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Companies Take Their Show on the Road and Set up Shop with Videoconferencing

Consider this round one in a series of moves your business must make to be future-ready

Did you unexpectedly find yourself at the command center of your company’s ad hoc crisis management team? The disruption caused by COVID-19 shuttered office doors, leaving employers scrambling to find a new place to conduct business. The good news is you can achieve some semblance of business continuity by way of virtual meetings. The first challenge will be to conquer the learning curve of becoming an overnight event planner and maestro of your new production called videoconferencing.

Mountains of content have been circulating on social channels about the use of videoconferencing within a business setting. Tips and tricks abound for participants, but what about the role of the event planner? Let’s take a closer look at the importance of a good host, who’ll also be playing the part of meeting facilitator.

Here’s a primer especially for those small business owners forced to take the virtual wheel. You can breathe a slight sigh of relief as you discover that the ingredients necessary for a successful work “get together” in the real world translate well to a video session.

Step #1: Determine the Logistics of the Meeting Room

Similar to a conference room within a more traditional brick and mortar setting, there are options available to simulate your meeting room set up. What kind of investment do you want to make? What is the capacity you’ll need for seating? Audio visual requirements? These are all important logistics to decide as you select a provider of these services. Among some of the top vendors are: Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts Meet, and Microsoft Team Meetup, all offering a variety of packages and features with associated costs. Refer to the link below for a complete listing of current options:  

https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-video-conferencing-software

When making a purchase, you may want to start small and set up a free account to test platforms, then do a “build out” with additional licenses. Think of those licenses as a way of providing break out rooms. For those events requiring greater seating capacity where SRO is an issue (e.g., company-wide meetings vs. team meetings) you may want to consider a Webinar option.

Webinars are the preferred venue for meetings whose purpose is centered more on disseminating information and used less as a forum for interaction. Your audience will have limited capability to engage with the speaker by way of sidebar “chats” in which the audience can pose questions via text inquiries. In this setting, co-presenters as facilitators work well, with one commandeering the slides and the other managing the logistics (i.e., fielding questions, checking people in, acting as security guard).

“You should be cognizant of your audio quality, lighting quality and your surrounding/background. These are all essential to the success of your meeting and perception of your event” said Virginia Weiskopf, CEO of Weiskopf Consulting, Glen Ellyn, IL, a firm specializing in assisting businesses adapt technology to fit their operations.

Step #2: Prepare Your Meeting Attendees 

Send out the invitation in advance of the meeting and include an agenda. You’ll use time more efficiently and set expectations by listing the topics. Since the forum is different (not face-to face), consider the best logistics to keep communications flowing.

Provide attendees with your rules of engagement and meeting etiquette. For example, do you want people to literally raise their hands or do you prefer they use the “raise hand/lower hand” icon? Consider the size of the group and the culture of your organization; does your organization generally favor formal or informal communication protocols? Let those practices be your guide.

Do you expect them to sign on to the session before the start time to avoid disruption when the meeting starts? What about attendees leaving before the meeting is over? Circulate your best practices in advance of the meeting. Assume few people have had media training and will appreciate the guidance.   

Audio on/audio off? You can opt to control that through host settings or put the power in the hands of the attendees. In either scenario, as facilitator, you’ll need to ensure people have a voice while keeping an eye on time management. 

Step #3: Ensure A Safe Meeting Place

Unfortunately, bad actors have already figured a way to crash your party. Take the time to understand the setting options available and safeguard against all privacy invasions. A few critical firewalls to protect guests and the confidentiality of data include pre-registration of guests and the use of passwords. Remember the days of the speakeasies? Same concept, new era. Select guests will receive a password that allows entry.

Should the facilitator decide a guest is no longer welcome due to nefarious comments made or inappropriate images shared, you can “show them the door” by placing them in the waiting room, which blocks their ability to re-enter.   

As hosts of these business events, we’re all expected to be director, set designer, help desk and producer. Your responsibilities extend to keeping current on any upgrades and revisions the vendor has made.

Because of the explosion of users coming onboard at breakneck speed, vendors work feverishly to deal with security challenges. In the case of Zoom, the number of users increased from 10 million daily users in December, 2019 to 200 million daily users in March. And with this growth came unanticipated security issues. As host of these events, you’ll need to keep pace with how vendors are addressing those issues.  

“Videoconferencing has proven it’s possible for employers to have meaningful connections even when you can’t physically be in the same space,” said Kimberly White, Executive Director of Career and Networking Center, Naperville, IL, a non-profit providing diverse resources to empower individuals to achieve fulfilling employment.

Choose the right vendor for your business needs, stay informed about upgrades, and practice before you go live so your “baptism by fire” doesn’t devolve into a “hair on fire” experience.

Threats to your business will not be a one-time event. Conduct a post-mortem, put a plan in place and test it. Your organization’s long-term viability will be greatly enhanced by designing a Continuity of Operations Plan.

Your company’s survival depends on forward thinking; it always has!

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