Five Video Conferencing Features to Take Your Meetings to the Next Level
By Linda Conard
In the past few years, video conferencing has gone from dull to dynamic — when done right. Constant innovations in video conference platforms now deliver features that can help you engage your audience, encourage teamwork, and improve meeting outcomes with everyone from students and parents to consultants, colleagues, and staff in other departments.
For example, Blue Icon Advisors, NASFAA's financial aid consulting service, works extensively via video conferencing to deliver personalized support that reaches far beyond what could be accomplished through a brief, on-site campus visit. Lydia Hall, the director of financial aid at Sam Houston State University, feels connecting with her Blue Icon consultant via video made a critical difference in her experience.
"Because it's video, you're actually able to see the other individual, so it is almost like they are there. … Being able to see them gives you a better understanding of who they are, what they're doing, and how they're going to help," she said.
Most of us have participated in at least one video conference for consulting or training purposes. But video conferencing is also a powerful leadership tool, especially if you make use of some of its added features. Surprisingly, these often do not require a big expense, new equipment, or extensive tech knowledge, and can be found on even some of the low-cost and free video conferencing platforms. Every platform offers its own unique combination of bells and whistles, but these are some of the most common features you can take advantage of to create more efficient and effective meetings:
- Screen-sharing: This is one of the most important features in video conferencing, as it gives you "show and tell" flexibility. Screen-sharing replaces the camera's view with a view of your computer screen, so anything on your screen is visible to participants. While you present, you can display documents, photos, PowerPoint presentations, websites, videos, or anything else you can view on your own screen. You can even use this feature to live-demonstrate step-by-step processes, like completing an online application.
With a click of a button, you can toggle between the screen-sharing view and the camera view throughout the presentation. In some platforms, you have the option of keeping a small camera-view of the presenter visible in the corner while sharing your screen. Some software also lets you type and draw on the screen while screen-sharing, so you can circle or underline elements you want to highlight. In addition, some services allow the participants to share their screens as well.
For financial aid staff who need as many ways as possible to make difficult concepts easy to understand, screen-sharing may be one of the most valuable tools in the video conference toolbox. Keep these few tips in mind for a more effective screen-sharing experience:
• Make sure you're ready for the audience to see the full screen before you toggle, so they're not watching you mouse around to open a file or page. If you plan to use more than one file, have them all lined up and minimized, ready to open when needed.
• Switch to "full screen view" so the image fills the screen and participants don't see your other browser tabs.
• Disable your computer notifications and pop-ups where possible. Murphy's Law otherwise requires them to pop up at the worst possible moment with the most embarrassing messages.
- Digital Whiteboard: Digital whiteboards mimic a physical classroom whiteboard — but with a twist. You can draw and write on your digital whiteboard, but you can also upload forms, images, and documents to mark up. What's more, both participants and the host can share and mark up the whiteboard, making it an ideal team brainstorming tool.
Frequently found in paid platforms, digital whiteboards are becoming more common, even in the more economical options, and can also be added on as separate apps (check for compatibility). Whiteboards usually limit the number of users, (after all, you probably don't want 50 people trying to draw on one board,) so it helps to assign one person to do the writing in each location.
- Chat box: This is a space where participants and hosts can type in comments visible to everyone in the meeting or send private messages to another participant. Participants can use it during a presentation to ask questions or ask for help on technical issues. Meeting facilitators can use it to post notes or ask participants questions. Some platforms also include a separate polling option, which can give you new insights as you present and keep participants engaged.
- Audio and video recording: These features are exactly what they sound like: they let you record audio and video to view or share after the event. It's especially helpful if you want to record a presentation or meeting discussion for staff who couldn't attend, use it for future training purposes, or simply remind participants of critical content.
If you'll be recording, make sure to get consent before you start. Laws on recording without participants' consent differ among states (and countries). A few states don't require it, some states allow one person to consent for the entire group, and other states require consent from every participant. To be sure, make sure all participants give consent — either in writing, on the recording, or both — before you record a meeting or presentation.
- Analytics: Most video conferencing platforms include some form of analytics. If you video conference among a few staff members at different locations, analytics may not be necessary. But if you plan for occasional presentations, your analytics can give insights into how many participants logged in and when, who they were, where they were from, how long they stayed, when they dropped off, and more.
Finding the Right Service
If you need to choose a video conferencing service, you should consider which features will enhance your meetings and presentations now and in the future, as well as factors such as the maximum number of participants; ease of use; compatibility with apps and programs you use; compatibility with participants' devices, operating systems, and needs; tech support availability; and, of course, cost.
A quick online search will bring up some independent, (and some not-so-independent,) comparisons of video conference services. Plus, a conversation with both tech experts and colleagues who use these services regularly may help you choose. Fortunately, most services offer free trial periods, but they may limit their features, number of participants, or meeting length, so double-check before planning your meeting.
Before you dive in, be sure to check with your IT department to see if your institution has already purchased a video conferencing package, or if they can provide video conference guidance and training for you and your staff.
A Little Goes a Long Way
With all of these features, the quality of any video conference, big or small, still comes boils down to the presenters and content. Don't be lured into using every feature just because it's there; your message still remains the star of the show. At the same time, don't be afraid to explore features that will give your meetings and presentations maximum impact, keep the participant engaged, and help you achieve your goals.
Before you dive in to your chosen video conferencing tool, be sure to brush up on video conferencing etiquette and addressing common misgivings about video conferencing.
Publication Date: 1/23/2020