Remote Meetings and Presentations
In early 2020, coronavirus changed the way that many people worked. Out went face-to-face interaction, and in came remote meetings and working from home. Big conferences and events were cancelled or became virtual, almost overnight. We all suddenly had to learn new skills in attending and presenting at remote meetings.
For many people, this has been a huge opportunity. It has meant not having to travel for work, removing stress. Some may have been asking to work remotely for some time, and have embraced this experience, and the additional flexibility it has offered.
It seems unlikely that we will ever fully return to a world where we only hold business meetings face-to-face, or where so many people work from offices in the centre of cities. We were already edging towards an understanding that not all business travel was necessary. This means, however, that knowing how to run and present at remote meetings and conferences has now become an essential skill.
Hosting, Attending and Presenting
There are three main roles during remote meetings: hosting, attending and presenting.
The host is the person who ‘owns’ the meeting: who sets it up, controls the attendees’ ability to speak or participate, and ends the meeting. They will also decide on the platform being used for the meeting (see box).
The attendees include everyone attending the meeting. They may watch and listen, or actively participate.
Presenters are those making a presentation at a meeting.
Hosting Remote Meetings
The host has considerable power in a remote meeting—similar to the chair in a face-to-face meeting. They get to choose the software to be used (see box), and also control who speaks at any particular time.
The host also sets the rules for the meeting.
These may be set out by the organisation, especially in a work situation. However, it is up to the host to remind everyone of expectations beforehand. In the invitation email, they should set out any rules about dress code or other restrictions. These might include, for example, not using a bedroom for a video conference, or asking everyone to keep their microphones muted unless they have been asked to speak.
Software for Remote Meetings
There is a range of software and apps available for running remote meetings. Some popular options include Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts Meet.
All these have advantages and disadvantages.
As host, it is important to:
- Choose an app that you are comfortable using. In particular, you need to know about the security options, and how to shut it down if anything untoward happens and you are ‘gate-crashed’ in any way.
- Ensure that everyone else knows what you will be using, and how to use it. If necessary, supply a guide or weblink so that people know how to access the software, and can download it ahead of time.
It is important to remember that remote meetings are harder on everyone’s concentration than face-to-face.
Everyone is having to work harder to pick up body language and other non-verbal clues, so it is much more tiring to attend remote meetings. As host, try to keep the meeting short.
There are things that you can do to help with this. For example, you can ask the meeting attendees to tell you if they have a particular interest in one agenda item, so that you will know to ask them to speak on that. This avoids having to wait for visual cues.
In the early days of the coronavirus lockdown in the UK, there were many stories of schools and workplaces expecting children and adults to spend all day on Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
Social media was full of people reporting exhaustion at the end of the day, and the phenomenon became known as ‘Zoom fatigue’.
Fortunately, adaptations were quickly made, as everyone realised that digital meetings weren’t the same as sitting in a classroom or an all-day meeting.
But why not?
It turns out that you need to concentrate much harder in a digital meeting. It genuinely is much more tiring, because you are having to pay much more attention to the other people to pick up body language and other non-verbal communication. You can see less of them, and when there are a lot of people, it’s even harder.
There is, it turns out, a very good reason why the ‘free account’ limit on Zoom calls is 40 minutes: it’s because it is long enough for most purposes.
Attending Remote Meetings
There are a number of issues to consider before attending remote meetings for all attendees, including the host and any presenters. These include:
Choosing a suitable location
You should choose a quiet room, away from the rest of the family. It also needs to have a decent internet connection—so avoid anywhere too far from the wireless router unless you have plenty of boosters around the house. You also need to think about where you are going to sit. It is better to have natural light, but NOT directly behind you, as this makes it more difficult to see your face.
A Word on Backgrounds
It is worth thinking about what is behind you in the camera shot, because everyone is going to see it. A clear wall is fine, as is a bookshelf (although you may want to consider what books people will see).
Some apps allow you to set up a virtual background. However, this may need a ‘green screen’, and the effect may be less than ideal without that.
Setting up the technology
If you are going to use the camera, and not just audio, make sure that you have it at or around eye level. This looks much more natural. Check your audio and video in advance (many apps will do this for you when you connect) and mute your microphone unless you are speaking to avoid disrupting other speakers.
Remember that you are going to be visible to the meeting host and other attendees. Remove your phone, or at least switch it to silent, so that you won’t be distracted by notifications.
Prior Preparation and Planning
As with any meeting, it is important to prepare in advance. In fact, in a remote meeting, it is probably even more important to prepare, because you may only get one chance to speak.
Look at the agenda and think about the points you want to make. Condense them as much as possible to avoid wasting anyone’s time.
If you have several important points to make, it is worth emailing the host ahead of time. Tell them what you want to say and why, so that they will know to call on you in the meeting.
Presenting at Remote Meetings
There is an art to presenting remotely. It is very much NOT the same as presenting in person, and it is worth thinking about it ahead of time. These ideas will help.
First, shorten your presentation. Second, shorten it again.
It is hard to keep people’s attention during a remote presentation. The best option is to shorten your presentation as much as possible, and particularly, cut down the number of slides. You should aim to have just a few that make particular points—and then just keep it brief.
Build in at least 5 minutes of contingency time for people losing connectivity
It’s annoying, but it happens during remote meetings: people lose connectivity, and miss a bit, and you have to go over it again. Build that time in, and make sure that there is still time for questions.
Make your presentation interactive
It is much easier for people to concentrate if you can make your presentation interactive. You can use tools to add short questionnaires to your session, or pause and ask a question. It is also helpful to provide regular opportunities to ask questions, rather than waiting until the end.
Top tip! Give people plenty of time to reply
People often take longer to start to talk in remote meetings, because they want to be sure that they are not interrupting someone else.
It may therefore be helpful to allow longer pauses than you would normally expect before you start to speak. It is also worth checking explicitly at the end that nobody else has any questions.
Like any other attendee, get your technology set up in advance
Choose your location, make sure it’s quiet, and get your background set up. Have any slides open and ready to share, and know how to do that ahead of time.
If you are going to be making a lot of remote presentations, it may be worth investing in a separate desk microphone, rather than relying on the one on your laptop or PC. The quality of the sound will be better. Using headphones can help as an interim solution.
Before you start, shut down any other windows on your computer
You may need to move between apps during your presentation. Make sure you don’t inadvertently show what you were browsing, or your latest (confidential) report by shutting down any windows that you won’t be using, before starting your presentation.
During the presentation, remember that you are on camera
Unlike a meeting, where you are likely to be at least a metre away from any other attendee—more in a big presentation—you are really quite close to your camera. The camera will be focused on your face and head, and you need to look at it, NOT at your monitor, or your notes.
Also, your hands will be less visible than usual, but your facial expressions more so. You therefore need to think about your body language and other non-verbal communication, and make sure that it is as effective as possible.
For more about this, see our pages on Non-Verbal Communication.
Share your presentation afterwards
This is always important—but perhaps even more so with a remote meeting where people may have lost connectivity and not wished to say.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
This eBook is designed to help you through the process of ‘going digital’ and managing other aspects of life during a pandemic.
From how to get yourself online, through how to keep safe, to working, learning and staying in touch with friends and family remotely, the Skills You Need Guide to Living the 'New Normal' in the Age of Covid-19 covers the key skills you need to survive and thrive.
A final word
Attending remote meetings, including presenting at them, is NOT the same as being there in person. You have to concentrate harder, and that is tiring. They are hard work. As an attendee, and especially as host or presenter, you have a part to play in making them easier for everyone. Using the advice on this page will help you to do so.