The Best of the Tech Helpline: Virtual Meetings


 May 11, 2020
Tech Helpline

Part One: What you need to know about virtual meetings

Unprecedented times crave innovation. Virtual meeting technology has been around for a long time: the name ‚Äúwebinar‚ÄĚ became a trademark in 1998. But for many real estate agents and brokers, hosting a virtual meeting with several different parties participating from different locations is a new experience.

Sure, you probably have used Facetime on your iPhone to talk to your clients ‚ÄĒ and family ‚ÄĒ but it‚Äôs not as easy to host a virtual meeting on your phone as it is on your desktop.

That’s why virtual meeting technology is soaring in popularity, as most people find themselves working remotely from home.

The best news: if you have a decent internet speed, today’s virtual meeting technology is straightforward and simple to install and use.

Virtual meeting options

Some of the most popular meeting services today are Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts or Google Duo, Apple Group Facetime, and Join.me. There are others, but for agents, any of these services should work great for your virtual meeting needs.

Zoom has soared in popularity as it made some of its service free to schools. The benefits of a free Zoom account will work for most meetings. You can host up to 100 people, get access to HD video and voice features, and even join through a regular telephone. The downside is that group meeting calls have a 40-minute limit ‚ÄĒ more advanced plans start at $14.99 a month for a host. The software is free for all users to use and is available for just about every mobile and computer that‚Äôs less than five years old.

GoToMeeting is one of the most established and popular virtual meeting firms among small and large businesses. Its popularity has been a double-edged sword, as new demand has stressed its system. It also offered K-12 schools some of its services for free. GoToMeeting plans start at $12 a month with up to 150 participants and $16 for a business plan hosting up to 250 people.

Google Hangouts is a free service for anyone with a Gmail account that can be added to any Chrome browser, and you can invite up to 10 people to share photos, presentations and more. A paid version called Google Hangouts Meet, which is part of Google’s G Suite business offering. G Suite powers business emails through its Gmail platform and comes with a big list of Google extras from Google Drive with Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and more. Plans begin at $6 a month, and that includes up to 100 participants on Google Hangouts Meet, which is remarkably mobile-friendly. Meet also can be integrated with a business Microsoft Skype account. Most importantly, Meet also provides a dial-in phone number to help connect folks who have to call in from a regular telephone.

Google Duo is another free option from Google for smaller virtual meetings. A video-calling app for your mobile phone, tablet and computer, Google Duo is designed for video calls but can handle a virtual meeting of eight people by reaching out to participants in advance to connect them. Google Duo is available for both Android and iPhones.

Apple has a similar feature built into Facetime. If you have an
iPhone, a group Facetime call can add up to 32 people. You can
originate this call from Apple iPad and Mac computers.

Join.me, like Zoom, is a modern solution for virtual meetings. It works exceptionally well for those holding frequent meetings and who want to call a quick virtual meeting. Plans start at $10 a month for five participants for each meeting with unlimited meeting length and a dial-in phone number. For $20 a month, Join.me offers virtual meetings and webinars for up to 250 participants per meeting and 10 video webcam streams.

The best news is right now, all these video services offer a free trial period ‚ÄĒ most are for 14 days ‚ÄĒ so you can check out which one is best for you and your clients.

What you need to get connected

All the primary virtual meeting services provide free access for your clients with software they can download and install on their computer and their smartphone.

Most smartphones and computers less than five years old work with all these virtual meeting services. Zoom, for example, supports a wide variety of browsers and recommends a minimum connection speed of 1.2 Mbps‚Äď1.8 Mbps for high-quality video. Google gets a bit more specific, recommending at least 3.2 Mbps for five participants and 4.0 Mbps for 10 people.¬†

A headset is not required, as the services will allow you to use the built-in microphone and speakers on your computer, but a pair of headphones or a headset with a mic is highly recommended to keep background noise to a minimum. As a presenter, you don’t want to drown out your voice with the sounds of a keyboard if you try to take notes during your meetings.

Finding a smaller, quiet room that reduces echoes also is beneficial. Again, background noise can be distracting during a virtual meeting. Fortunately, all these services allow users to self-mute and, when required, enable the moderator to mute everyone.

Finally, think about your background. What are folks going to be looking at behind you when you share your smiling face? Find a background free of distractions. Some of these services do provide a virtual background but be careful knowing the same rules apply: you want people to focus on what is being said, not trying to figure out what is going on in the background.

Part TWO: Best practices for virtual meetings

With COVID-19 affecting the way real estate professionals do business, virtual meetings have taken off.

Google, Microsoft and Apple offer ways to hold a quick virtual meeting, and services from GotoMeeting to Zoom offer other free solutions as well.

But for many agents, all of this technology is very new, and many agents have questions, like how do you hold a virtual meeting?

Getting started with a virtual meeting

You can use your desktop computer, laptop or mobile devices such as your phone or a tablet, for holding a virtual meeting. If you are meeting with more than two people, it‚Äôs best to use your computer ‚ÄĒ a desktop or laptop ‚ÄĒ versus a mobile device.

While most of the virtual meeting services like Zoom and GoToMeeting work well to participate in a meeting remotely when you are the host, you get easier access to all the controls, and it’s easier to see everyone.

There’s a great advantage to seeing everyone clearly at the same time: you can see their facial expressions and body language that will help improve what you say, how you say it, and to whom you say it. That’s why you’ll want to host your virtual meeting on a computer.

Next, you need a way to see everyone. While you can ‚Äúcall‚ÄĚ into a virtual meeting, video is a more effective way to communicate. Fortunately, most laptops have a built-in video camera these days, and they work quite well for virtual meetings. That‚Äôs
a significant advantage of using a laptop to run your meeting.

If you use your desktop computer, you have to add a webcam. Amazon and other eCommerce stores offer lots of affordable options. Today’s webcams are relatively easy to set up. If you have any issues, contact the WRA Tech Helpline for assistance. 

Now you‚Äôll need a way to hear and talk to everyone. Most laptops have built-in speakers and microphones, but their quality varies greatly. Newer Mac computers and higher-end Windows laptops do a great job, acting like a speakerphone without the need for a separate headset. But if you have any background noise ‚ÄĒ traffic, delivery trucks, kids running around or pet noise ‚ÄĒ a headset or ear pods are a much better option.

Need for speed

You also need a decent internet connection for good quality video for your virtual meeting. How much speed depends on a few things. If there are other people in your household sharing the same internet connection, and if they are streaming videos or playing online games, that could negatively impact your virtual meeting.

The technical requirement most virtual meeting services recommend is reasonably low, ranging from about 2 Megabytes (MBS) per second to about 4 MBS as a minimum threshold. You can check your speed online at speedtest.net.

Remember to close any programs or apps that are running in the background before you connect to your virtual meeting. This helps speed up your computer or mobile device’s processor, and that will be very helpful in providing a better virtual meeting experience for everyone.

Scheduling a meeting

While most people plan a meeting on the hour or half-hour,
as those are the most common time blocks for business schedules, you may be able to improve your speed by starting your session five minutes early.

The current demand for virtual meetings is so great that experts even suggest starting your meeting at 15-past or before the hour, as your virtual meeting may benefit from faster speeds on the meeting provider’s end.

It‚Äôs always best to send both a calendar invitation and a separate email to invite people to your virtual meeting. The challenge with sending only a calendar invite depends on the email program; all the meeting details ‚ÄĒ including the link to connect ‚ÄĒ may be hidden in the notes section of the calendar invite. That‚Äôs why it‚Äôs best to send an email invite with the details included.

Finally, send a quick reminder within one hour before your meeting as a courtesy. We are all juggling family and work duties from home, and this can be very helpful for attendees.

Sharing content before a call

Technology is great, but sometimes it just won’t work for every attendee. Fortunately, most meeting services offer a way to connect to a meeting by dialing in from a phone. Attendees won’t have video, so they can’t see your screen if you share slides, images or a document.
 
A best practice is to send whatever document or file you are going to share with all attendees in advance of your meeting. You are not hosting a webinar; it’s a virtual meeting, and this allows those who have trouble connecting visually to see the information when you go to review it during your virtual meeting.

Before your meeting

Make sure you test holding a virtual meeting with a friend, family member or business colleague well before you host your first meeting. This allows you to test the connection process. You can troubleshoot issues, get used to the service or software, and check your audio and video quality. You also can figure out how to share your screen with others, give control or access to screen-share with others, as well as stop screen-share.

Interior and exterior light impact the quality of your headshot more than anything. Overhead lights that your video camera captures can cause problems. It may be best to turn those lights off. Direct lighting from a lamp on the side of your computer that lights your face is often the best solution if your image looks grainy. If you are too dark, and there is not enough light, that will also increase graininess. Finally, backlighting ‚ÄĒ often a window that is located behind you¬† ‚ÄĒ will cause the most problems, so close the blinds or find a location with a different background.

Avoid ‚Äúvideo bombings‚ÄĚ in your meeting

If you are using a professional video service like Zoom or GoToMeeting, make sure you don’t publish the link for your virtual meeting publicly. 

¬†Zoom recently published a blog post of the simple steps one can take going through the preferences and settings to make sure no one can ‚ÄúZoom-bomb‚ÄĚ your virtual meeting. The Zoom blog post, ‚ÄúHow to Keep Uninvited Guests Out of Your Zoom Event,‚ÄĚ is online at blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/03/20/keep-uninvited-guests-out-of-your-zoom-event.

Best practices

Make sure you verbally acknowledge everyone and use their name when you are talking with them. Don’t get distracted if you have more than one screen by incoming emails, news alerts or other instant messages. Turn off your alerts if you can.

Video is a powerful medium to make people feel more comfortable. While it can‚Äôt fully replace an in-person meeting, it can help you ‚Äúconnect‚ÄĚ in a deeper way than a phone call, text,or email.

When you start the meeting, go over the tools for muting, and how to use the ‚Äúchat‚ÄĚ box to ask questions when someone is talking. If you are going to use the sharing function, review how to share a screen as well. Remember to ask everyone to mute their mic until they are ready to talk, especially when you have more than a few people on the call. Explain that combined background noise can drown out the audio portion of the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, make sure you shut down the meeting entirely before you step away, so everyone is disconnected ‚ÄĒ including you!

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA.

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