As conference interpreters, we attended hundreds of virtual meetings and listened to thousands of speakers since the beginning of the pandemic. We worked at virtual meetings in different formats and scales such as webinars, focus groups, press conferences, in-house trainings and product launches. We heard speakers who everyone applauded as well as speakers who lost the audience one by one as the presentation progressed. Based on our experience, there are several factors that determine the success of virtual meetings:Agenda
When you prepare an agenda for virtual meetings, you should consider that they are more tiring than face-to-face meetings. In other words, remember that it is quite difficult to look at a screen for extended periods of time and that the participants will need frequent breaks. It will be easier for the participants to follow the presentations if the duration, content and intensity of consecutive presentations are diverse.Speakers
Remind the speakers that they will not be able to see the face of the audience, their body language or feel the pulse of the room. Virtual meetings require preparation to use visual materials effectively, to make jokes and to try to establish a personal connection with the audience.Presentations
Presentations with some text and more visuals help the audience to concentrate for longer periods of time in online meetings. Do not forget that some of the audience will attend the meeting on devices with small screens such as mobile phones and may have difficulty seeing the screen. Meetings with an equal split on the screen between the presentation and the speakers help establish a closer relation with the audience.Technical preparation
Frequently, technical problems deeply undermine the time and effort spent on virtual meetings. Ideally, you should do a short technical rehearsal with all of the presenters. Everyone who will speak must connect to the meeting in a quiet environment, using a wired microphone and a fast internet connection. Make sure to check what can be seen behind the speakers. Oh, the things we have seen…Interaction
One of the key elements for the success of virtual meetings is interaction. Interaction through polls, voting, asking for opinions or feedback from the chat box reduces the monotony of meetings. However, what really improves interaction is interpretation. Using a video conferencing platform with simultaneous interpretation does not increase engagement on its own. In some cases, everyone speaks global English and the presentations are in English; this may put those who do not speak English at a disadvantage despite the availability of interpretation. Furthermore, speakers may not always speak as fluently as they hoped for, especially due to the additional stress that virtual meetings tend to create for the speakers. In very inclusive and interactive meetings, presentations are prepared in different languages, all speakers speak their native language instead of global English and all correspondence and announcements in the chat box are made in more than one language. This way, everyone can express themselves without worrying about language issues and, more importantly, understand what is being said in their mother tongue.
Ahu Latifoğlu Doğan
Conference Interpreter and Board Member