Given the changes we are all experiencing given the Covid 19 pandemic, MethodSpace is also offering guidance and resources about online instruction and research. Find more help here.
This guest post is from Lydia Hooper, and artist who works with researchers and evaluation specialists. See her previous MethodSpace contributions:
Using Visuals to Present and Explain Qualitative Data
Share Research Visually
Using Visuals to Support Your Writing Process
It’s no wonder virtual meetings are on the rise – they are generally cheaper, can allow for more participants, and with many technology solutions to choose from they are easier to plan for and arrange than ever.
But they don’t come without some risks and potential downsides. Groups may already be facing difficult communication challenges, and distance can create even more obstacles for team culture and progress.
Just as with in-person meetings, visuals can play an essential role in supporting individuals and groups with building relationships and getting results.
Successful Use of Visuals in Meetings
Here are some basic dos and don’ts for using visuals during online meetings:
Do use live visuals! Visuals enable us to literally “get on the same page” very quickly, and they keep us focused on the ideas at hand. Instead of a conference call, set up a meeting that allows for video. Relying on recorded video isn’t enough; it just isn’t as engaging – one survey indicated that viewers may spend 8x longer with live video than with recorded video.
Don’t choose between slides or live video. We need both! Human faces help convey important non-verbal communication, and keep us present and accountable to one another. Slides or other static visuals shared across screens can help us connect with key concepts. It’s best to use a mix of both. Also, if there are many attendees, encourage them to view everyone in “gallery” mode if possible.
Do use visuals to encourage participation. During the meeting you can use virtual graphic recording, whiteboard tools, shared documents, or online sticky-note apps so that they are welcome to share and view ideas verbally and visually. (Some of my favorite virtual tools and platforms are MURAL, Zoom, MaestroConference, Ziteboard and DirectPoll.)
Don’t overestimate attention spans on devices. Keep meetings shorter than you usually would (no longer than 60 minutes), and make them more frequent if you need to. Remind participants that viewing other windows, screens, or devices during the meeting will diminish their comprehension and contribution, and invite them to close or put them away. Chat boxes are where “side conversations” generally happen so think about whether you can use that space constructively (for example, to elicit information from introverts or to have an easily-savable document with whatever is most important to capture) or if a large group is present whether you will need to assign someone to act as a moderator.
Do base visuals on what makes the best sense for the meeting objectives and agenda. For example, it’s probably best to have faces be the primary visuals when there is important dialogue or question-and-answer taking place. If a large group breaks out into smaller ones, be sure everyone in the small group will be able to see each other’s faces. If individuals are asked to pause, take a break, or reflect, perhaps it would be best to display an appropriate full-screen photograph.
Don’t forget to prototype and test. It’s not just technology that can be imperfect. Be sure to test any web cameras, online tools, software features, meeting links, etc. well ahead of time so you can identify potential hiccups and solutions. Check the lighting in the room and the best distance from the camera so your face is not too dark or cropped off. Make a checklist of the things you may need to do at the start, during, and at the end of meetings and make sure you have assigned these tasks to someone (I recommend at least one facilitator and one notetaker).
If you want to try a new format or feature with participants, for example asking them to type into a discussion/chat any questions they have at the start of the meeting, consider testing it with a smaller group before rolling it out to a larger one. Also, plan to properly prepare others for the meeting in case they are not familiar with the technology, expectations, etc.
Do record and share visuals both before and after the meeting. Sharing documents and/or recordings will help keep everyone’s memory fresh, prevent repetitive discussions, and include those who for any reason may not be able to make a virtual meeting.
Don’t wait to find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s never too early to start experimenting with options because you never know when you might need them. The more practice you get and the more tools you explore, the better able you will be to maximize virtual meetings and overcome any obstacles that may arise. Visuals can either distract participants away from the meeting or they can help them stay connected and engaged, so start working on a plan to ensure it’s the latter!
See related articles from Lydia’s blog:
- Graphic recording: How to get started
- The risks of poor communication in collaboratives
- “Hiding” in your communications: When it’s harmful and When it’s helpful
- Why communication planning is different for networks: How your network can re-learn communication to make it successful
- The paradox of online communities: How to cultivate ones that build bridges not islands
- Creating visuals that inspire real-time conversation
- The 6 major myths of visual aesthetics