Let’s face it: conference calls can be awkward. The major element that contributes to that awkward feeling is when one participant talk over another. There are many reasons this can happen, none of which have to do with the videoconferencing program itself, but the nature of communicating remotely. Without face-to-face contact, the brain misses important cues that signal when a person is done talking. This is especially true when you use videoconferencing software with only the audio component. There can also be delays in the video and audio that make it difficult to tell when it’s your turn.
To make your meeting go more smoothly and soften the awkward feelings, participants need more structure. Micromanaging can actually be of help here to a certain degree. Having a strategic plan for who speaks and when serves as a social lubricant in a videoconference meeting. Keep it as natural as possible, while making sure that everyone is being heard and that major delays don’t occur because of cross-talking.
Choose a Facilitator
The facilitator of a meeting keeps the conversation flowing. The person in this role is in charge of moving through each item on the agenda. In addition to being the agenda keeper as well as the timekeeper, they can also direct the order in which people speak. If multiple people have their hands raised, the facilitator points to each person to speak until they’re done saying their piece. The facilitator is the master of all things orderly about a meeting, and that includes keeping it to one voice at a time as much as possible.
Audio-only calls are particularly prone to people talking over one another. Before speaking for the first time, each person should state who they are – even if the video component is being used. At many virtual meetings, not everyone knows all of the other participants. When people say their name before speaking, it gives an identity to the voice. If other participants know whose voice is speaking at any given time, they’re more likely to quiet down and wait their turn.
Allow Time Between Speakers
In regular conversation, people talk one right after another. This doesn’t always work out perfectly on a videoconference. Leaving some pause between each speaker gives some extra time for participants to catch on to visual and audio clues that they can chime in. The facilitator can be in charge of letting these pauses happen and after a few moments, indicate that it’s the next person’s turn to talk.
Do a Round Robin
Round robin is another job for the facilitator. It works best when a group comes upon agenda items that require input from participants. Typically, at an in-person meeting, each individual would comment when they have put their thoughts together and are ready to share them. As an alternative to avoid interruptions, and allow each person adequate speaking time, a round robin in which each individual is called upon in turn can be employed in a videoconference. This method is also a great way to keep track of the comments that individual participants make.
Don’t Jump the Gun
A little common courtesy can go a long way in a videoconference. Remember that everyone is entitled to have a voice. Whether you’re using the video or just the audio components of video conferencing software, being extra courteous will help minimize the awkwardness of talking over one another. When you hear a slight pause when someone is speaking, don’t assume they’re finished. Give them a chance to catch their breath and wait to see if it’s clear to talk. You’d want them to do the same for you!