The Audio-Only Meeting

One of Virtual Team Talk's most active members asked today for some advice on using audio-only meetings. I dug out a bit of script from a previous podcast episode (episode 62) and added some notes from a session we ran on audio-only during VTT's Internal Affair.

Having a video conversation is the fastest way of building rapport with someone when you’re not collocated – you see the smile in their eyes when they agree with you or you can see someone’s frown creeping up as you say something they don’t like hearing, or as they have problems understanding you.

When we’re in front of the video camera, we can build on each other’s ideas, we can seek clarification immediately; if we look past the person we’re talking to, we can see their surroundings and we get a small peak into the life they lead away from us.

At worst, these meetings resemble those dreaded meetings in the traditional workspace where one person speaks, the others listen and then they log off.

At best, they can help to remind us that the co-worker we’re struggling with is actually quite a nice person and when we have a good time resolving a problem, making a plan or just sharing what we’ve been up to, we can leave with a warm feeling that translates into our work.

But this is not always possible and some of us have to resort to audio only meetings. Choppy broadband can make the experience of being online with someone else an uncomfortable experience. And sometimes between travelling to see a client, visiting their offices and being in meetings, we just never seem to find quality time to sit down in front of our webcam.

Don’t worry, not all is lost. You can still be a pretty decent team. Just think about the things that make video a good medium and see what you can do to translate them to the medium you need to use.

Getting the Best Out of Audio-Only Meetings

How you run your meetings will pretty much depend on your team, but here are some things that might work. 

  • Have an initial question that everyone can answer right at the beginning of the meeting. It's the moment when you are all together: take this opportunity to remind each other of the sound of your voice. (Depending on the team, you can use a random informal question or you can ask something that's work related.) This will also help you all test your sound quality.
  • Following on from the above, if your surroundings are quiet, keep your microphones on. This will aloud you to signal you are listening to people and if someone says something that makes you laugh, they will hear you! (Having said that, if you're prone to laughing at the wrong moments, stay muted!)
  • If you find yourself smiling, give a little laugh, a giggle or just say, “I’m smiling”.
  • Use Hm or Yes instead of nodding.
  • Use your hands as you speak to animate the voice.
  • Ask about the birds tweeting you hear in the background to get a picture of where the person is located.
  • Learn to have silences while people are thinking.
  • Check in with each other:
    “Can I just ask how we’re getting on? We can’t see each other so shall we just pause for a moment and check how we’re feeling about this?”
  • Agree on a way to signal that you have finished speaking so that others know they can take their turn. (In fact, it's worth having a conversation with your whole team about what helps them to make the most out of video meetings and plan accordingly.)
  • Have a team photo in front of you to put a face to a voice.
  • If don't use video often, make sure that your chat communications, or those you have on online platforms, are accompanied by a photo and not an avatar. Some people will begin to associate your voice with your profile picture and you will become a person at the other end of the phone, rather than a disembodied voice. 
  • And when you can, do switch on the webcam and put on your best smile.