You could argue that if you are going to pretend to participate in a virtual workshop, you should probably know whether your web camera is on or off! However, there is something more going on in this example of poor participation. Much attention has been paid to whether the virtual facilitator or trainer is prepared to fully engage attention in the virtual classroom, but what about the virtual participant? If you have been invited to attend a virtual meeting or training session, are you planning to show up at your best and actively contribute?
There are four areas of preparation: Goals and Objectives, Technical Readiness, Web Camera Use, and Full Presence.
Goals and Objectives
A few days prior to a virtual learning experience, most facilitators provide a description of the learning event including objectives for the session. Take a few minutes to review the content of the meeting or training event and ensure that you know why you have been asked to participate. Review the objectives and connect them to the challenges and issues you face on the job. Set a personal goal for participating in the session. What you do you want to take away from the session that will support you in your job performance? Double check the information provided to see if there are pre-assignments you are required to complete or examples you need to be ready to share during the web workshop. Be fully prepared to participate actively in the content and delivery of the virtual meeting.
If you really want to get the best bang for your buck, share your personal goal with your manager or a colleague to hold yourself accountable. Then plan to actively participate in the learning session or meeting. Take notes. Record action plans. If you want to retain what you have learned, share it with someone else, as well as what information contributed to meeting your personal goal. In other words, plan to show up at your best, knowing exactly what you intend to gain, to get the most from the virtual session.
In the pre-event communication, there is probably a link you will click to sign in. Do yourself a favor and download the latest version of the software a day or two prior to the event. Often the web conference vendor includes a link that you can use to test the software. If you have never signed in on that web conference platform, you will want to complete this step. In this way, you can find out in advance whether your video and audio are working correctly. If you really want to feel comfortable in a virtual meeting environment you haven't used before, you may want to watch an online tutorial that explains how to chat, answer a poll, or select a reaction or status icon.
Audio is sometimes the most challenging aspect of participating in a virtual meeting or training experience. If the session will use VoIP (Voiceover Internet Protocol) to stream the sound through the computer, it would be wise to have a headset rather than use the audio on your computer or device. You might also use ear buds if you are dialing in on a mobile phone. If the event requires two-way communication, make sure that you can both listen and speak over the microphone whether you are using a computer headset or ear buds on a cell phone. Avoid using a speakerphone or the microphone built into the web camera, unless you have no other options, as the sound quality is quite poor.
Do not expect much technical support if you sign in right at the start time of a virtual event and run into technical difficulties. While it can be frustrating to feel left behind when the event starts without you, it is up to you to test everything out in advance. Take ownership of your technical readiness.
Web Camera Use
Prior to the pandemic, we often had to persuade people to turn on their web cameras. With the increasing use of web conferencing platforms that require video, this is no longer necessary. Now we see participants who are simply unaware of how they come across on camera. Here are a few tips for virtual attendees on camera:
- Find a location where you can be undisturbed (if possible).
- Place your camera at eye level or slightly above.
- Avoid sitting in front of a window which causes your face to be in shadow.
- Avoid rocking or swiveling motions.
- Do not walk around, with your camera on, carrying your laptop or mobile device, from room to room.
- If you are signing in from an iPad or tablet, place it in a stand so it remains still.
- Sign in early so you can adjust your camera before other participants arrive.
- Dress appropriately for the virtual event. If it is a professional work environment, dress for the environment, even though you may be working from home.
I have found that signing in for meetings on different web conference platforms requires me to change the camera angle and placement each time. So, I get there early enough to get myself ready. Plan for comfortable use of your web camera.
While it can be tempting to multitask during a virtual meeting or training session because you believe you will be more productive, the reality is that you will give any project you are working on half your attention, while giving the virtual session half your attention. This attention splitting increases the sense of “fatigue” that sets in when attending back-to-back online meetings. Besides learning and retaining little of the content, you are probably not reading your email very thoroughly or using your best thinking on that project. Choose to be fully present during any virtual meeting or training session you have made the commitment to attend.
Being fully present requires personal discipline and respect for the meeting facilitator and your fellow participants. It requires you to focus on the content and participate actively in the experience, not so you can “game the system” but so you can contribute to the positive results. In these times of disconnection and distance, your choice to be fully present in a virtual meeting can change your experience from one of isolation to one of positive collaboration. It is a gift to all involved, including yourself, when you make a choice to show up, fully present, and ready to participate.
Join us for our next complimentary webinar, Shine! Five Secrets of Stellar Virtual Trainers, coming up on Tuesday, December 15, at 1:00 pm ET/10:00 am PT. We will explore simple techniques that stellar trainers use to engage their participants.