Video Conferencing Advice for Everyone

With an increasing number of people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many turned quickly to solutions such as video conferencing and other technologies for remote meetings. There are a multitude of options for these services, including free platforms. Whether free or not, video conferencing comes with unique opportunities and challenges. In this article, we will share some of the risks and best practices for utilizing video conferencing tools. 

Additional Tips for Selecting Your Meeting Platform

  • How many participants does the platform allow on any single call?
  • Know what format is available for sharing after the call. Is it simply archived on a third-party web site, or can you download an entire copy for archiving purposes? Is the recording only available through a proprietary software product, or is it savable in a widely accessible format?
  • Does that data belong to you, or belong to the platform? How does the platform store data on your call, and for how long?
  • How does the platform store/share data about the participants and/or the call? Do third parties have access to your participant list, chat, or even the call itself?
  • What kind of security features does your platform have, such as end-to-end encryption?
  • Will participation require software installation? Will the software persist on the participants’ devices after the conference concludes?
  • Consult with your IT professionals about the safety and security of the video conferencing provider. Will you have to disable firewalls or compromise other security measures?
  • What is the platform’s reputation? Check reviews.
  • Know the billing and other terms/agreement if there is a subscription.
What do you want to share?

Identify what you want others to see when you present. Do you want the audience to see you, or just your presentation? What information do you need others to see? You may need to scan in documents or take photos.

Hardware

Once you know what you want to share, figure out how to share it. Make sure you have all the equipment you need to host your conference. Test your microphone, speakers, headset and camera ahead of time. If you are buying new equipment – up to and including a laptop or new computer – check reviews and compatibility online before purchasing.

Presentation software

The right presentation can make or break a video conference call. Utilize presentation software such as PowerPoint whenever possible – this is what it was created for.

Presentation design

Avoid using lots of words on your slides, and avoid small text. Your audience may be watching on a small screen. Font selection and color, backgrounds and slide design are all very important. Use high-contrast themes without excessive clutter or colors. If your viewers need to see, for example, fine details on a graph, consider emailing that material out separately as a supplement.

Internet access and bandwidth

Do you have the internet bandwidth to support your desired presentation? Once you decide what you want to share, you’ll find out if your internet will support your presentation once you practice.

Practice your presentation

Before your video conference, run a live test to make sure your equipment runs smoothly. Have a friend dial in to provide feedback on how it looks and sounds. Do you have all your necessary documents and files prepared to share? Do a realistic test run and open the actual files you plan to share. Do your entire presentation if time affords.

Where are the buttons and what do they do?

Understand the different tools and features of the video conferencing platform. Familiarize yourself with the controls, so that you know where to click when you want to share your screen, mute somebody or end the call.

Your audience, device compatibility and software

Consider that your audience may connect from a variety of devices and platforms. Make sure that your video conferencing platform supports a wide array of devices so that people can call in from desktops and mobile devices. Will your audience need to install software to participate? Make sure common operating systems are supported – Microsoft Windows, Apple/iOS and Android, for example.

Call-in option

Does the video conferencing platform offer a call-in option for audio? Not everybody has speakers or broadband internet. They may need to call in with their phone for a variety of reasons.

Calendar invites

Sending out calendar invites can be a huge benefit to you and your participants, helping them to keep the meeting top of mind. This can be especially important if participants will be in different time zones.

Meeting agendas

If you can, provide a meeting agenda ahead of time. Include the topics to be covered and the planned outcome of the meeting. This can help participants stay on topic and drive attendance.

Explain the rules of the call

Before the call begins, be sure to explain expected etiquette to participants. Let them know when and how they can participate. It may be wise to include this in the invite so that participants know what to expect.

Sharing content before and after

Would it make sense to share supplemental information before the call? Or afterward? If you would like to share or save elements of the conference call afterward, be sure to find out what your platform supports. You may want access to audio, video and/or the chat room. How are private messages between participants archived?

Be honest about distractions

Pets and other family members may be at home with you, coworkers may step into the room. Your audience may or may not be understanding if there is an unexpected visit. Make an honest evaluation of your ability to present. We all know what happens when “nap time” goes sideways.

What’s on your computer screen?

If you’re going to share your screen, what does your computer look like to others? Is the desktop messy and full of icons and files, or is it organized? Is the background image on your desktop potentially offensive or controversial? Make sure unnecessary files and tabs will not get in the way during your presentation or accidentally shared.

Turn off notifications

If you get notifications on your computer, such as when new emails arrive, turn them off during your presentation. They can be distracting for you and your audience. And remember to silence your own phone and other devices.

What’s on the camera?

If you are going to be on camera, what kind of appearance are you going for? Professional? Relaxed? Make sure that comes through when you do your practice run. And what’s in the background? Take out the trash, put away confidential client files, etc.

Wear pants

Dress appropriately for the subject matter and audience. Just in case you need to stand up during the call.

 

Join early

Plan on signing in a few minutes early. Some meetings lock after a certain time, and others have a limit on participants. Also, if you need to announce yourself when logging in, you might not want to interrupt the presenter with an announcement that [your name] has arrived late for the meeting.

Enter the meeting professionally

If asked to record your name, be prepared to state your name quickly and professionally. When you enter the conference, sit tight for a little bit and just listen.

Etiquette tips

If the technology told you that you have joined the conference, you probably have. Know the social norms and etiquette for the conference you are joining – it may or may not be appropriate to say hello to the entire group or ask if everybody can hear you. Try to refrain from making jokes. Remember, what is said on the call may persist somewhere forever.

Keep yourself muted

If you’re joining a video conference, try to avoid having lots of background noise that could interrupt the meeting. Mute yourself or keep the volume low to avoid creating noise. Know how to mute/unmute yourself from your own device – phone, computer, tablet, etc. – and how to mute/unmute yourself within the conference environment.

Keep yourself muted

If you’re joining a video conference, try to avoid having lots of background noise that could interrupt the meeting. Mute yourself or keep the volume low to avoid creating noise. Know how to mute/unmute yourself from your own device – phone, computer, tablet, etc. – and how to mute/unmute yourself within the conference environment.

Asking questions

Understand the conference rules for asking questions. If you have a question, try not to interrupt anyone who is speaking. You may be able to type the question in the chat when appropriate.

Be present

Try your best to have both video and audio and help yourself to be engaged in the conference. Don’t multitask.

Stay on topic

Be sure you’re keeping the focus on agenda at hand, so you can get through the meeting in a timely manner. Direct off-topic comments and questions to the appropriate party professionally and privately.

Do you want to share video?

Alternately: do you NEED to share video? Be aware of your personal habits and your call environment. How will a live video feed from your bathroom be perceived?

Private messages – are they really private?

Some platforms archive private messages. Be aware of this. The conference organizers – and possibly the rest of the world – may see your private messages.

Don’t call while you’re driving a vehicle

Yes, we can hear all those driving noises, turn signals and passengers talking. We can tell you’re in the car. Also, distracted driving is not safe. How would you take important notes?

Wear pants

Just in case you didn’t read the section above for meeting planners… Dress appropriately for the call. And please wear pants.

On March 30th, 2020, the FBI issued a warning regarding hijacking of teleconferencing and online classroom environments. In particular, the increasingly popular, free video conferencing platform Zoom was mentioned in the FBI warning. Zoom has been in the news for a wide variety of concerning incidents. The newsfeed for Zoom includes stories of:

From a security and risk management standpoint, there is a lot to consider when operating in a digital/ online forum such as a video teleconference. Here are some talking points:

Is the content overly sensitive or private?

Consider one-on-one communication if you are overly concerned about sharing certain information.

Sharing the conference invite/login information

Take careful consideration before posting a link to your remote meeting on a web site or social media. It is an invitation for hackers and bombers. Inadvertently, posting on social media may reveal lists of the participants.

Password protection/Invite Only

Can you send out unique invites to each participant? Or is there a single password for all participants to use? Understand how the conference call can be protected with passwords.

Remember, passwords and login info can be shared

The login details of your conference may be shared by others, intentionally or not. Keep this in mind and be sure to have the appropriate security measures in place in the event that unexpected guests arrive. Is it possible to send unique logins to each participant?

Archiving and recording the video conference

After your conference has concluded, is the video and the chat able to be downloaded? This is important, especially if you need to comply with the Freedom of Information Act or the Open Meetings Act (later, we continue with more tips and information for Fire Districts, municipalities and public entities). Be sure you know where and how all elements of the meeting are saved, and how they can be downloaded. How will you store your copies, and access them later? Know what information will persist in the platform’s records after the call is complete.

Waiting Rooms, Moderators and Gatekeepers

If your meetings are going to be public, make sure you have a moderator or gatekeeper who can vet the participants before entering the call and boot people from the call if necessary. Some video conferencing software allows for a waiting room, where participants can be screened before entrance. As mentioned earlier, some conference calls can be locked once they start. This can be helpful for security reasons, and to avoid interruptions during the presentation.

Mute your callers for audio by default

On most platforms, you should have the ability to mute all callers in order to reduce the background noise. This can also prevent distractions and unwanted comments.

Hiding participant displays

Find out if you can prevent participants from sharing their screens to avoid unwanted displays as well.

Mute participants in chat as well

The same can be done with the chat to help avoid spam messages interrupting the conference. Consider disabling group chat and/or private messaging.

Questions and answers

Be aware that if you unmute callers, you don’t know what you are going to get. Consider taking questions ahead of time, via private chat messages or have them motion when they’re prepared to ask.

Ending the call

Remember to end the call when you are done, so that you don’t keep sharing once your presentation is done.

Anti-virus and firewalls

Having an anti-virus and firewall program on your device will save you a lot of headache. Don’t leave yourself exposed – keep these important safeguards up-to-date and consult with your IT professionals before granting access to new videoconferencing programs you may be installing to participate in calls.

Covers for webcams

Consider covering your camera when it’s not in use. Certain cameras have built-in covers, but if yours does not, you can cover it with a something such as your favorite insurance agent’s business card.

 Video conferences will become an increasingly important resource for communicating with friends, families, coworkers and business associates. Be sure you’re taking the time to do it safely – plan and practice.

Click here for additional video conferencing considerations for Fire Districts, municipalities and other public entities.

Thank you and stay safe.