are judging you, so give them reasons to make a strong positive judgment. Research into human psychology shows that people judge the cause of problems differently depending on who s involved. If something bad happens to them, they tend to blame it on external factors; but if something bad happens to somebody else, they ll tend to base it on that person s incompetence. For example, if I see somebody trip over something on the pavement, I tend to assume Oh, what a clumsy person he is. But when the same thing happens to me, I say, Oh, how badly that pavement was constructed. The same principle applies to online meetings. If you have problems in the meeting, other participants will judge those problems as a result of your incompetence even if they themselves are equally incompetent. Conversely, if you show competence and confidence, they will judge you well. Here are some things you can do to be more comfortable and confident in online meetings: Prepare well. In fact, be the most prepared person in the meeting, so you really can be confident in your knowledge and expertise. Practice beforehand. If this is an important meeting for you or you re taking on a key role (such as presenter or facilitator) for the first time, practice using the technology beforehand for example, do a dry run of your presentation, attend another meeting that uses the same technology or present to a small test group first. Take small steps. Don t try to do too much at once especially if you re new to web conferences. For example, in your first webinar, you might only answer questions sent in advance; in the next, you can take written questions during the webinar; and for the next, you can open microphones for participants to ask questions live. Page 10

10 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences Volunteer to lead. Look for opportunities to take on a leadership role, even if you re in a junior position. Even senior people can be uncomfortable with the technology, so they will appreciate you offering to take on this task and, of course, it gives you a chance to demonstrate your excellence. Get more experience. Finally, don t hold back from attending or conducting online meetings just because you don t have the experience. There really is no substitute for experience, so take as many opportunities as possible to immerse yourself in this medium. Summary As we said at the outset, the purpose of highlighting these seven common mistakes is to help you be just as effective in an online meeting as you would be in an in- person meeting. If you put these skills into practice, you won t find yourself at a disadvantage when you participate in online meetings. In fact, when you master these skills, you ll find yourself at an advantage, because you ll be in the minority. Online meetings are growing in usage and approval, and it s rare to find people who can conduct or even participate in them as effectively as in- person meetings. If you become one of the few who know how, you boost your credibility, strengthen your personal brand and position yourself as a leader in your organization. Page 11

11 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences About Gihan Perera Gihan Perera is a consultant, speaker and author who helps thought leaders and business professionals leverage their expertise. He is the author of the book Webinar Smarts and co- author of the book Best Practice Conference Calls, among others; and Forbes magazine rated him the #5 social media influencer in book publishing. He blogs at GihanPerera.info and his website is at GihanPerera.com. Page 12

12 The 7 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in Web Conferences About sponsor Online Meetings Made Easy GoToMeeting is the extremely simple, extraordinarily powerful web conferencing service from Citrix. It integrates HD video conferencing, screen sharing and audio conferencing, allowing you to collaborate effectively online in a face- to- face environment. Hold unlimited meetings for one low flat fee and attend meetings from a Mac, PC and mobile devices. GoToMeeting will change the way you work and perhaps a whole lot more. To learn more, visit Webinars Made Easy. Citrix GoToWebinar is the easiest- to- use do- it- yourself event tool that projects your message to up to 1,000 online attendees. With GoToWebinar, you can reduce travel costs, generate more qualified leads at a lower cost and enhance communication with customers, prospects and employees. Host unlimited webinar including HD video conferencing for one low flat fee and give attendees the option to join from a Mac, PC or mobile device. GoToWebinar Premier Event is also available to provide custom- built solutions for thousands of attendees and available with video streaming. To learn more, visit Online Training Made Easy. Citrix GoToTraining is an easy- to- use online training service that allows you to move your live instructor- led training programs online for more efficient customer and employee training. Hold unlimited online training sessions including HD video conferencing with up to 200 attendees from around the world right from your Mac or PC. Reach more learners, collect real- time feedback, record and store your training sessions and more all while slashing travel costs. To learn more, visit Page 13

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