The I-Opener: What If You Sent Videos Out Before (or Instead of) Meetings?
Brandy Parker and Steven Toaddy
Meetings are important in your life. They take up a bunch of time, some are great and others are agonizing, but you need to have them to get work done. Search your feelings; you know it to be true.1 Both the popular press (see for a discussion Kello, 2015) and peer-reviewed outlets have a great deal of helpful meeting-optimization advice (discussed briefly below), with some caveats for cross-cultural differences (Gerpott & Lehmann-Willenbrock, 2015; Köhler & Gölz, 2015; see also van Erde & Buengeler, 2015). To the best of our knowledge, however, these recommendations are silent on the topic of using videos—not synchronous video conferencing but prerecorded videos—in the context of meetings. Silent—no pros, no cons, no evidence, no research questions. Let’s take a look at some of the existing recommendations and see how we can slot this technology into them, shall we?
The Recommendations (sans Video)
As mentioned above, there are a bunch of ways to approach the question of “how should I meeting?”, but we’ll leave that to a different outlet (see for instance Allen, Lehmann-Willenbrock, & Rogelberg, 2015). Given the diversity of categories of design characteristics that have an impact on perceived meeting quality (Cohen, Rogelberg, Allen, & Luong, 2011), there doesn’t appear to be a silver bullet, but we think that it’s fair to say that the following are, at least by some sources, among those characteristics recommended2:
- Have an agenda3 (Cohen et al., 2011; Leach, Rogelberg, Warr, & Burnfield, 2009), preferably formal and distributed in advance (Cohen et al., 2011).
- (Not really a recommendation, but) Meetings can be used to share information (e.g., project and/or individual updates; see Scott, Allen, Rogelberg, & Kello, 2015).
- Structure meetings of virtual teams carefully, particularly by working to build trust and familiarity between team members before scattering to the four winds (and preferably have that first effort conducted in person, for the sake of richness of contact; see, e.g., Karis, Wildman, & Mané, 2016; see also Yoerger Francis, & Allen, 2015).
- Start and end punctually (Cohen et al., 2011; Leach et al., 2009).
- Only hold a meeting when a meeting is the right thing to hold (Kello, 2015).
Why Video? We Have Plenty of Solutions Already
The reader may rightly ask why we’re making noise about video in meetings if there are plenty of helpful recommendations already. Well, at least as of a couple of years ago and despite the availability of these recommendations, meetings are still broken (Geimer, Leach, DeSimone, Rogelberg, & Warr, 2015); meetings are perceived as ineffective at alarmingly high rates.
Okay, says the reader: So we need to institute those recommendations more effectively, not to come up with new recommendations. Perhaps a fair critique, but give us the rest of this article to try to change your mind and then you do you, please. Besides, there are other criteria than just team and organizational effectiveness (Allen, Lehmann-Willenbrock, & Landowski, 2014; Cohen et al., 2011; Geimer et al., 2015; Kauffeld & Lehmann-Willenbrock, 2012; Leach et al., 2009) and employee attitudes (Allen & Rogelberg, 2013; Allen et al., 2012) such as getting employees moving to avoid death/disease (Buckley et al., 2015) and to avoid mental-health concerns (Teychenne, Costigan, & Parker, 2015); the solutions that we discuss may serve these other criteria better than any existing meeting recommendations.4
Okay, now it is speculation time.
First, the “Flip Meeting”
You have heard, we suspect, of using videos for instructional purposes5—employment training to classrooms to life-long learning, conveyed via everything from VHS to Internet. What you may not have considered (and what we entreat you to consider now) is using video strategically to improve your meetings. Here, a demonstration:
Now that was cut together and voiced over and pretty snazzy looking, right? But the video within the video—the presentation—was easy to produce. The first author maintains a website in collaboration with Dr. Lodge McCammon (known also for his work in K-20+ educational environments; see this and have fun) that explains this process, but know that (a) there are several free ways (e.g., via smartphone or something like this) to produce a simple and professional-looking video with practically no learning curve and (b) this isn’t something that is going to take you a ton of time to produce. Create the presentation, film the presentation, publish, and distribute. Done.
A brief aside for the biggest struggle that many seem to experience with video: Yes, you’re going to hear your own recorded voice and, optionally, see your own recorded image. For some, this may be an uncomfortable experience. But this’ll be an opportunity for us all to move on from the nervous laughter and self-deprecatory debasements and to use the opportunity to evaluate our communication skills, changing what we can and accepting the rest. In other words, let’s focus on the point of the meeting—getting work done—and not whether the lighting was flattering.
Yes, there are times where this will consume more person hours than it saves; a one-on-one meeting with a 30-second (video) update followed by 30 minutes of discussion, for instance, is not the best showcase for this approach. If one ignores the potential for reflecting on presentation skills and some of the other points made below, we are left with an empirical question of the break-even point for number of attendees and length of in-person presentation (taking into account the learning costs associated with giving a presentation in this new and potentially unfamiliar format)—somebody go answer that question.
How Could Video Be Used to Replace the Agenda and/or In-Meeting Presentations?
A video presentation can itself become the agenda. When you make the decision to create a video, you have to first determine what, exactly, you want to share with your colleagues. Typically, the content will be something on which you would like to solicit feedback or ideas/proposals/findings that you want to discuss. In essence, the process of creating the video becomes your agenda planning: You decide what the content will be and you determine how the meeting time will be used (e.g., discussion, feedback, collaboration). Sending the video ahead of time can set the agenda with others; they come knowing what to expect. Watch this video before X date. Think about the information in the video. Come prepared to discuss/provide feedback/brainstorm.
Now, there is the pesky challenge of using this method when you are not the only one presenting and others in your team are less inclined to try out the flip meeting. That can certainly put a damper on using a video to replace the agenda. The recommendation here would be to take the initiative to create an agenda. Step up and indicate to others that you plan to send a video as a “pre-read,” that you need X number of minutes for collaboration or discussion, and that you respectfully request that they provide you with an outline of what they plan to present and how much time they need. The last (and presumably the hardest) part? Hold them to it.
How Could Video Support Virtual-Team Meetings?
Those of us who have virtual members of our team (or perhaps are on a completely virtual team) are not always fortunate enough to have video conferencing for every meeting. And I’m sure nearly everyone can appreciate the struggle of the conference call.6 A flip meeting can work just as well with virtual teams as it does with in-person teams, as virtual-team meetings can suffer from the same challenges (e.g., no agenda, starting/ending on time). Beyond that, video presentations may help to build familiarity and trust among virtual colleagues7 (remember that recommended characteristics mentioned above?) as team members would get to see each other more regularly (in the video presentations).
How Could Video Obviate Punctuality Concerns?
Imagine. You’re presenting the preliminary findings from your project. One of your colleagues walks in about 10 minutes late. Within the first 5 minutes of being there, that person interrupts to ask a question that had already been answered in your presentation. Now you have to repeat yourself, taking up precious minutes, potentially resulting in the meeting not ending on time. Sending a video prior to the meeting means that everyone has access to the presentation and now your meeting is meant for collaboration or feedback. If someone shows up late, that person will be up to speed on the content and, ideally, can jump quickly into the conversation. Granted this could just turn the problem of catching a late arriver up on presentation content to one of catching the individual up on the discussion that had occurred. But wait, perhaps we’re not thinking expansively enough.
How Could Video Be Used to Replace the Entire Meeting?
Remember how “only hold a meeting when it’s necessary” was on the meeting-improvement list? In creating a video presentation, which helps us think through that meeting agenda, we may realize that, you know what, the purpose of this meeting is just to update others. When the whole point of the meeting is to give others line of sight to your progress on a project or just keep them informed of what you’ve accomplished this week (or past 2 weeks, or month, or however frequently your team likes to meet for project updates), in those cases, the video presentation has accomplished exactly what you would have done in person and likely more concisely. Sure, there might be a person or two who have questions or feedback, but they can easily email you in response to the video presentation. No need to take up everyone’s time with a scheduled meeting: calendar disruption, travel time, task-switching costs.
What we have attempted to do is, concisely, this:
- Point out that meetings are in need of some improvement.
- Point out that, among the recommendations for improving meetings, there is no mention (of which we are aware) of using prerecorded videos.
- Show how prerecorded videos could be used to work in alignment with some meeting-best-practice advice, in part by providing practical resources.
We now look to you to consider these thoughts. Have we made a sufficient case for video for you to at least consider it before discounting it outright? Have we convinced you that research on the topic would be worthwhile and potentially valuable? Will you try to use it in the process of enacting these best-practice recommendations?
 If you’re not keen on this personal appeal, very well; the same statements can be substantiated by (sometimes but not always entirely satisfying) empirical work (Allen et al., 2012; Cohen et al., 2011; Kauffeld & Lehmann-Willenbrock, 2012; Leachet al., 2009; Rogelberg, Leach, Warr, & Burnfield, 2006). Also HAHA STAR WARS #TOPICAL
2 There are many more; we’re deliberately leaving off a good number of these for brevity and to focus on video-relevant characteristics. Go read the original sources.
3 An important caveat here is that we lack widely held causal explanations for many of these design characteristics – why are agendas beneficial, for instance?
4 You’ll note by the end of this article that if a meeting occurs at all it can largely occur outside of the confines of a conference room – so get up and move! See http://flipthemeeting.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/WalkTalk-Research.pdf and more generally http://flipthemeeting.com/about/ for more information on that topic.
5 That’s “teaching functions”, not “toothed whales that are educators” – you’re thinking “instructional porpoises”. Honest mistake.
7 There is evidence to suggest that having the opportunity to see a person, even if it’s a static image (like a photograph), can help build trust (e.g., Riegelsberger, 2002; Zheng, Veinott, Bos, Olson, & Olson, 2002)
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