How to Moderate a Video Conference

Most of us have in recent weeks participated in countless video calls. Some report growing tired of them. I understand if you are employed by a company that forces you to attend even when the purpose seems specious. It makes you wonder if they just want to see what your kitchen/dining room/bedroom look like.

Me? I’m growing to like it — when the calls are managed properly and professionally. Sadly, not all moderators are created equal. To get you up to speed when moderator duties beckon, here are some steps you need to heed when orchestrating a virtual meeting.

Get an Early Start

First of all, sign in to your online meeting at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start time. This allows you to iron out any kinks, especially if you are new to moderating such events. You have some added responsibilities if you’ve invited a guest speaker. Ask them to pop in 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time to walk through any last minute questions or concerns. Remember, it’s entirely possible that they’ve never spoken to a Zoom meeting previously, so they may need some hand holding.

How to appear professional when participating in a video conference

How to organize a video conference

Are you or another speaker planning to use slides? Be sure to acquaint yourself with that function, and how you go about ceding control of the screen to someone other than yourself. It’s a good idea to practice beforehand by doing a video conference with a friend and playing with the controls.

Many of the video conferencing services permit you to create a waiting room. Take advantage of this feature for security purposes. As people join, you have the ability to control who gains entree into the meeting. This helps keep hackers out.

Gee, What Does this Button Do?

Before beginning the formal agenda, orient viewers as to where they can find controls to do such things as mute their microphones, write notes or questions in the chat box, and turn off their video. Bear in mind that some people lack familiarity with these tools and could use a friendly helping hand to make their meeting experience less nerve-wracking.

Video conference call mask

One thing I find helpful is to let participants know that, as moderator, your eye contact may stray on occasion. Why is this? You’ll have a couple of important functions while the meeting is in progress. First, you need to check the chat box occasionally to gather and report any pertinent comments or questions submitted by viewers. Second, you should monitor the participant lineup to see if any new members have joined. Also, if you see people departing en masse, that’s a cue to determine whether and how you might need to shift gears and enliven matters.

The Sound and the Fury

Don’t you hate extraneous background noise when on a call? You would think by now that people would have the courtesy to silence their phone ringers and email chimes. Alas, no. So it falls on you to play the heavy and instruct them to shut down all of their noisemakers. While you’re at it, inform them to curb the impulse to check email or text messages. It’s rude. If they need to monitor communications for legitimate business reasons (or if they are just incapable of controlling impulsive behavior), ask them to step outside the virtual meeting room to deal with any pressing matters.

Speaking of annoying background noise, it’s a good idea to ask everyone to mute themselves when they are not actively taking part. Even if it’s not a ringing phone or crying child, seemingly innocuous sounds still prove distracting. How many times have you witnessed the camera view shift to someone who cleared their throat, shuffled papers, or set their coffee mug on their desk? A muted mic circumvents that distraction. Additionally, as moderator, be prepared to mute those who do not know how to do so themselves. You are likely to encounter a fair number of people who remain unaware.

It’s also a good idea to explain how participants can comment or ask questions by raising their hand virtually or using the chat box. As noted earlier, you should orient attendees on where these controls are located.

Hello, My Name Is…

Many meetings begin with a round of self-introductions around the table. Do the same thing on video. It’s a little trickier, so you as moderator must facilitate matters. Go down your participant list to give everyone a chance to speak. It’s easy to miss someone since the list you see often shuffles itself. When you think you’ve gotten around to everyone, confirm that fact by asking if anyone hasn’t yet spoken.

Most video conferencing services allow you to record your session. If you opt to do so, tell the group as you get started and ask if anyone dissents. Some may choose not to be recorded, so give them the option of departing.

You’ll find a one-page tip sheet “How to Moderate a Video Conference” on the Barks Communications website. It’s part of the larger set of free coronavirus crisis communications resources.

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