Online meetings and nonverbal communication

Next to giving us feedback on our evaluation and ranking of online meeting solutions our readers approach us with questions that make us go “Waaait a minute. Why is that???” Point in case: Why is nonverbal communication hardly ever considered in web conferencing scenarios?

Let us leave the digital arena and look at good old face-to-face communication – remember that? Now here, obviously, nonverbal communication is essential to guiding understanding. Gestures e.g. can be used to signal approval or to show that you have a question. Even nodding the head carries a message, and don’t get me started on overall body language. So yes, the nonverbal aspect of communication is integral in a face-to-face scenario.

And it partially applies to online meetings, too. If all participants are on webcams that will make it a lot easier to interact than just talking on the phone would. One drawback, however, is that with multiple participants being displayed on your screen you could end up being more confused than informed (see our post on video conferencing).

For webinars nonverbal communication is of marginal help if any. Question marks or a thumbs up – thumbs down signal for the listeners are a gimmick rather than an essential part of communication. During a webinar the silent listeners in most cases have the chance to submit questions to the presenter via chat. These questions are then later discussed in a Q&A session following the presentation. Clicking a question mark button is only an indication of the fact THAT you don’t understand something. You would still have to explain WHAT exactly you don’t understand. And hitting a like or dislike button during e.g. a product presentation doesn’t seem to likely – if you are not a competitor trying to crash the presentation, that is.

So bottom line: Nonverbal communication only plays a minor role in online meetings. The only way of making up for the consequential lack of information that is usually provided by nonverbal signals is to be even more precise in how you phrase things.

Why use web conferencing #2: Usage scenarios for online meetings

In the search for a suitable web conferencing solution, the first question is: What will the tool be used for? In principle, tools are distinguished by two key factors: the number of participants they support, and the functions available for online meetings.

A traditional model is the one-to-one scenario, which is commonly employed to provide user support on software issues. At the other end of the spectrum, there are virtual conferences or trainings with large audiences, such as customer conventions, road shows, or webinars. For these scenarios, functions such as effective invitation management, integrated mute functions, and superimposed surveys and results are key. Between these two extremes, there are online meetings where smaller project teams work together from different locations spontaneously yet effectively – e.g. to discuss project plans or edit documents.

Small teams of two to ten, or even twenty people have different requirements when it comes to web-conference solutions: Setting up an online meeting should be quick and easy so it can be initiated ad hoc to accompany a phone call. In this case, it must be determined whether a tool enables users to start web conferences without prior invitation. Or whether a solution automatically generates email invitations that can be sent and read using common email clients. It is also crucial that new participants can be invited to a conference that is already under way – whether per email, URL, or by providing an access code for a conference call.

During meetings, any features that enable flexible, media-rich communications between all participants are important as e.g. the ability to switch between views of various users’ desktops, or to highlight or mark up content on the desktop currently being shown. Depending on the purpose of the conference, it may also be necessary to determine whether and how documents can be edited by multiple users at once. Chat functions facilitate communications between individual guests and the recording of web conferences is also useful if the interaction needs to be documented.

There are many good web conferencing solutions on the market which give you the opportunity to find the perfect fit for your company’s specific requirements. You will find details to the best tools in our ranking.