Running effective online meetings with Zoom (or Google Hangouts, or ...)

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

Online meetings are a fact of life for most of us in the Carpentries and other distributed projects. So how do we make them as effective as we can?

This post came about after the Twitter discussion generated by this tweet from Titus Brown.

Here are some points I have thought of to make things work more smoothly. Feel free to comment.

Before the meeting:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the agenda for the meeting. Are there things you need to prepare or figure out beforehand? Are there things you are wondering about? If there is no agenda, ask the chair to send one out.

  2. Always use a headset. You will hear and be heard much better. The headphones from a smartphone are sufficient. Anything is better than using the in-built microphone from your computer as it will pick up a lot of noise and distract other people in the meeting.

  3. Prepare for the meeting by testing your audio and video set up well before the meeting starts. Can you hear? Be heard? Be seen? Do you know how to mute yourself? This is important as people can make a lot of distracting noise if they are typing during the meeting.

  4. Mute your cell phone in case it rings or pings during the meeting.

  5. Move to a quiet place if you can so outside noise does not intrude on others.

  6. Please don’t be the person who comes in late, without a headset, and makes a lot of noise from screechy feedback!

In the meeting:

The chair sets the tone of an online meeting so it is important if you are chairing that you be on time (or, even better, online a little early) and that you are prepared for the meeting ahead. Once people join the meeting, the chair introduces him or herself, explains how the meeting will be conducted, how long it will run, and what expectations there are of attendees.

The chair greets each person as that person joins the meeting. Once the meeting starts, the chair calls on each person in turn to say their name, where they are from, and why they are attending, e.g. for a Carpentries discussion session, this might be for instructor checkout, or a workshop debrief. For other meetings, the motivation for attendance might be quite different, e.g. brainstorming ideas, problem solving, planning or team meetings.

We highly recommend that there is a designated notetaker to record discussions and any decisions taken. After the introductory round, we recommend that the chair asks the notetaker to introduce him or herself, and to explain how and where notes from the meeting will be stored and distributed.

Notes are recorded on an etherpad or a similar shared medium, e.g., a Google Doc. Any notes posted to the chat window during the meeting should be transferred to the shared medium before the meeting ends so they are not lost when the video conference is closed.

To ensure that the meetings runs well, and that everyone gets their turn to speak, the chair asks people who wish to contribute to type the word hand in the chat window. The chair then calls on those speakers in turn. Some video conferencing applications such as Zoom have a Raise Hand feature that can also be used, but using hand is usually sufficient.

Zoom also offers several views of participants. If you are chairing, Gallery View is probably best so you can see all your participants. Speaker View generally features the current speaker but can also be triggered by ambient noise, which can be distracting.

Free tools

Google Hangouts and Jitsi Meet are two free tools for online meetings. Jitsi Meet works well for very low bandwidth connections and comes with a built-in etherpad, and a Raise Hand feature.

Three rules to make for better online meetings

  • Be on time - it is very disruptive when people join an online meeting after it has started.
  • Mute yourself when you are not speaking so that you do not disturb others.
  • Use a headset to minimise noise from your location and to provide clearer sound for attendees.

Dialogue & Discussion

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