April 14, 2020

6 Ways to Enhance Web Conferences So Everyone Gets a Chance to Speak

The web conference has become more common than ever, and some of the unconscious rules of polite speech that show up automatically in in-person meetings seem to go out the window. One of the best ways to ensure your web conference works well, with everyone having a way to speak, is to take advantage of organizational strategies, coupled with the available means in your web conferencing tool to make the web conference a place with more traditional meeting-like rules.

Here are our top six ways to enhance web conferences so that everyone gets a chance to speak.

Start with a Tutorial or FAQ Section on the Features of your Web Conference Software

You’d be surprised by the many ways that web conference software allows you to customize your workspace. A typical workplace may simply have you all sign up for an account and “jump in” to a meeting on the software the way you’d walk into a conference room. However, each web conferencing software allows you to do different things with that space, so you’ll have more web conferencing participation success if you know what you have at your disposal. For instance:

  • Some web conferencing formats have a typed chat bar, which can be a welcome way to document ideas and allow quieter participants to jump in or ‘hail’ the meeting organizer.
  • Some web conferencing software includes polling abilities, where each participant can pick from the red, blue, and green options for an instant ‘temperature check’ of the whole room. They also include hand-raising icons that let you tell the meeting organizer that you’d like to speak.
  • Different software allows for different formats of tiled videos depending on the amount of participants, versus different screensharing options, or a format where the organizer’s video is largest and other video tiles are smaller along the sides or top of the screen. Some allow for a single presenter, while others ‘toggle’ who has the main floor based on who is moving or speaking.

As you can see, knowing whether your web conference has these possibilities massively changes what it takes to run a meeting in that space. As the organizer or person who is being proactive, your knowledge can save tons of time once you’re in the conference itself and other participants are hunting around for a particular feature or button.

Get Everyone On the Same Page with an Agenda that Names Every Participant

Agendas often mention speakers, but to speed along meetings where you’re concerned there won’t be enough time, you can name both who is speaking in the meeting and which one or two people will offer comments after a given speaking role. Rather than ‘opening it up for questions’ every single time, one option is to have the people who are most presumed to be able to weigh in be the ones to respond to a mini-presentation. This also allows you to double-check that everyone who must be present for the meeting has an active role in the meeting, as shown by having their name on the agenda.

Orchestrate a “Mute When Not Talking” Plan

One of the reasons that quieter participants stop speaking in web conferences is that they are overwhelmed by the mishmash of voices that happens whenever a group of 5 or more join a web call. A great policy, even before you experience an issue, is to teach everyone in the web conference room how to mute their microphone and unmute it. Like speakers sharing a stage, have each person who wants to speak unmute, speak, and then mute again. The icon of mute/unmute can signal to everyone else that someone wants to speak, which takes the place of more obvious body language cues that many of us rely on, and it really helps to cut down on interruption or talking over each other.

Analyze the Benefits and Drawbacks of Video for a Particular Meeting, Defaulting to Audio-Only

As much as people may really like being able to see each other while they work, video presents the opportunity for distractions of many kinds, as well as making it harder for a person to hop on an extemporaneous call (it’s easier to quickly quiet a room than it is to quickly make one’s appearance and space ready for video). Unless your business truly requires the video component, consider a default to audio-only meetings, with the option to make them video for the circumstances that need them. With audio, people are less distracted by looking at everyone moving and fidgeting, and more focused on the actual words being shared. Another great option is audio with an agenda or slide deck as the single focal point of the conversation.

Use Round-Robin and Other Feedback Strategies as Needed with Quiet Participants

If you have participants in your web conferences that are reluctant to share their feedback, more so than in their in-person meetings, take a more structured approach. Ask for a single sentence of feedback from everyone in the group, for instance, in what is called a ’round-robin’ question. Once a participant has had to speak up in an activity like this, you may get more information, from either vocal or visual cues, as to whether they are distracted, frustrated, or simply quiet, all of which are helpful information to figure out how to boost participation further.

Reach Out to Over-Sharers Through Private Messages If Necessary

If meetings are consistently running over or particular talkers are dominating the conversation, you can absolutely talk to them separately from the group in order to come to an agreement. There are in-meeting strategies for moving forward, like suggesting that they submit more feedback after the meeting through email, since you need to move on, or identifying a pressing new concern that you want to ask a different participant about. Your typical strategies for working with those who talk longer than usual may include a calm conversation at the end of the meeting, off to the side,  but look for strategies, like being the ‘last two’ in the web conference, to get that same quick check-in to make sure that future meetings won’t be so long or so one-sided.

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