#CoronavirusSA: “Virtual meetings” — WTF?!
by Leigh Tayler (@LeighAnneTayler) Our world’s been turned upside down in the past umpteen weeks, and advertising hasn’t been immune to the upheaval. Much has changed in a mindbogglingly short period of time, and one such thing is my latest WTF?! moment — the virtual meeting.
We’re all learning how to operate and survive in this ‘new normal’ (that’s what all the cool cats and kittens are calling it on the news channels). Gone are the good ol’ days of lengthy brainstorms over several almond milk flat whites at our local hipster barista. Gone are the days of TV shoots with expansive crew and cast who traverse the country, or globally, if you’re really lucky, from set to set. Now we’re left trying to come up with ideas virtually over Microsoft Teams with only our Nescafé Gold to fuel us — and it’s actually quite impressive, and depressing, how many TV ads and film pieces have been produced over the past few weeks by cobbling together stock footage and iPhone shots taken by employees.
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All things wrong
Now, I know there are pros and cons to this new way of interacting with clients and colleagues, the biggest pro being that no pants are required for meetings anymore —you don’t even have to leave your bed to be an economically productive member of society. But, sadly, this boon doesn’t eclipse all the things wrong with virtual meetings.
#1. Dodgy wifi
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the frozen horse-face aspect of virtual meetings, where one person’s wifi falters and their face is frozen mid-sentence, mouth open, eyes drunkenly shuttered. If everyone’s cameras are on, you’re then familiar with the response to this being everyone staring silently at the frozen face in the corner hoping it will spring back to life.
Ironically, it seems the only way for frozen face to be cured is when, after a good minute of silent staring, someone tries to say, “Jim, you’re breaking up,” just as frozen-faced Jim finds his bandwidth again and his monologue simultaneously kicks back in. This understandably causes confusion, where both parties stop talking to let the other go first; cue more silent staring of all the squares on the call. This may go on for a few rounds before productive conversation is restored.
If everyone’s cameras are off to save said bandwidth (and cover up pantlessness), then you miss the pleasure of experiencing frozen horse-face but you can still enjoy the pleasure of transformer voice. It’s not dissimilar to the above description: this time, Jim has switched his video off to prevent any glitches yet his wifi is still dodgy and so, every now and then, his audio goes from crystal-clear to a stuttering stammering compilation of dubstep. Again, everyone silently and patiently waits behind their profile pics for a minute before interjecting. Confusion ensues. More silence. More confusion. More silence. And then productive conversation is restored.
All the while, we’re all screaming into our silenced microphones, “WTAF?!?!”
#2. Poor etiquette
Virtual meetings are an art we’re still coming to grips with, and etiquette is still a work in progress. Here are just a few dos and don’ts.
- Do mute your microphone if you’re not speaking — don’t leave it on so we can hear you cooking lunch in the background or, worse yet, taking a bathroom break.
- Do consider nominating an MC or facilitator for the meeting. This person’s role is to ensure everyone has had a chance to contribute. This person is also there to keep the meeting on track and that the purpose and agenda is addressed.
- Do follow the MC’s lead and let them run the meeting.
- Don’t hog the microphone, not giving anyone else a chance to speak; this will result in a lack of collaboration and may compromise the quality of work the meeting intended to produce.
- If the virtual meeting is a presentation, do use the chat functionality to ask questions that may be addressed later in the meeting so as not to interrupt the flow of the presentation. The chat box may also be used to signal your desire to talk when discussing or debating. Don’t use the chat box for starting parallel but unrelated conversations as a means to kill two birds with one poor attempt at multitasking.
- Do place your microphone on mute should you wish to blindly scream and shout profanities at your computer screen in frustration. Don’t forget this as it may be career-limiting and no one likes a potty mouth.
#3. No feedback
If anyone’s had the displeasure of presenting via virtual meeting applications, you, too, will see this this as a serious con of the technology.
I have, in the past lockdown weeks, presented several key client presentations and even a pitch. I may be alone here (although I don’t think I am) but it’s awful. After 13 years of presenting, one would think I would be totally cool with presenting. One would think wrong. Virtual presenting has proven to be much more disconcerting that it would seem. I’ve had one of my team members send me a video of her hand shaking after presenting to a client.
Receiving feedback while presenting has proven to be a critical ingredient to being able to present confidently and energetically. But, with virtual presenting, you may as well be presenting into a silent void of nothingness — no nodding of the head to the left, no eye contact, no slight smile from the person across the table and no quiet “mhhmms” to be heard around the room. With no cues to keep going, presenting becomes akin to running the Comrades with no comrades to cheer you on — just you in a scene from some apocalyptic movie jogging slavishly alone for 89km through an eerily lifeless cityscape.
Moral of the story
So, I guess the moral of my story is virtual meetings are fairly unpleasant, so let’s not make them any worse than they absolutely need to be. Give people turns to talk, and make sure everyone’s voice gets airtime. Mute your mike when you’re not talking or feel the need to lose your cool. Use the chat box to maintain flow in the meeting. Consider keeping one video on when someone is presenting so they can see a friendly human face to cheer them on.
Lastly, if your wifi is dodgy, just accept that some colleague out there has a collection of screenshots of frozen horse faces to use as leverage later.
- Columns | WTF?! – Leigh Tayler
- #OpenForBusiness — Radar
- #CoronavirusSA — Radar
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Leigh Tayler (@LeighAnneTayler) is the strategy director at Joe Public United. During her career of more than 12 years, she’s worked in just about every imaginable category and has fostered a well-rounded and instinctual approach to strategic thinking that she applies at every level, from big brand concepts to last-mile moments of truth. Leigh contributes the new monthly column, “WTF?!”, which highlights the things one might hear within an agency or be asked of in briefs, to MarkLives.com.
This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.