Writer: Ms. Keri Collins Lewis, MSU Extension Service
Video by Michaela Paker; Photo by Canstock/Racorn
Thanks to technology, meetings still can be held face-to-face while practicing social distancing, and some tips from the pros can help make the transition easier.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service Center for Technology Outreach has provided technological support for remote learning for more than 20 years. Advances in technology make it faster, easier and possible from home.
Steve Hankins, an Extension instructor who is the center’s distance education coordinator, offered advice for those participating in online meetings. The first step is to be sure to download the right software.
“You can use an app on a handheld device or a desktop client,” Hankins said. “They’re essentially the same thing, and the first time you get an invitation to a meeting you will be asked to download it. For most connections, the download time will be fast, but be sure to allow time for that crucial first step. Once you have downloaded it, you should not have to do it again.”
Hankins recommended hosts log into meetings about 5 to 10 minutes early to be sure everything is working as planned, whether that includes sharing a screen, checking settings to be sure the sound is working properly or simply reassuring participants they are in the right place at the right time.
No matter how much effort is invested in setting up a teleconference, sometimes trouble arises.
“Check your internet connection first,” Hankins said. “The conference may have frozen because the internet connection failed. Close out of the conference, reopen your browser and reconnect.”
If all else fails, reboot your computer and reconnect.
“If you are a participant, be patient. The host is doing his or her best to solve the problem, and several messages in the chat box about the technology failure will not help,” he said.
Two of the most challenging aspects of online meetings are the audio and video features. Large numbers of employees teleworking have brought some funny stories to light. From dogs barking to children interrupting, online meetings reveal professionals’ personal lives.
“If you’re having a conversation as a small group, it is fine to leave mics unmuted to facilitate flow, but as a rule everyone except the host should mute their mics and turn them on only when talking,” Hankins said. “We don’t recommend headsets unless there’s a lot of background noise.”
Hankins explained that most headsets have low-quality microphones.
“The user may hear better, but the audio they send out is terrible,” he said. “Most people find an office or room and close the door, so using the built-in speakers and microphone results in a better experience for everyone.”
As for video, Hankins said participants should always have their video feature turned on because that is the point of a teleconference. However, if low bandwidth is a problem, turning off the video feature can improve connectivity.
Connie Templeton, Extension instructor in the Extension Center for Technology Outreach, offered ideas for making teleconferencing a pleasing visual experience.
“We all probably have our best angle we use when taking selfies, so keep that in mind as you set up your camera,” Templeton said. “Laptop cameras are usually in the cover so they do not offer much flexibility, but they are easy to use. Use a book or box to place the web camera at forehead height or higher for a good angle for your face.”
She said backgrounds can be distracting.
“Is a plant sticking out of your head? Do you want everyone to see your clutter? Sitting in front of a nice picture, a plain wall or a bookcase, or sitting outside on the porch, can make you look more professional,” she said.
She also recommended testing lighting to see if it is too bright or too dark.
“If you have a bright light or window behind you, your face will be shadowy and viewers will see only your silhouette,” she said.
Looking good on camera includes maintaining a professional appearance.
“Maintaining a businesslike appearance lends credibility to what you say,” Templeton said. “Whether working from home or attending meetings from your office it pays to look professional, but we will not know if you have on your pajama pants.”
For more information from the MSU Extension Center for Technology Outreach, visit http://techoutreach.extension.msstate.edu.