Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Minutehack [minutehack.com] and has been republished with permission.
Many BBC Radio 4’s Today programme listeners across the land heard government minister Alok Sharma receive three incoming Skype calls during a recent interview with Martha Kearney. We shouted at him over our morning brews: put on your ‘Do Not Disturb!’ - but to no avail. This is an example of what can happen when people get too stuck in their ways with technology. In a world of constant software updates, we often ignore those friendly invitations to learn about ‘what’s new’ at our peril.
With our kids slowly returning to school, it’s important to remember what young people with fresh minds have been teaching their elders during the lockdown period. Never fearful of change or ‘breaking’ their devices, kids rarely get stuck in fixed ways of using software and love to play with every technology feature on offer. That’s why so often when our device or the software on them fails, we turn to our kids for help.
One type of software we weren’t expecting our kids to outrun us on, however, was videoconferencing. These applications were designed for simplicity in business, so we thought at least here we might keep the upper hand. Wrong! It only took a few weeks before under-10s were running circles around us, sharing their screens, doodling on virtual whiteboards and setting up fun backgrounds. In defence of us oldies, many learned about videoconferencing in the early days of Skype, when capabilities were quite basic and the user experience was what would now be considered…less than table stakes. As such, many of us tend not to explore enhanced and ‘Smart Meetings’ capabilities offered in newer services today.
The best way to explore these newer features is to behave like a kid and just get stuck in. Go through the menus, and if you see something unfamiliar, click on it and see what it does. Obviously don’t do this in an important meeting with clients or other external people. Start small by setting up an internal meeting as a ‘sandbox’ exercise and encourage participants to try things out.
An ideal type of meeting for your sandbox exercise is a creative brainstorming session. For this, you should record the session, with everyone’s consent. Here are some advanced and Smart Meeting functions available in some systems that you could try during such a meeting:
- Content sharing - most systems let the meeting host and participants ‘take the floor’ by sharing what’s on their screens. Some also let the presenter share exclusively from one application (so, for example, we don’t accidentally share personal information in emails.) This is pretty basic and should be second nature, but I still find that not everyone is comfortable doing this. In a brainstorming session, different people may have different articles or presentations that provide context so they could all have a go at sharing their screens and talking people through their content.
- Meeting layout - when brainstorming, you want the current speaker’s content to be dominant so have a play with the layout controls during the session. Most systems have a slider that lets you minimise non-speaking participants and show the current speaker prominently.
- Whiteboarding - this is the essential brainstorming prop, so ideally your videoconferencing service will have this capability in-built. If not, the host or another participant could improvise by using a third-party whiteboard or mind mapping tool and sharing their screen. You could invite people to submit brainstorm ideas verbally or use the chat window. The latter is a better option for those not as comfortable with speaking up. Just remember to look at the chat window, as this often gets ignored by people not in the habit of using it.
- Raise Hand – Similar to initiating conversations over chat, those not wanting to speak out of turn or over others can click a ‘Raise Hand’ feature to engage and indicate to the meeting moderator their intent to speak.
- Annotations - this is a feature that allows participants to draw on top of content in order to highlight a key point, or provide further information. Kids do this all the time on their devices when creating and sharing funny pictures. This can turn a typically one-sided content presentation into something much more interactive. In brainstorming, it gives participants a tool for riffing off ideas that others have proposed.
- Meeting highlights and actions - these days, when the meeting’s over you can do so much more than simply share the recording. Some systems use a mix of human interaction and AI to track for keywords like ‘follow-up’ or ‘take that action’ that indicate someone in the team should take a follow-up action. It will also intelligently listen for words like ‘important’ and ‘let’s capture that’ that indicate meeting highlights. After the meeting (providing you’ve recorded it) the service will generate a list of meeting highlights and follow-up actions to share with the team. Over time, teams can train these AI systems to learn which words and phrases to listen out for. Using these advanced capabilities helps everyone use their time more effectively, including those people who were unable to join.
- Virtual Backgrounds - Tired of the messy meeting backdrop of your kitchen table turned arts and crafts and learning table? Most solutions now provide the option to change to a more business-friendly background. Not to mention, it makes the work-from-home experience a bit less mundane when you can switch up your ‘location’ for every meeting. Whether built in or through a third-party add-on, you can lighten the mood with virtual accessories, look more professional by brightening up the lighting, and even skip some of your morning routine by adding makeup virtually.
Hopefully this has given you some inspiration to step out of your comfort zone when using modern videoconferencing software. Mastering these ‘new basics’ will not only help you avoid embarrassing situations in important meetings, they will also help you to be more productive. However, if you’re still hesitant to try these out, maybe you can get your kids to give you some lessons before they have to go back to school!