two women having a web meeting
While video conferences are naturally more engaging than phone meetings, they still require as much planning and methods of interaction as in-person meetings. — Getty Images/AJ_Watt

Thanks to video conferencing systems, business partners and employees no longer need to be in the same room to hold face-to-face meetings. By hosting online video meetings, you get an efficient way of giving presentations — with higher productivity and engagement than you typically would from phone meetings.

Online business meetings are standard practice among many modern companies, so before your next video conference, here's what you need to know about video conferencing tools and best practices for conducting meetings online.

Choosing your video conferencing software

Before you can host online business meetings, you'll need to decide what type of video conferencing system is best for you. These systems can either be software-only (no special equipment required beyond an internet-connected device) or a combination of hardware and software.

Software only: Desktop or app-based video conferencing systems

For businesses that need a simple-to-use and cost-effective video conferencing solution, a desktop video conferencing system is the answer. To set it up, simply download and install a video conferencing software onto any desktop or mobile device equipped with a strong internet connection, webcam, microphone and speaker. Within minutes you can connect to people anywhere. What’s also great about this system is its portability: Download the software on a laptop, smartphone or iPad to take your video meetings while on the go.

Hardware and software: Telepresence or room-based video conferencing systems

Organizations with a large in-office workforce may wish to invest in standalone cameras, microphones and monitors for their conference rooms, to simulate the in-person meeting experience. The hardware required for telepresence and room-based video conferencing systems need to be placed over a conference table or mounted on a wall. In addition, cameras need to be positioned at eye level. These systems are more expensive, but may be worth it depending on your business and meeting needs.

Some factors to consider when evaluating video conferencing system vendors include:

  • Participant capacity.
  • Picture and sound quality.
  • Real-time private and group chat functions.
  • File-sharing capabilities.
  • Software download vs. cloud, web or app-based service.
  • Ability to record/archive conferences.
  • Cross-operating system usability.
  • The provider's customer service.
  • The cost of the software.
  • Whether you require hardware to use to software.

[Read: Choosing the Best Video Conferencing Service for Your Business]

Like an in-person meeting, virtual business meetings need a clear agenda if you want them to run smoothly and on time.

Best practices for online meetings

Having a successful video conference extends beyond having a great system in place. Some basic practices and etiquette rules should be followed if you want to maintain a professional image among your meeting participants.

Test your equipment. One inherent risk that comes with online business meetings is the potential for technical errors. Before you begin, be sure to test out your equipment, including your camera, microphone and internet connection, to reduce the chance of something going wrong during the meeting.

Set an agenda and guidelines beforehand. Like an in-person meeting, virtual business meetings need a clear agenda if you want them to run smoothly and on time. In a Slack blog post, author Deanna deBara advises distributing an agenda that includes key talking points, the meeting structure, who's attending and what they'll be presenting, and any relevant notes or files that participants will need.

Increase audience engagement. When your participants are sitting behind a computer, it's easy for them to get distracted or disengaged from the meeting. To keep their attention, include elements within your meeting designed to keep them engaged. For instance, you may want to prepare a slide deck to present via your video conferencing system's screen sharing function. eLearning Industry recommends avoiding the static, traditional PowerPoint deck and instead incorporating animations, impactful visuals and participant interactions throughout your presentation.

Utilize private chat for an interactive experience. Another smart way to keep participants engaged is to allow for private and group conversations via the conference system's chat function. Instead of limiting attendees to a Q&A session at the end of the presentation, moderated chat sessions can help clarify points and answer questions in real time.

Whether your video conference is a quick progress update, a brainstorming session or a big company announcement, following these best practices can help your participants get the most out of your meeting and stay engaged throughout.

[Read: 3 Expert Strategies for Productive Meetings]

CO— does not review or recommend products or services. For more information on choosing the best video conferencing software, visit our friends at business.com.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published September 26, 2019