Learning how to organize online meetings can be useful not only during a virus crisis. In the long run, restricting unnecessary travel is beneficial to the climate and it can save your precious time. That is why we have prepared this manual to effectively manage an online meeting and what to watch out for.
What software to use
Most people have some experience with Skype. Google Hangout is also quite well-known. Both systems have downsides – while in order to use Skype, you need to install it, keep it updated and create a Skype account, Google Hangout requires a Google account to start a call. For these reasons, we do not recommend them. Zoom.us is the best service for professional use. You can download it to your computer or phone and it offers many useful features. However, in the free version of the software, the duration of a meeting is limited to a maximum of 40 minutes. The paid version starts at 15 USD/month.
The Jitsi Meet online tool seems to be the most suitable for general use. For online meetings via computer, all you need is a browser, so you do not need to install or register anything.
How to set up an online meeting (video conference)
Jitsi Meet works best with the Google Chrome browser, so use that. On the https://meet.jit.si/ page, enter a title for your meeting and click "Go".
This will connect you to an online meeting room. When using the tool for the first time, your browser will ask you to allow the use of headphones and a microphone. Confirm both. As the meeting organizer, you will see the option to set up a password at the bottom right of the screen. The password will ensure that only invited people can get into the meeting room. Send your meeting room address (in the form https://meet.jit.si/testonlinemeeting) with the password (if any) to the colleagues you plan to meet. The link will take them directly to the meeting room.
Using mobile applications
It is also possible to enter the meeting room on your phone or tablet. For this, you need to download the application. Here are the links for Android and iPhone. You can either start the application using the link to a specific room, or you can enter the room's name during the start of the application (the part of the link after the address – in our case "testonlinemeeting").
Some additional features may be limited in the mobile app; nevertheless, the basic use is comfortable enough.
If someone is unable to connect via the Internet, there is a possibility to connect to the conference via a regular telephone call. If you are from the USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan or Switzerland, you can call for local rates, otherwise you will need to place a possibly expensive international call. To select a number, click on the appropriate icon in the bottom right corner. Do not forget to share the PIN, which the participants need to enter after calling the number.
What hardware to use
Get and use a headset. On desktops and older laptops, there are 2 connectors - one for a microphone and for headphones. On newer laptops and especially on mobile phones, these are merged into one connector (jack). In this case, use the headphones with a microphone attached to the cable (handsfree). Of course, it is also possible to use Bluetooth headsets so that you do not need to deal with connectors at all.
Using the common headphones that are delivered together with mobile phones is sufficient. For more comfort and better sound insulation, you can always buy special headphones for conference calls.
To ensure the quality of your meeting, do not use the built-in microphones and speakers on your computer or mobile phone. In both cases, you will pick up a lot of surrounding noise and, in case you are using a computer, typing on the keyboard may be very noisy. If necessary, when there are no headphones and microphone available, mute the built-in microphone using the left icon at the bottom centre of the screen when you are not talking. It is also advisable to sit in a quiet room or a place without other people.
If your computer does not have a built-in camera, buy any webcam available, even the cheapest gadget will be sufficient.
Connection requirements and video call advice
There should be no problem with the connection using ordinary wi-fi. If you are using a mobile connection, try not to move and find a place with a good signal. If you are on a poor quality connection, or if you encounter any problem, try to reduce the video quality first (click the icon at the bottom right and select "Manage video quality"). The second option is to turn off the video completely by using the right icon at the bottom center.
Please keep in mind that even though the voice is what matters the most, the video should not be turned off automatically during all of our calls. Being able to see the other participants of the video call will save you from some of the communication problems. A lot of information is shared non-verbally; your colleagues can for example nod or shake their heads. Or you can read other reactions from their facial expression. Audio calls without video are also more demanding for the chair of the meeting and for your attention.
How to make video calls work smoothly
The complexity of the meeting increases with each additional participant; however, there are some basic rules that can be followed to make the meeting much smoother. The rules are as follows:
Prepare the agenda for the meeting in advance and send it to the participants so that they know what the meeting is going to be about, who will attend it and what the expected duration of the meeting will be. Distribute any necessary documents in advance.
If possible, join the meeting a few minutes earlier. Waiting for latecomers online is even worse than waiting in real life.
There should always be someone to chair the meeting. It is his/her task to make sure that the agenda is followed, watch the time, give the floor to participants and so on.
Each participant should enter his or her name and surname after logging in to prevent any misunderstanding.
If you are taking meeting minutes, it is good to do so in a shared document, to which everyone has access and can make adjustments or comments directly. If possible, the meeting minutes should not be made by the person who chairs the meeting. These two roles are difficult to combine.
To join the discussion, press the hand icon (bottom left corner of the browser window). This makes it easier to manage the order of participants. It is also possible to enter the debate using the chat – mainly because the icon of the hand is relatively small and the chair may not see all the participants registered to the debate in the correct order, especially when watching something else, such as a shared document.
You may also share any online documents, such as meeting minutes and other materials, during the video call. Use the bottom left button to share your screen. You can share either your full screen or a specific app or a Chrome tab with a web app, such as Google Docs.
It is highly recommended, especially to the participants in a noisy environment, to turn off the microphone. With a large number of such participants, the organizer of the meeting can set up for each participant to join with their microphone muted. This option can be found in Settings.
The organizer can also mute, adjust the volume or ban a participant from the meeting room by clicking the person's icon and opening a small menu.
In the case of online voting on any issue, the best way to do so is to use the chat. When prompted by the chair, write to the chat FOR/AGAINST/ABSTAIN or nothing at all. The chat is a built-in functionality; it appears after pressing the appropriate icon (in the bottom left corner of the browser window).
How to manage an online meeting with only some participants joining online
Online meetings with some people in the physical meeting room and others joining in remotely are the biggest challenge for everyone. If possible, choose a fully online meeting where all the participants join in from their computer or mobile. Nevertheless, there might be a situation when a part of your team is online and part is physically meeting in a meeting room. In such a case, you need to accommodate this situation to prevent frustration among all participants.
The basic prerequisite for successful mixed meetings is the use of an external microphone combined with a loudspeaker. Such a device, placed on the table and surrounded by everyone in the meeting room, can capture the speech of all the participants at a distance of several meters. Likewise, it can provide clear audio from those connected online. For example, the Jabra Speak provides a good service at a reasonable price. The basic version, Jabra Speak 410, has a USB connection, and with Jabra Speak 510, for a few extra euros, you can also use a Bluetooth connection. This can be handy in case you do not have a computer and have to use a smartphone to set up the connection for the remote participants as the phone cannot be connected to the USB-only device. Check if these gadgets are available in your markets, or find similar devices. We strongly discourage use of regular microphone and loudspeakers.
To use the external loudspeaker during a call, simply connect the device to your computer (via USB or Bluetooth) and when prompted by the browser to allow the use of video and sound once you start a call in the Jitsi app, select the external Jabra Speak instead of the built-in ones.
The price of this device varies from 75 to 115 € (check your local prices) This investment is worth the price since you will get much more efficient meetings and you will avoid the voice quality problems with built-in microphones and speakers which frustrate all the participants. Noise such as glasses, pencils, or keyboards are usually picked-up by the built-in microphones and inconvenience remote participants. You can reduce all these inconveniences with a dedicated device.
Before using the external microphone with the speaker for the first time, it is advisable to install and test it in advance. After the call starts, check also if any of the local participants isn't too far from the device and is therefore not clearly audible. In case of organizing the meeting in larger rooms, buy the higher models of the Jabra Speak (710, 810) which have both better performance and can use two speakers at once. However, their price starts at around 190 €.
As for the video, if you can reserve one computer as a monitor on which online participants can be seen by those around the table, it will certainly help the meeting. Alternatively, this can be done by connecting an external monitor or, in an emergency, a projector so that one of the participants can continue to use the computer (laptop) while others watch its screen. However, based on our experience, the added value of an external monitor is far lower than the added value of an external Jabra Speaker, without which the call is often very stressful.
To allow other people to watch your meeting, but without the possibility of active participation, you can use the Youtube stream linking feature. In order to do so, you must have a Youtube account where you generate a key to enter into the Jitsi app. This feature may be useful for some bulk actions, for example, to create a very basic webinar, or if you want to stream public debate of several people. For questions from the audience, use the built-in chat in Youtube or services like Slido.com or Ask.fm.
It is also possible to record the meeting for further use directly in the Jitsi Meet; however, you need to have a Dropbox account to save the resulting video.
The address of your room on Jitsi Meet remains the same, so you can reuse it for future meetings, even retaining part of your chat history.
Because Jitsi Meet is an open-source system, it is possible to install it on your server. This way you will not need to share the app capacity with anyone else. The installation requires technical skills, though, find instructions here. All Jistsi calls ale encrypted.
How to organize a real conference or seminar online? Read the Tax Justice Network experience. The PDF files contain further detailed organizational and technical information.
Do you think something is missing from this manual? Let us know!