Keep a record of the meeting and its outputs
It is uncommon for an audio recording to be made of a face-to-face meeting (unless you have to make such a record for legal compliance as in a police interview). Online, however, it is very common to make a complete recording of everything including audio, video, presentation materials and contemporaneous text chat.
If you do set the session to record, remember to let everyone know at the start that it is to be saved and may be reviewed by others who are not present at the live meeting.
The session recording may be a very useful asset for someone who ought to have taken part but was unable to do so. However, for those who did take part, it is necessary to provide some more concise record of key decisions and actions.
In a virtual meeting, just as face-to-face, the recording of information can be achieved in various ways:
- people can take their own notes and optionally share and consolidate them at the end (this is done through the so-called back channel (chat) in a virtual classroom, but may also be done on paper if preferred)
- as a background activity by a nominated scribe who uses a continuous chat or notes window to capture the key points from and for everyone
- as a conspicuous building of shared information that lets people validate and verify what is noted
By making the notes conspicuous, on a whiteboard that everyone can see, you gain some advantages:
- people have a place to focus their attention
- speakers can check how accurately their words were understood and recorded
- whiteboards can be saved and brought to the next meeting
- a whieboard may be originated in one sub-group (in a virtual breakout room) and then presented to another
- speakers feel vindicated by seeing their words in print
- the group can think more effectively when they can see proposals and ideas in print
- people will not become overwhelmed by the need to skim and scan a large volume of text – some of which may be relevant and some of which may not
- people will not be distracted by keeping an eye on a volume of text in the “back channel” at the expense of losing concentration on the task in hand
What should you record?
There are several types of information that can be recorded. You miss an opportunity if you fail to capture the key points of discussions and the ideas in a brainstorm. In a typical face-to-face meeting, the facilitator may designate separate flipcharts for Action Items, Decisions, and Parking Lot. In a virtual meeting such as WebEx, you can do the same thing by preparing a whiteboard for each as follows:
- Action Plan: This is the place to record the items people have agreed to take responsibility for after the meeting. Be sure to record the item, the person’s name and when the item is due (what, who, by when).
- Decisions: This chart records the agreements reached at your meeting. Writing decisions on a whiteboard or in chat notes lets all participants confirm their common understanding of what has been agreed.
- Parking Lot: The Parking Lot (sometimes known as the “Bin”, “The Trap” or “Issues”) is a place to record ideas, questions, or future agenda items. This board helps to avoid subverting the agenda onto side issues by deferring them to another time. This records the issue so that at a later date the decision can be made to include it on a future agenda.
Tips for Recording
- Record the main thrust of an idea.
- Don’t paraphrase or try to correct – use the speaker’s own words.
- Check with the speaker that what you’ve written reflects what they’ve said.
- Let all agree that abbreviations and misspellings are tolerable.
- Type as fast as you can but ask the group to slow down if you fall behind.
- If possible use bullets, numbers or contrasting colours to separate one point form another.
- Put the topic and date at the head of the script.
- At the end of the meeting, copy and paste the text into a document with numbered pages.
- If things are moving too fast, nominate more than one recorder.
Some of the drawbacks of recording online meetings
Being present at a live meeting has obvious advantages. You can affect the pace and direction of the meeting. You can ask and answer questions, make comments, share items on your desktop or on the Web, and take part in polls and surveys.
If your only access to the same meeting is via an archived recording you soon come to regret the loss of those advantages.
What is more, those little dips in signal strength, slips of the tongue and minor errors that passed without comment in the live meeting become an irritant in the recording. A live audience understands that you may need to cough or consult your notes, but everyone expects a recording to be of an agreeable standard.
It is rare for the recoding of an online meeting to undergo any post-production work to tidy up the sequencing and optimise the sound quality. In most cases it is not technically possible to do this even if you had the time and motivation. Some recordings are saved as flash movies or in .mp3 format so thay can be played in any media player. Some can only be played in the environment of the web-conferencing software. Often the audio is compressed to keep the files small. What might have been poor quality sound in the first place is further degraded. When different speakers have used microphones during the live event, there is bound to be some variation in clarity and volume which seems exaggerated when you listen to the recording.
In a live session you may filter out instructions about how to use the web-conferencing interface. You may be prepared to wait as everyone else catches up with polls and surveys. The person viewing the recording can only passively observe these interactions and so is unlikely to keep engaged for the same period of time as they might have done in the live meeting.
If some part of the meeting includes an important and reusable presentation then we’d recommend you publish that in some medium other than the archived recording of a live session.
A narrated PowerPoint may be preferable, using a plug-in such as Articulate or Adobe Presenter. This allows you to make points brief and to the point. If you have taken care to label each sldie and include notes, your audience can find and navigate easily to the information they want.
Because it is not a live broadcast recording, you can work with prompts or a script, make corrections and edit your presentation and audio so that the recording is to a more professional standard and users can focus on the message instead of defects in the delivery.
Similarly we ‘d suggest the action plans, parking lot, decisions taken and so on be recorded in a more natural format i.e. as electronic documents.
In the final part of this ten-part series we’ll talk about what to do at the end of a meeting to keep people informed, engaged and feeling positive about their next online meeting. We’ll post it in a few days time, so that there is time to collect views and feedback to include in a plenary blog. We do you will come back.
We’re hoping you will continue to add your own ideas to this blog and all the previous items too. If we can create of it something that is representative of the experience of a wide range of practitioners, it will help us all to understand what works and what doesn’t.