Q: I don’t mind using the video camera when I’m Skyping a colleague, but I don’t feel comfortable using it with a large group of people who I don’t know. Is it ok to keep the video camera switched off in conference calls?
A: Many people do take part in conference calls without using the camera, but this is not ideal. For a start, it’s a question of trust – would you trust someone you can’t see? It’s also much easier to read the non-verbal cues from people if you can see them – body language is a very important part of communication which can tell you how people really feel, but cannot express verbally. Finally, if you don’t use a camera when working with a large group, you may need to continually announce your name before speaking, as people won’t know who is speaking.
Q: I have a couple of very shy people in my project team and when we have virtual meetings they are reluctant to speak. As meeting facilitator, this makes me feel very uncomfortable. What can I do to fill the silence in my virtual meetings?
A: There are always people who are reluctant to contribute in face to face meetings and when you put them in a virtual space, they are even more difficult to persuade. Obviously, the key is to make everyone feel relaxed, which involves creating time for some form of small talk before you kick-off. Personally, I would think about using an ice-breaker to relax people. This could be, for example, getting everyone to present three things that they would like people to know about them; if this is kept light-hearted, it can be very successful.
You may also want to make a point of asking those who have not contributed in a meeting to speak. Alternatively, you could state at the beginning of every meeting that you expect everyone to take an active role. With those who are particularly reluctant to speak, consider giving them the role of note-taker or time-keeper in the first meeting to engage them and gradually build up to a more verbal role.
If you are finding working virtually a challenge, ask Jackie for advice…