Holding a meeting by online video saves travel time, money and carbon emissions, but it does mean most people have to have access to the equipment and to the internet. (You can add someone who just has a phone, but it costs money – see below).
We’re going to talk about using Skype for internet video meetings though there are other options.
Skype has been owned by Microsoft since 2011, and Microsoft has made Skype video, audio and text messages available for capture by US intelligence services. So if your meeting is sensitive, Skype is not the way to go (even if you’re on Linux).
- Using Skype means downloading and installing the programme to a computer, smartphone or tablet.
- For video on a desktop, people will need a webcam (£20) and some speakers or headphones. If you were going to pay someone’s travel, maybe you should buy them a webcam?
- For this guide, we’re going to assume you’re using a Windows or Mac desktop or laptop computer (some names are slightly different in Linux). Someone using a tablet or smartphone for a group Skype will get audio-only.
- Skype eats up computer resources. Turn off all other programmes during your call – some people restart their computers just before logging into Skype.
- You should test your audio and your video before every Skype call. Go to ‘Tools’ at the top of Skype window, then click on ‘Options’. Click on ‘Audio settings’ to (a) check your mic and speakers, and (b) ‘Make a free test call’ (near bottom of this window).
- After that, go to ‘Video settings’ to check what the webcam sees.
- Skype is tiring. Your Skype shouldn’t last much more than an hour.
- Each call has: a host, the person who calls everyone else; a facilitator, who runs the meeting; and a minute-taker. The host should be the person with the strongest internet connection and the best computer. (Sometimes someone has to be the host because they can initiate group video calls, but for some reason can’t be added to one.)
- Before the call, the host should add everyone to ‘Contacts’, and create a group (click on ‘Contacts’, then on ‘Create new group’, then add all participants). Now it only takes one click to start the group call.
- Try to have a light source in front of you as you look at the screen/webcam. Turn off strong lights behind you.
- If the Skype breaks down, try a couple of times to recover video (the host may need to re-start Skype), then maybe think of switching to audio-only. Audio calls are more stable.
Before the call
- As soon as you know you’re having a Skype, get everyone to share their Skype names.
A week before the call, circulate an email with:
- an agenda including the date, start time and end time of the Skype;
- the Skype ID and (mobile) number of the host (everyone should add the host to their Contacts);
- a request for everyone to turn on their computers at least half an hour before the call, and to turn on Skype and check their audio and video at least 15 minutes before the call;
- tell participants that the host will call them, they shouldn’t try to call the host or any other participants on Skype;
- if they are late to the call, people should text (or phone) the host’s mobile phone when they’re ready to be added – it’s disruptive if they try to phone through Skype.
At the start of the call
- Have your usual meeting start routine. For us, it’s: introductions; check you have a minute-taker; check when people have to leave; confirm the end time; adjust the agenda.
- Text-based chat is very useful. At the start, the facilitator should get everyone to open up the chat screen (if you can’t see it, click on the ‘sort-of-speech-bubble-with-text-in-it’ in the top right hand corner of the Skype window). Get everyone to type their name into it so they see how it works. If someone’s audio fails for some reason during the call, you can use the chat to communicate.
- Get everyone to test muting and un-muting their microphones, so that they know how to do it. Ask everyone to stay muted unless they’re speaking (this keeps down background noise, especially the sound of typing).
- You can use the chat to keep minutes of the meeting – that way everyone can see the minutes in real time. At the end, someone can copy and paste the whole chat into a text document.
- If you buy ‘Skype credit’ in advance, you can include someone on a normal phone in your group call. You can buy credit online (click on ‘Skype’ in the top toolbar to see how) or in a shop. When you have Skype credit, you can add someone to the group call by clicking on the + button in the top right hand corner and typing in their number with the international code. For example, 07980 748 555 in the UK becomes +44 7980 748 555.