Advertisement
Skip to Content
Advisor Insights

5 Steps to Master Online Meetings

Here's how to ensure that your next virtual meeting leaves clients feeling connected.

As clients become more comfortable conducting meetings virtually, advisors are likely to see (or are already experiencing) increasing demand for online meeting options. This is particularly true in high-traffic U.S. metro areas where clients may be fitting in a meeting while at work or between other commitments--and seeking a relationship with an advisor who recognizes the value of their time.

While setting up a conference call or webcam may seem fairly straightforward, truly impressing a client or prospective client in an online meeting requires additional preparation that is often overlooked. Follow these five steps to ensure that your next virtual meeting makes a positive impression and leaves clients feeling connected to you even if geographically far away.

1. Choose the Right Software
There are a number of quality online meeting software options available today, and the best fit for your business depends on your needs. For many advisors, Apple's FaceTime app has been a default choice, providing the simplicity they and their clients are looking for, with little to no setup required and high reliability. However, FaceTime is really more of a call that happens to feature video rather than true online meeting software, it has no chat or screen sharing capabilities, and it's not an ideal solution in a business setting. This is especially true if one or both parties to the meeting aren't using a Mac or iOS device.

For a true online meeting software contender, advisors will likely want to evaluate services such as Zoom, Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, Join.me, Google Hangouts Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Of these options, Zoom is highly popular and available on nearly every operating system, with reliable video streaming, dial-in options, screen sharing, and many more capabilities. Zoom has a free tier that limits meetings to 40 minutes, but the paid tier (starting at $14.99 per month) increases that limit to 24 hours, with several other features (such as cloud storage for meeting recording) thrown in. Zoom also has a cloud phone solution (Zoom Phone) allowing Zoom Meetings users to create a unified communications solution for their business.

For those who definitely want a free plan but need longer meetings, Cisco's Webex Meetings free plan caps meetings at 24 hours, includes a dedicated URL for easy joining, and comes with 1 TB or free cloud storage for meeting recordings. The downside is that Cisco's free plan allows only three attendees, though this may be enough for advisor/client meetings.

GoToMeeting and Join.me are both owned by the same parent company, with GoToMeeting being a familiar option with an unfortunately dated user interface. It also doesn't include many of the features available in other options such as Zoom. Join.me has a better user interface, but it's still not as good as other options and does not have a free tier.

Last, Google Hangouts Meet and Microsoft Teams are worth considering for anyone using Google's G Suite or Microsoft's Office 365, respectively. The tight integration with existing tools makes these options convenient (particularly if you're using Microsoft Teams as your business phone or for group chat), though neither can quite match the combination of features, stability, and simplicity that Zoom has.

2. Choose the Right Hardware
While a built-in laptop webcam and microphone might get the job done in a pinch or while traveling, a dedicated HD webcam, microphone, and/or headset are must-haves in order to provide a truly professional online meeting experience in the office or at home. Most are likely to be highly satisfied with Logitech's HD Pro Webcam C920, which supports 1080p video (the highest quality you'll need for video meetings, though many software services top out at 720p). This camera works right out of the box with little to no setup required and is a great option if you're using a desktop, an external monitor, or a laptop with a subpar built-in webcam. If using a laptop, you'll likely want to elevate it using a laptop stand to improve the camera viewing angle so that it isn't pointed up your nose.

It's tempting to use a built-in microphone/speaker for video meetings or conference calls. However, optimizing sound quality and eliminating echo problems with this setup are more difficult than most users think, particularly if your office acoustics aren't ideal. Instead of turning your office into a professional sound booth, invest in a quality headset such as the Jabra Evolve 75. For Apple users, it's hard to beat the convenience, versatility, and low profile of Apple AirPods.

Last, the quality of your webcam and video software won't matter much if you don't have a reliable Internet connection. Make sure your bandwidth is sufficient based on the number of users in your organization, and use a top-tier router such as Netgear's Orbi RBK50 mesh Wi-Fi networking kit.

3. Optimize Your Environment
Your meeting environment is something that might be taken for granted in an office setting that is likely already designed to be viewed as professional. In a virtual meeting, optimizing your environment is of paramount importance, as the client's experience and perception of you is limited to your camera's frame of reference and your audio quality. Make sure the background behind you is uncluttered, professional, and not distracting. A bookcase, artwork, or office plants are typically good choices and more inviting than a blank wall. If space is limited, a backdrop or panel divider can be useful.

Focus on proper lighting and avoid bright light sources behind you or mixing light sources (such as a desk lamp, window, and overhead light combination). An LED desk lamp is a great way to control the lighting on your face and avoid odd shadows. If using an external microphone, make sure you've limited echo problems as best you can using fabrics. Area rugs, drapes, and upholstered furniture can make a big difference.

4. Test Your Setup
Prior to every call, test your camera, audio, and Wi-Fi setup to make sure you're ready. Join the meeting a few minutes early to confirm everything is working and looks as expected, and eliminate other potential distractions by closing your office door, minimizing application windows on your computer, and enabling Do Not Disturb mode if available. Make sure your client knows how to join the online meeting in advance so valuable time isn't wasted on technical difficulties. If using scheduling software that integrates with your online meeting provider (many integrate with Zoom), make sure it's set up to send clients a calendar invite and/or email reminder with online meeting access instructions (ideally a direct link/dial-in code). If your client hasn't used your online meeting software before, consider reaching out in advance of the meeting with instructions so they can test their audio and video setup.

5. Make Eye Contact
Last but not least, remember that an online meeting is still a meeting, and the best way to show engagement and make a connection with your client is by making direct eye contact. This can be difficult when meeting virtually, because of computer distractions, camera angle, or both. Many online meeting tools will display a small mirror image of your video feed in a lower corner while in a video meeting so that you can see how you appear to other participants. If this becomes too much of a distraction, simply disable it (if your tool allows). While it's normal to be reviewing information on your computer during an online meeting, make sure your gaze is focused directly on the camera as much as possible, particularly when other participants are speaking. Position your video feed near the top of your screen if it helps direct your attention toward the camera. You might even try attaching something with eyes to your webcam to demand your attention (such as a drawing, or even googly eyes you might find at a craft store).