You've Gone Virtual. Now What?

Once you’ve helped members navigate the learning curve, you might find that virtual meeting platforms offer advantages to your association.

As state governments and businesses across the country continued to battle COVID-19 with lockdowns and closures into the winter, many association executives shifted association meeting to a virtual space.

Recent changes to the National Association of REALTORS®’ Core Standards include a requirement that associations have a way to offer virtual meetings to their members. This will look different to each of us, depending on our association’s size and available resources. But working with virtual meeting platforms can deliver great value to members.

Where to Start

There are several virtual meeting platforms you can use; the most common is Zoom. Others include Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, WebEx, and Google Hangouts. Each comes with its own functionalities, limitations, and workarounds, but most will provide a great experience at an affordable price.

Associations with limited budgets should consider partnering with a neighboring association to offset the cost of a videoconferencing platform license. The California Association of REALTORS®, for example, purchased a block of Zoom licenses for its associations to use. This represents a huge cost savings, and expanded licenses often come with advanced features.

Beyond the platform, you need only a few basic tools for a successful meeting: a computer, a camera, and a working audio input. Keep in mind, too, that your tech can malfunction. “I always have a backup computer ready with all of the documents loaded onto it, just in case,” says Jan Marie Ennenga, AE with the Yuma Area Association of REALTORS® in Arizona.

Don’t Go Viral

By now, you might have participated in a video conference call that has gone a bit haywire, or maybe you witnessed something cringeworthy. Members might have checked in while driving, lounging in bed, or talking about something inappropriate on a hot mic. The No. 1 rule of virtual meetings is, “Don’t be that guy.”

Pay attention to what attendees will see and hear. As the host or administrator for your meetings, you will want to watch attendees closely for any unusual behavior. If you see any, you should send a private chat message to let the person know. You may also wish to address the group as a whole at the start of each meeting to outline the rules of proper videoconferencing etiquette.

Offer Tips for Success

Your willingness to help members overcome technology hurdles means a lot to them. Any time you can offer a helping hand instead of criticism, you should do it. “Start out with your housekeeping rules,” says Elizabeth Breen, AE with the Santa Ynez Valley Association of REALTORS® in California. “If members are having issues, call them after the meeting and offer to run a test Zoom with them to troubleshoot sound, video, etc., for future meetings.”

Many associations have produced short videos that offer tips and tricks for virtual meetings. One video produced by Eric Schwartz and the Sprouthouse Agency for the California Association of REALTORS® uses humor to drive its points home, taking members on a “CAR Airways” flight to “Zoomland.” If producing a video isn’t in your budget, a simple tips page that you can screen-share can help.

Sharing responsibilities can keep things running smoothly. Many associations have found that having two hosts on an online meeting is helpful, especially if something goes awry. “Always have a co-host—either staff or a member,” says Kaaren Winkler, CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Association of REALTORS® in Washington state. “It is helpful to have another set of eyes on the waiting room, chat box, etc.”

Rules of Engagement

  • Make sure your space is free of distractions.
  • Unmute your mic only when you want to participate. Test your mic settings before the meeting.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. This seems like a no-brainer, but people have gotten a bit too comfortable in the virtual world.
  • Follow the rules established by your state.

Next-Level Connection

Many REALTOR® associations have learned to embrace virtual meeting tools to reach members like never before. But some members have trouble learning something new without seeing it. “I simply send them a quick Zoom invitation at a time that’s convenient, share my screen with them to show them how to complete the task, and send them on their way,” says Amber Scholl, executive officer of the Greater Mason City Board of REALTORS® in Iowa. “My frequent callers have actually been learning and retaining information.”

Providing step-by-step training to a member is a great way to use a virtual platform. “We utilize Zoom, and we use it to replace our once in-person REALTOR® caravan,” says Darla Frye-Guevremont, CEO of the Key West Association of REALTORS® in Florida. “We have a private Facebook group that is for members only, and we utilize the Zoom-to-Facebook Live feed to open the homes up to more of our membership than before.”

Embrace the Change

Virtual platforms have made state and national conferences more accessible to members, and local associations have been able to offer A-list learning opportunities. “We have taken advantage of larger meetings that are now accessible,” Breen says. “This has allowed us to get speakers we would never have been able to afford in person.”

Members want to stay active while staying safe. Since we can’t predict what lies ahead, we need to make the most of the available tools. Still leery about working in a virtual world? Reach out to your colleagues through AEI Year-Round, your state association, or a neighbor. Collaboration can be the key to your success! 

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Life Goes On(line)

Videoconferencing etiquette and best practices for the COVID-19 era.

Many of the changes we’ve experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately be integrated into our lives on a permanent basis, and online videoconferencing applications are part of that new normal. All of us will be attending more meetings remotely from this point on, so here are a few tips and tricks to share with your members that will help the process go more smoothly.

Check the lighting. The placement of the light source is key; bright light, such as a sunny window, behind you will turn you into a silhouette. Position your desk so you’ll face the window or light source.

Not too close and not too far. Position yourself in the center of the screen so you can be seen from the shoulders upward. Your shoulders should take up approximately half of the horizontal space on the screen. Anything closer might be overwhelming (producing gigantic-face syndrome); anything farther away will make you hard to see.

Keep the camera at eye level. In person, eye contact helps people connect. You want that kind of connection in virtual meetings, too, so it’s important to position your webcam at or near eye level. You may have a separate camera or need to raise your laptop by putting it on a stand.

Look at the camera when you’re talking, so you seem to meet the eyes of the person(s) to whom you’re talking. On some platforms, you can modify the view to help you focus on one person at the appropriate times.

Check the audio. You want to be seen and heard clearly. If you’re in a quiet room, you can use the microphone on your laptop. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to use a microphone that is closer to your face. A decent pair of earbuds or headphones equipped with a mic should work.

Mute yourself when not actively speaking. Extraneous noise can be distracting or embarrassing. Platforms often switch to the active speaker, so if your dog begins to bark, the program will broadcast you in place of the person who has the floor.

Keep your environment simple. Seeing colleagues in their homes can be distracting. Make sure the background is uncomplicated, like a solid-colored wall that’s far enough away not to show shadows. If someone can look over your shoulder at family photos, artwork, or books, it diverts attention from the discussion.

Choose clothing wisely. Most clothing is fine, but there are a few fashion choices to avoid. Don’t wear pinstripes or checks, which can create distracting moiré patterns on camera. Avoid bright white and deep black clothing, because many webcams have automatic exposure settings that adjust to the lightest or darkest thing onscreen.

Get comfortable. You don’t want to fall asleep. Pick a chair comfortable enough to sit in without fidgeting. If you talk with your hands, practice keeping them still. Also, keep head movements to a minimum. And please: Don’t eat during a meeting.

Be courteous and punctual. Allow sufficient time to log on to the platform and to verify that your audio and video are functioning properly before the meeting is scheduled to begin. Once the meeting begins, don’t interrupt; wait for an opening in the conversation or use the chat or “raised hand” function.

Your focus should always be on the person(s) at the other end of the videoconference. Avoid typing, and turn off the sounds on your phone. When you are on camera but your attention is elsewhere, people notice. If you really need to multitask, turn the camera off and attend with audio only. When you are ready to give the meeting your full attention, turn the camera on again.

Be yourself. Relax and have a good time. Break the ice with a joke. Having some fun will help keep people focused and interested in what you have to say. It’s easy to tune out in a face-to-face meeting, and it’s even easier in a virtual one. And finally, remember to say goodbye when you leave the call. That might seem unimportant, but good etiquette is never a bad idea. 

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