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Virtually Better Meetings

Working remotely means meeting remotely. Most of our clients live elsewhere, so we already did our fair share of virtual meetings. These past shelter-from-home weeks, though, have spurred us to up our game.

I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of the various platforms – Zoom, Join.Me, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, Google Hangouts and more. And I’ll avoid about the importance of your surroundings and screen presence, as colleague Barry Owens just covered that territory in this tip-filled column. Instead, I want to focus on proper etiquette (without being too Miss Manners) and ways to maximize your time together.

Test in Advance

If you know your client has never used the selected platform, set up a test meeting with your primary contact. Send basic instructions then walk him through any sticky wickets. Once he feels comfortable, suggest he do a trial meeting with his internal team. You don’t want to spend the first 15 minutes of the actual meeting scrambling to get people on, to get their cameras working, or to get them off mute.

Build in Talk Time

Just as in a face-to-face meeting, take time to be social in virtual meetings. Acknowledge each person in the meeting at the outset and give each a chance to speak then and at deliberate check ins throughout the meeting. You should be pausing at least every 10 minutes to hear from others.

virtual meetings presentation screen

Simplify and Visualize

Make content big and bold. Let photography, video, illustrations and infographics tell your story. Don’t write out all your points. Keep copy to a minimum.

Number Everything

Make it easy to reference key messages and data by numbering your slides and bullet points.

Clock Meetings under 90 Minutes

Schedule additional meetings if you can’t cover what you need to in an hour and a half. After that, you lose people to their emails, texting or just zoning out. For our discovery workshops, which we held over a morning or afternoon when we could meet face to face, we now do over three consecutive days. They’ve been working great.

Silver Linings in This Cloud

A big benefit has been that we’re getting more people to participate since video conferencing doesn’t involve travel or time out of the office. And we’re getting more C-suite participants. Could be because they, too, are no longer in the office and suddenly have time to contribute. It could also be they realize it’s time for fresh thinking and solutions. Believe me. We agree.

Talking Shop: Video Conference Best Practices

We have some excellent talkers at Greteman Group. These eloquent dazzlers seem to communicate every thought at the speed of sound. They know their stuff, and you will know it too if you are within earshot.

Then there’s the rest of us, the talented taciturn. We know just as much stuff, but keep it to ourselves. We’ll get you that answer, boss. We might need a minute to check our notes before we move our mouths. Actually, mind if we email you?

Having a mix of talkers and texters is not an unusual office dynamic. Things probably sound about the same where you work. Well, perhaps in the place you used to work. A lot of us are working remotely right now in an effort to stay the spread of the coronavirus.

When social distancing comes to the workplace, the first thing to go is close communication. No meetings in the conference room, no team huddles, no stopping by the desk. There is no easy talk, even for the easiest of talkers. There is only contacting a coworker by phone, email, or by scheduled video chat. That presents a unique challenge when you are in a collaborative field.

Screen Time

We’re no strangers to the camera pointed at the conference table, or walking people through a project using visuals on screen. Video conferencing is often how we conduct presentations with faraway clients.

Yet, communicating on camera with team members feels foreign at first. It’s the professional made personal. Suddenly, we’re in their homes. Their faces are in ours. None of us are used to seeing Kathy from accounting at the kitchen table. Many of us are not used to broadcasting ourselves, but that’s the world we’re living in now.

Here’s how to make it work.

Lights, Camera, Interaction

Want to look good on a computer camera? Firstly, frame yourself. On a Mac, you can pull up Photo Booth to get a preview. Is your background free of distractions? How’s the lighting? A good way to really pop on camera is to use a lamp to light yourself, but leave the rest of the room dark. The background will disappear into shadow, and you will be in the spotlight.

Now, think about your angle. We want to see your eyes, not the top of your head or the underside of your chin. As best as you can, try to get the camera level with your eye line. And your eyes should be somewhere near the top third of the screen. Try not to lean in too much during the meeting, as if you were typing. You are talking and listening. Think about how a news anchor sits at a desk – upright.

Quiet on the Set

Group video meetings are great ways to communicate with the team, but they can be chaotic when everyone is chiming in at once. Have an agenda. Talk in turn. And most importantly, leave your mic mute until it is time for you to say something. Any laugh or barking dog in the background will put you in the foreground. That’s the way apps like Google Hangouts work. The person making the most noise fills the whole screen. Don’t be that person unless you are called to be.

Having said that, don’t sweat being human. We’re all at home, dealing with toddlers and terriers. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. We get it. Seeing them crawling all over you during the meeting is kind of nice. It reminds us that we are all in this together. But are we all on the same page? That’s the thing to keep in mind when communicating during a crisis.

It All Ads Up

A global coronavirus pandemic provides a poor setting for an ad agency to celebrate its 31st anniversary. But that’s where we find ourselves, and we’re committed to extracting the silver lining from this black cloud.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Less well known is his supporting argument that those who survive – and grow stronger – were already strong. Adversity doesn’t strengthen the weak; it crushes them.

Perhaps that is our silver lining, to realize that we enter this trial with more than three times the experience we once had. To understand that we have built something designed to weather the storm. For one, we moved beyond ads. We did that years ago, choosing to focus on brand building, lead generation and moving prospects through the sales funnel.

Also, we’ve resisted the temptation to overspend and overextend. We’ve always operated with a lean team of proactive, self-motivated, client-focused pros. And we saved for the proverbial rainy day.

Our Umbrella Is Open

People expect me to be right-brained in my role as creative director, but I’m left-brain, too. I pay attention to numbers. That’s benefited me as a business owner, and it’s helped our clients. Our agency has never just been about developing head-turning creative. It’s always worked to accomplish something, too. Sell an aircraft. Roll out a new service. Generate positive word of mouth.

I’m struck by the well-positioned, but poorly capitalized businesses that may go under in the coming months. It’s heartbreaking. I spoke to a trusted business analyst recently and he said small marketing firms like ours typically collapse at an annual rate of 10 to 15%. He predicts COVID-19 will at least double that.

ad agency in wichita kansas turns 31

Where Did the Time Grow?

Every anniversary makes you shake your head about time’s swift passing. This go-round, I’m hoping the virus burns itself out with hyper speed so the world can begin rebuilding and returning to normalcy. With face-to-face meetings. Events attended by thousands. Travelers exploring every corner of the globe.

We cannot control events, but we can prepare for downtimes and the return of better times. It’s up to us how we come out of this. Crawling on our knees or rocketing past our former station. Fueled with new ideas and strategies developed while we were down. Volatility creates opportunities. Seize them.