How we meet professionally, collaborate, network, and train at The Interchange Institute has been radically influenced due to social distancing. Here are some of the tools in our toolbox:
(The Interchange Institute has been using Zoom as our chosen platform for our training workshops, meetings and our global Culture Chats. Most of these tip/ideas can be applied to other formats, e.g., Skype, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams.)
Building Interpersonal Connections
Trying to create connections in online meetings can be challenging. Here are some icebreaking tools for online environments:
- Invite people to bring an icon from one of their cultural roots, and to share briefly why they chose it. Flags, pictures, religious figures, coffee mugs – all these provide a tool to help people begin to explore and share their roots. Or – as we do in our training – use these icons for the classic Describe-Interpret-Evaluate training activity.
- Ask everyone to deliver their “elevator speech.” Give them some parameters: in 30 seconds, describe what problem you solve and how you fix it. If there’s time, use breakout rooms to have pairs or small groups help each other refine their message.
- Ask people to pick a culturally-relevant virtual background (in Zoom/Video menu). Let others guess what’s shown, then hear why they chose it.
- Ask participants to change how their name appears on the screen to include where they currently are, or what their “home” culture is.
- Make your own bingo game to include cultural experiences and skills. In our trainings, we have customized a Cultural Bingo game that can be played online, in person, or some combination.
Monitoring Contextual Cues
During online meetings, there is a challenge to pick up the social contextual clues that usually facilitate conversation. It’s easy to talk too long or to miss emotional reactions. Some tips:
- Understand people differ in how they respond to this new virtual reality. Plan for introverts and extroverts.
- Monitor participation and invite those who may need you to make an opportunity to participate.
- Don’t waste time in ambiguity about who will speak next. Either have a designated leader who will call on people, or have each speaker call on the next one to speak. At the same time, as the leader, be sensitive to those who have not spoken much. Use the Raise Hand feature in Zoom with large groups, or just watch for those trying to speak.
- Be explicit about how long you want each person to talk. Set the parameters at the beginning of your meeting.
- Consider some kind of timekeeper (Countdown clock? Hand signal if time is up?) for breaks or report-outs. PowerPoint has an add-in timekeeper that works well for us.
- Utilize the “chat” feature in your meeting platform to monitor interest or gather questions.
- The best Zoom simulation of a real meeting is for everyone’ video to show in Gallery mode with everyone’s microphone on. Sometimes this won’t work (if there’s background noise). But work toward this goal.
Looking Your Best
Presenting yourself on video is so different than face-to-face encounters. Some tips on how to be “camera ready” and made good visual impressions:
- Have your camera at eye level. If your camera is at the bottom of your laptop screen, put your laptop on a pile of books, or get an auxiliary camera to put on top of screen.
- Don’t sit in front of light source/window. You will be a silhouette. Natural light from side is good. Or, you can be looking toward a light (behind camera, ideally bounced off a wall.)
- See if you like Video Settings/Advanced – “Touch up my appearance.”
- Background – beware of things looking like they are growing out of your hair. A blank wall is OK but it misses the opportunity to non-verbally communicate a bit about who you are. But be aware of what is on display in the background if attending the webinar from your home â€“ do you want to be displaying your political views in this context? Be aware of anything gives away your home address. Be aware of having confidential documents on display.
- Sit not too close, not too far from camera/microphone. Three-four feet usually works.
- Center yourself on the screen. Still photographers advise putting a subject to the side of a shot; Zoom is different and center looks best.
- White shirts look overexposed. If that’s what you’re wearing, put on a scarf or jacket to lessen white.
- Don’t eat or chew gum. It is distracting and can become a focus for other participants.
- Add your photo to your Zoom profile so that when your Video is off, there’s a photo of you. In your account, click Profile then Upload.
- Security – be cognizant of security and protect your meeting and your participants by using such features as passwords, waiting rooms, locking the meeting after all invited guests have arrived.
- You can limit whether participants can chat privately with each other when this is appropriate.
- Breakout Room – a great tool to do partner work with the ability to then bring your larger group back together. Set these up ahead of time, or during the meeting.
- Polling – use this feature to get group participation, gather opinion, test knowledge, etc.
- White board – to visualize your thoughts to the group.
- Sharing Screen – so that you can share materials in real time. If you want to play a video clip for your meeting group and share your screen, you have to click “Share computer sound” – there’s also a “Optimize Screen Sharing for Video Clip” button.
- Closed captioning – good when you are working with language barriers or for those professionals teaching language
- Invitation email can be sent in any of 9 languages (Settings).
- Try a 5 second lag on Zoom for all participants in order to decrease the amount of frozen screen moments
Using our knowledge of intercultural transition, we are convinced that an open attitude and a willingness to make the journey from “in-person” to “live online” training and networking is not so daunting. We are trying to model what we teach and practice what we preach, to you, and to our customers, families and clients.
We are excited to be offering our Crossing Cultures with Competence training workshop in a live online format, using all these tools (and more). New format, same materials, same training, same connections, same license. See below for details. We’d love to see you there.
Your Team at The Interchange Institute:
Anne Copeland, Founder and Senior Trainer
Terri McGinnis, Senior Trainer
Tasha Arnold, Senior Trainer
Michelle Hagenburg, Senior Trainer
“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”
– Roy T. Bennett
FOR MORE DEPTH:
Because we are now in a situation that many are using all online meeting software to do their work, participants and hosts can get fatigued from too many meetings that are online. Here is a good article that addresses the stress and burnout from constant online interactions with tips on how to reduce the fatigue.
And here are some links to resources that have helped us in our transition to a more virtual world of work. We hope they are helpful:
Steve Dotto with DottoTech has useful YouTube tutorials on everything from Zoom, Google Docs, Evernote, Web/pod casts etc.