How to Direct a Crowded Video Conference

Managing a Larger Video Call

There are multiple reasons for people to engage in multi-party video conferencing. A multi-party video conference is in fact, the focus of a number of video calling platforms. You could be attending a meeting. You could be having a virtual reunion. Or perhaps a family reunion. You could even be virtually attending a literal conference, or taking a class or seminar of some sort. The list goes on.

Whatever the reasons, sometimes those types of video calls can get a little crowded. A video call online has the potential to flop as much as a physical, in-person gathering of people due to overcrowding. But if you’re directing the video call online, you have more motivation to make sure it’s on point. Luckily, a crowded video call doesn’t have to fall apart. With the correct direction and management, a crowded video call can succeed as much as a two or three party video conference.

The key to directing such a crowded virtual video call well is preparation. Preparation is helpful for many things, from passing exams through winning competitions and up to correctly executing events. The boy scouts say to always be prepared but in truth, the wisdom is much older than that. An ancient philosopher from East Asia reportedly once said something like “If you give me four hours to chop down a tree, I will spend three hours sharpening the axe.” Let’s look at some of the ways you can direct a crowded video conference successfully.

1. Assign Turns

Assigning turns during a crowded video call is one of the most important reasons for its success. A virtual meeting of 30-50 people where at least 5 or 6 people are talking over each other or interrupting one another’s flows would be very detrimental to any meeting’s purpose; whether it’s a concrete goal-oriented virtual business meeting from which everyone needs to come out with some insight in the form of highly tangible bullet points, or whether it’s a family reunion where the purpose is for all participants to say “Ah. It was nice connecting with everyone again”.

Start by making yourself a list of everyone attending the virtual meeting. Once the list is done, determine the order in which you’d like everyone to speak. Personally, I prefer the alphabetical order because it eliminates many objections and little resentments with regards to precedence based on age or standing or what have you, but you may need to make a few exceptions to that, depending on the video call’s specific purpose. For example, if it’s a virtual meeting of shareholders speaking to corporate leadership, and the primary purpose of that meeting is to share the company’s overall performance so far, it would make sense for the CEO to speak first, as opposed to allowing the leaders to speak alphabetically.

If you’re having a video call with the purpose of allowing the legal department to update the marketing and sales departments with regards to a copyright suit involving the company’s logo, it would make sense to let the attorneys speak first. Generally speaking, you could internalise the alphabetical system and then divide it, allowing the attorneys in the legal department to speak in alphabetical order if more than one of them will be speaking, then extending the same courtesy to the other departments.

Of course, if you’re looking to internalise the alphabetical system then divide its application amongst groups, it might be a good idea to communicate with the team leaders for the participating teams prior to the video call. That way you know which teams have multiple participating members who might need to speak and contribute and which teams just need to have a single person speak.

Depending on how crowded the virtual meeting is, you may eventually find yourself with multiple orders applied at different times. For example, the order of keynote speakers, then the order of teams, then the order of participants within each team’s turn and so on and so forth. However, the alphabetical order list for every single participant will probably always come in handy after the presentation of the focal points for the video conference event. Participants tend to have questions and comments after a topic is primarily addressed, and an alphabetical list going through people’s concerns and comments might prove quite helpful in managing everybody’s participation.

2. Allocate Time Slots 

Virtual meeting or physical, the problem remains the same. There’s a lot for everybody to say but only so much time to say it. Through your familiarity with the focus or subject material of your video conference, try to wisely allocate time slots for each speaker. An egalitarian divide of the time available for the video call is widely suitable for a number of meetings but again, certain meetings require some individuals to speak more than others.

That being said, the egalitarian divide of time is a great place to start as a basis. Using this division as a launching point for further changes to time allotment, you can allocate more time to select speakers as required whilst keeping everybody else’s slots equal. That way, no one speaker exceeds the allotted time of another speaker if there’s no absolute need for it.

The list you made earlier in “1. Assign Turns” can be doubly used for the purpose of allocating time slots, whether you duplicate said list or compile the time allocation on the same original document. If the meeting is an exceptionally long one and you have some extra time, make sure to allocate some break times.

The vast majority of people are far from charismatic, and even the most charismatic presenters might have some trouble keeping the attention of their audience during a video call online if they’re presenting inescapably boring topics. Topics are doubly boring for those in the meeting acquainted with these topics’ details; be those details an anecdotal story or a summary of the company stock price performance during the last five years.

Break times are an excellent tool to mitigate this boredom before it becomes involuntary unproductiveness. People’s minds need to stay engaged and brevity from speakers is an important factor in keeping minds fresh. This is another important function to consider when allocating time slots. Try not to let anyone drone on for too long unless absolutely necessary.

Of course the number of breaks you schedule and each break’s length of time must depend on the overall time available for the meeting, but scheduling breaks is an important part of any meeting that runs over 40 minutes.

3. Institute a System

During a crowded online video call it’s important to put a system in place to manage the successful signalling of when someone’s time slot runs out and another begins. The system you will need will not just rely on timing but also on clear communication. You will need to clearly communicate to the participants when their time ends and when it begins, and you will need to keep track of who wishes to speak, who hasn't spoken yet, and who has already spoken, or does not wish to speak.

The latter part of the system is something any of Banty’s subscription services can help you with. Using our digital “raise your hand” system, the video feed for everyone who still wishes to speak can be marked distinctively. In a video call with multiple stages, you can ask your team to limit their use of this system to the speakers relevant to a particular stage, which can make your task in organising the meeting and keeping it on track even easier. You can test the utility of this feature free of charge for a full 14 days!

4. Offer Clear Guidance

I mentioned above, preparation is the key to directing large and crowded video conferences. As the director and organiser of a large virtual meeting, it pays for you in particular to be prepared. The participants will rely on your guidance for a smooth meeting and it pays to lead by example. For instance, some video call participants may have anxiety about drinking a sip of water on camera during a virtual business meeting, but drinking might be necessary for some of them to avoid their voices cracking and croaking whilst speaking.

Set the tone by starting the meeting after you take a sip of water yourself. If the meeting is a long one, you might want to directly tell the participants to make sure they have some sort of beverage handy since you’re likely to be in the meeting for a long time.

Offer clear instructions about lighting, sound clarity, and internet connectivity before the meeting’s purpose comes into focus. Ask your participants to ground their connections by plugging an ethernet cable into their devices. Remind them to test their microphones and cameras. Ask if everyone’s connection to the virtual meeting is alright before you proceed to the subject of the video call in earnest.

These are a few things you can do in order to direct a crowded video conference successfully. For the ideal video conferencing platform to serve a large team within your organisation, it may be worth your while to explore your options with a Banty Enterprise account!

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Abdallah Al Alfy

Alfy is a content writer of 17 years, writing in multiple literary and content disciplines, and translating professionally since his early teens. Full name of Abdallah Al Alfy, he is also a licensed pharmacist in multiple countries. Alfy’s pharmaceutical background has often been an asset in scientific and medical writing.