In this episode of Connecting the Dots, our Marketing Copywriter, Sean Armie, sits down with Rachel Wallace, Senior Virtual Events Manager at AVAIL, to discuss the ins and outs of executing high quality virtual meetings.
Sean: All right. Well, welcome to Connecting the Dots with Avant Healthcare. Today’s guest is Rachel Wallace, Senior Virtual Events Manager over at our sister company, AVAIL. Thank you so much for being with us today, Rachel, how are you?
Rachel: I’m great, Sean. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Sean: All right, well, let’s jump right into it. Kind of the only thing going on right now is the quarantine over coronavirus. How has this affected your role, and is business booming as a virtual events manager?
Rachel: Yeah, I think businesses is definitely on the uptake right now. We’re kind of planning on how do we do this six weeks from now with travel bans in place. And those continuing, what does it look like for the future, I think is the biggest thing we’re looking at now. Short term needs to be flipping live means to virtual, but in the long term, what does it look like, especially within the pharma industry as offices are closed and there’s furloughs and layoffs, and how are we sensitive to all that information moving forward.
Sean: All right. Well yeah. So, what do you think the future holds? All right, where do you see us? I mean, I guess you know, as much as anybody else, we’re all just kind of listening to those press conferences and hoping for good news. But how do you feel about things looking forward?
Rachel: I think virtual meetings and virtual programming has to just be a part of everyday life now, whether we’re all back in the office or whether we’re going to be working from home for the foreseeable future, because it’s an easy and inexpensive way to connect. So, and now that everybody has been doing it for the past couple of weeks, I think it makes the technology a little bit more accessible and understandable for people who might’ve been afraid of it before.
So, virtual meetings, save lots of money instead of flying everybody to one place. So I think this kind of sets it up for people to understand that the technology is in place, there’s infrastructure, so you can do more of these meetings on the fly, you can plan them out just like live meetings, and it just needs to be a part of whatever business plan you have moving forward.
Sean: Got it. Well thank you so much for that. Let’s jump into the logistics of a virtual meeting. If you can just kind of break it down. And first I’d like to talk about the virtual conferencing software out there. I know that there’s … Right now we’re on Zoom, but there’s also Adobe Connect, there’s Skype, there’s a lot of ways to get together. What’s your personal favorite and why? And what should our potential customers be looking for in a video conferencing software?
Rachel: I think the first thing is thinking about the needs of the meeting. Each type of bucket of conferencing software does different things. If it’s just a quick touch base, internal meeting with a couple people, maybe that’s best served in Microsoft Teams. Are you maybe sharing just one document, trying to get some input from a few people, maybe that’s a single share platform such as Zoom or WebEx or any of the GoTo platforms. Or you’re looking for something that’s more robust and you want some flexibility in your layout and your ability to load your content in, you might look more at Adobe Connect.
And then if you’re having a large live stream meeting, there’s some great live stream platforms out there as well where you’re not expecting a lot interaction but you want to make it a little bit more succinct and push your information out to a broad audience, so, Vimeo has a really nice platform for live streaming. And a lot of people use things such as Facebook Live or Instagram Stories Live. Those are all other things that people have been using. But also really I think what determines it is what are the goals of your meeting and what are the objectives you want to meet. And once you determine those, then you can look at what platform is out there.
Because, like you said, there are a ton of platforms out there. I think, there’s four or five new ones popping up every day and they essentially all do the same thing just with some little different tweaks. But I like to bucket it in more of the quick meetings in Microsoft Teams or Skype, Zoom, WebEx, those are more just internal, external meetings, but you’re not sharing maybe a lot of information, you have maybe one slide deck you’re going through, maybe a couple of things. But then when you get into wanting to share videos or other content, that’s where you would want to look into more of a robust platform like Adobe Connect or a live stream software program.
Sean: So Rachel, let’s say I’m a customer and I’ve picked out my favorite platform, I’m an Adobe Connect guy, I’m ready to go. What else do I need to be looking for in order to take my virtual meeting over the top? Do I need to be looking at things like headphones and speakers and stuff like that?
Rachel: A lot of that comes down to personal preference. How you like to sit in a meeting yourself. And for me personally I like over-the-ear headphones with a microphone, it’s more comfortable for me. Some people prefer the EarPods. I do think that having headphones does help block out sound around you, makes things a little less distracting. But if you’re presenting on camera you might not want to have those. So just make sure that you have a nice internal microphone or an external microphone attached to your camera to help pick up that sound.
Cameras, they are in a short supply right now. So if you are looking to add a camera on, make sure that you give yourself the lead time to get that. But most cameras that are attached to your laptop or your desktop or even your iPad are fine for general meetings and sessions. But if you do want a more polished look, feel free to get an HD camera to add in to whatever platform you’re using.
Sean: Awesome. So I’ve got my video conferencing software, I’ve got my headphones and my speakers, and I’m all set up and ready to go. But outside of software and outside of hardware, what are your top tips for a meeting host or a moderator to put on a virtual meeting that rises above, kicks it up a notch?
Rachel: The biggest thing is just is preparation. Preparation and backup planning. I find right now across all platforms, they’re being stretched in ways that they haven’t been used before because everybody is using them all day. So just having a backup plan, making sure that your internet connections are solid, having a backup internet connection. I typically have two sitting on my desk with my hotspot and my MyFi just in case I need them. And that really is the biggest thing, plan for the things that can go wrong. There’s a lot of things that you can fix in a meeting and there’s a lot of things that you can’t fix. So being able to identify those risks ahead of time are helpful for that.
And the other thing is to know your content and know the meeting flow is really important. I like to look at the agenda and have a clear mindset of where things are going. I did a session last night where I mapped everything out so that I would know within the agenda what moves need to be made. So I like to write those things out in a plan and share those with my teammates as well, so that they also know what’s coming up. And I think it’s, know your content, know what you’re helping with. Obviously we’re not going to be experts on all of our meeting content, but I think it’s helpful to know who the people are that are in your meetings and really working with your moderators, if you’re not the moderator, to develop good interaction points.
I think what we’re finding is these meetings can be long and they can be tedious for a lot of people, so how do you make them a little bit more interesting for people, and that’s really working with your moderators so that they’re engaging. There’s a lot of people who are great presenting live who aren’t necessarily great presenting in a virtual space, so making sure that their skills are translating over and working with those people who are your main hosts on the cues, building in forced interaction almost. Interaction happens organically in live meetings, but you really need to focus on how it’s forced in a virtual meeting.
Sean: Yeah, it’s great you mentioned skills. What are the skills that don’t necessarily transfer over in a live setting that you need in a virtual one. How do moderators ensure that the people attending aren’t just passive observers but more active participants?
Rachel: Sometimes it’s what I like to call bringing people back to the screen. It’s making sure that, in this day and age where you have 17 different screens in front of you at any given time that the one that they’re focusing on is the one that your meeting is being hosted on, so things, asking questions, soliciting responses directly from people. In a live meeting body language is really big, so you could see somebody is about to talk so you can engage them. So using cameras in meetings is very helpful, being able to see somebody who’s about to talk, or somebody might be muted and making sure they’re unmuted, so it’s really picking up on those cues.
And a lot of it is just direct action. You have to ask somebody directly, please respond to this question person A, instead of just waiting for it to happen. And then controlling the talk over, so if you’re in a lively meeting where people are being talked over, it’s controlling from who goes what response, and making sure everybody is heard. So it’s just a lot of coordination that needs to go on that you wouldn’t necessarily get in a live meeting because that just happens automatically.
Sean: Awesome. That’s great. That’s great advice. So we know that traditional slide decks are not always the most engaging way to reach your audience in a live setting, much less a virtual one. What have you seen us do well for our clients when it comes to transforming content that would normally be delivered in a live meeting and translating that to a virtual environment? What’s worked and what hasn’t worked so well?
Rachel: I think what works is when the creative people behind the scenes actually think about a deck being presented on a screen versus in a large meeting room. So think about it, our participants can join on their phones, on their laptops, on their tablets, so your screen size is really important. And a data slide that is jam packed, might look fine on a 70 inch projector, but if you’re working with eight or nine inches of screen, it’s going to look a little different.
So I think that’s the first approach is how do your slides look. Just look in a virtual environment. Are your colors appealing? Staring at a harsh color for a long time can be difficult for your participants. So taking those into context. I think taking into context how you build out your slides or your presentation. You are using bandwidth, so are you using your bandwidth appropriately and in good places, because sometimes, for example, in a PowerPoint slide deck, animation for the sake of animation could slow you down in a virtual meeting because it’s got to work through those animations. So just … And testing, you want to make sure that you’re testing your deck in the platforms you’ll be using to make sure that it comes through.
And then on the flip side, what hasn’t worked well are, harsh colors are tough and gee, I mean, 17 graphs on a slide are tough. So really taking into consideration how your participant is going to view it in the space in which they’re going to view it, is I think the biggest tip that comes out of that. And then just building in when you’re building those slides out or your presentation out if you’re doing it outside of something like PowerPoint, is how do you build in the interaction and build the interaction directly into your content. In meeting notes, directly on the slides, how are you bringing people back to the screen so that they’re engaging with what you’re putting out there?
Sean: Okay. Good to know. So I’m sure you saw the video of that poor woman going to the bathroom during a virtual meeting. I think her name was Jennifer.
Rachel: Unfortunately for Jennifer.
Sean: Unfortunately for Jennifer. Yeah, I think everybody remembers her name. What are your top recommendations for people not to do during a virtual meeting?
Rachel: Make sure you know when your camera is on or off. As somebody who hosts a lot of meetings, I personally have my settings so that cameras are off and microphones are muted as you enter the meeting, so you can turn them on, and just being aware of when you go from … If you have, for example, Zoom run in the background and you’re on a different screen and your camera’s still on unless you’ve turned it off. And I think the other thing is don’t take a meeting in the bathroom. That’s the biggest one. Don’t take you … I don’t know why you’re taking your laptop into the bathroom at all. If you need to maybe dial in on your phone if you’ve got to have it in the bathroom with you. So there are other ways.
I think just being cautious of your surroundings, knowing what’s behind you when you’re on camera or in front of you or maybe walking through your house with the camera, your laptop in a meeting is a bad thing. The other things are is that meeting hosts can turn cameras off. So the nice thing to do is to A tell her that she’s in the bathroom and we can see you and B, maybe just go ahead as a good meeting host to turn her camera off, would also just be another tip is that if you’re on the back end you can shut cameras off. So if you see somebody walking in doing something a little suspect, go ahead and just do him a favor and turn that camera off for them.
Sean: Be a friend, turn the camera off.
Rachel: Be a friend. Yes.
Sean: So I think we’ve just about covered everything here. But just to recap, can you give me a, I guess, a top four tips from Rachel Wallace, senior virtual events manager, to take your meetings over the top.
Rachel: Number one is plan, whatever you’re doing plan, just like you would a live meeting. Have your agenda set, make sure you know your cues, where people are coming in and out, know who the key players in your meetings are. And then, two, make sure that those key players and your attendees understand the technology that they’re using. I think for some of us, we jump from platform to platform so we know the ins and outs of several of them, but your attendees might not. So make sure that you’re giving them clear instructions as they join or set time at the top of your meeting to make sure everybody’s connected.
And also to that, engage your audience. Some of the best things are just a little chit chat before a meeting starts. That is not necessarily about the topic you’re talking about or it’s not maybe about our current situation that everybody’s in right now. Maybe it’s about something else, but get them talking before the meeting gets started to kind of help the interaction going, if it is an interactive meeting. If it’s not an interactive meeting, it’s just a one, two, come on, give whatever instructions you need to and then get into your meeting.
And I think it’s just be patient is the last one. And I think in a virtual setting we are a lot less patient and forgiving then we are in a live meeting. And I think especially right now because every platform that I have been in over the last couple of weeks, every platform that’s out there right now is being taxed, a lot more than it would have been six weeks ago, and I think a lot more than it will be in hopefully three to four months. So just have some grace for the people that you’re working with in virtual meetings. Everybody’s trying to do the best they can to get everything going and we like them to be successful, and behind the scenes we’d like to make sure everything runs smoothly, so.
Sean: Awesome. I love those tips. I love those tips. Is there, before we sign off here, is there anything else you’d like to say that hasn’t been said or?
Rachel: No, I think just keeping virtual meetings in your brand planning as we move forward, I think has to be a part of the discussion. Hopefully this’ll be the last pandemic we’ll have in awhile, but I think it’s really kind of changed how we see things and how we can approach business in a different way. I think the one thing that gets lost a lot of times in virtual media is they are inclusive. You can include people from all over the country, all over the world, through different regions and time zones in one space and you don’t have to plan for their travel to get there.
So it’s just a lot of thinking about how these can be inclusive and how you can use them moving forward. And they don’t have to be the same meetings every time. Each meeting can be a little bit different. And have a little bit of grace for dogs barking in the background.
Sean: I think we’re going to keep it. We’re going to keep the cameo from the dog. So well, great. Thank you so much Rachel. And again, stay safe, wash your hands, don’t touch your face. And that goes for everyone else that’s listening right now. We hope that you all are well and that’s it for today’s podcast. Thank you very much.
Rachel: Thanks Sean. Appreciate it.