Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Hi, Everyone!


Terry Shames here. This week we’re talking about the best practices for video-conferencing. Most of us have been doing a lot of video-conferencing in the past 18 months and have found it to be a mixed blessing. 

 The good part is that you can convene with people all over the world and attend events you could never attend in person because of the time/expense involved in getting there. You can choose from a wide variety of educational opportunities, entertainment, book launches, readings, panels, and personal events like weddings and birthday parties. You can stay for whole event or slip away without anyone being the wiser if you don’t watch the whole thing.
You can participate through chat lines or visual participation. You can ask questions, take notes, any time of day or night. And you can do all this dressed (or not dressed) anyway you please.
The bad part (and this is hardly terrible) is that there are too many choices. Some people have a higher tolerance for attendance than others. I find myself skipping over a lot of events that appeal to me on certain level, but that I forgo because I’ve attended too many. My favorite events are weekly or monthly attendance at meetings that are a collection of friends. We can laugh or get into serious subjects because we meet often and know each other well from former in-person events. That’s bittersweet. I’d rather be with people in person. But it’s a lot better than nothing at all. And a lot better than a phone call or talking through email, or on social media or via Message. It allows for spontaneity, reflection, interaction, or just listening. 

 The ones that seem to work the best are chats with a “leader,” usually the person who called the group together. If there’s no leader, things tend to devolve into talking in spurts and starts. A good meeting leader is like the Wizard of Oz, with his or her attention on what’s being said and if someone is getting short shrift in the conversation, drawing them into the chat. In that sense, it’s like an in-person meeting. 

 It also helps if there’s an agenda. I don’t mean a rigid agenda, but some topic that everyone has a chance to think about and contribute to during the talk. Often, with people I speak to every week it’s a topic that is recurring, or that comes up naturally after the general chatter and check-ins settle down. 

 Other than those two tips, I think in the best videoconferences, attendees are on their best behavior; not interrupting too much, not hogging the floor, taking an active interest in what other people are saying.
This is what sparks creativity--just like in real meetings, where you hear somebody say something that grabs your interest and you have a conversation that teaches you something. Because of this, I also think the best chats are limited to no more than a dozen people. After that, it gets unwieldy. In big panels and workshops, you can have 100 attendees or more, in which only the highlighted participants are “on stage.” 

But what has developed is that before the event starts, often people will check in on the chat line, announcing their attendance so that people can see friends that are in attendance. And during the event, people comment through the chat line on things they have heard of particular interest. Or they post something relevant that others may find helpful or interesting. This seems to be the best use of the tool. Often, there are break-out rooms after events in which people can discuss what they’ve heard, but I have yet to attend one that didn’t feel awkward. 

 The biggest trick in large conferences is for the conference hosts to be clear with instructions to the audience about how the event will proceed, how to ask relevant questions, and approximately how long the event will be. Just like in real life! And I suspect when Covid is over and we go back to in-person events there will still be video-conferences because people have found them a great way to stay in informed while not having to travel—and not having to dress up!

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