Getting the most from video conferencing

Someone falling asleep on a video conference

The pandemic has impacted our lives in dramatic fashion. Some of these many changes will be transient. Others are likely to be fundamental with our perceptions, values and behaviours permanently altered from the previous norms. One notable phenomena is the acceleration of video conferencing across the globe. Families, friends and businesses are keeping in touch via Skype, Zoom, Webex, or any of the other digital platforms which facilitate people getting together. These programmes have been around for a while but have constantly developed and become increasingly effective in recent times through improved internet and WiFi connections.

A change in healthcare

When it comes to healthcare, the most obvious and lasting change may be the shift toward online patient consultations. In the right circumstances, they provide clear benefits to both doctor and patient. They work well for discussion based consultations and for triage. And there can be clear time benefits too. For the patient, a 10 minute visit to a doctor in hospital might represent around three hours away from work. A 10 minute online session on the other hand will take them just over 10 minutes. And for the doctor? If it normally takes an average of one minute for your patient to gather their things, walk to your room then get seated and you’re working on 10-minute appointments. well that represents 10% of the allotted time.

The rise of the video conference

Video conferencing is also now being used for a growing percentage of the other meetings that doctors are involved in. There are progress meetings between trainees and educational supervisors. There are team meetings to maintain and develop everyday working standards. Then there are inter-team project and programme meetings to create new systems and services. Many of these are now taking place online, just as they are in every other sector.

A quick search of the internet reveals all sorts of hilarious video conferencing disasters. You’ll find the toddler marching into the room followed by baby sister then the panicking mother while Dad is being interview on BBC News. There’s the guy who is presentably dressed in jacket and tie – not realising that everyone can see that from the waste down he’s only wearing boxer shorts. And then (oh, dear), there’s the woman who actually goes to the bathroom and everyone can see what she’s doing. Such embarrassing escapades are easily avoidable by engaging even the smallest bit of thinking.

But how do you really get the best out of video conference meetings? It’s useful to consider this from two points:

  • How does this differ from the traditional meeting?
  • How is it the same as the traditional meeting?

So what’s different?

The obvious point is that you’re not in the same room together. So the focus of your attention and the distractions are different. Background noise can be significantly reduced if everyone turns their microphone off unless speaking or directly involved in a discussion. Engagement is always best when everyone has their camera turned on. At very least, it discourages “doing other things” as others can see you.

Most digital conference platforms give you a choice in what you see on your screen. For example, in Zoom, selecting “Speaker view” fills your screen with the person who is speaking. This is a good choice when there is one person talking as you can give them your full attention – just as you would in a normal meeting. “Gallery view”, on the other hand, shows everyone present on screen at the same time. It’s a good choice for dynamic conversation or for the times when you are the key speaker as it helps you’re awareness of the whole group. Controlling and altering the type of view at different times is a good way to keep your focus.

Eye contact is another simple change that can have a significant impact. When we are with people, we spend most time looking at their eyes and mouth. It let’s them know you are interested in them. When you are on a video call you are looking at a screen and the position of your camera will often mean it looks like your gaze is elsewhere. So, make sure you know where your camera is – and look directly into it when you are speaking. It will look like you are looking straight at your listeners.

And what’s the same?

Perhaps the biggest improvements come from recognising there are more similarities to meeting together in one room than there are differences. Acting the way that you would – or at least should – if you were there in person provides good guidance. But that brings up a whole new set of issues because too many “real” meetings are ineffective because the people participating get it wrong too often.

So any meeting, wherever it takes place, will have a better chance of success if:

  • everyone is clear on it’s aim – why is it happening and what should be different as a result
  • everyone has prepared properly – arriving on time with the information they need to hand and with all actions required completed
  • everyone participates in a constructive manner and gives the meeting their full attention
  • everyone is clear and in agreement about what should happen next – who should do what and by when
  • for repeating meetings, the participants regulalry discuss how they are being conducted – what’s going well, what’s not and how they can make things more effective.

If you’re taking part in a video conference meeting from home just do the same things. All you need to add to that list is letting your family members know what you’re doing, go to the toilet before you start and, of course, remember to put on your pants!

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director