Jazz hands - how to run a Skype meeting
One of the difficult things about working on Skype or Google Hangout is that it strips us of the social cues that normally oil the wheels of good conversation, that little lean forward, opening of the mouth, intake of breath before someone interjects. (If these social cues don't mean anything to you then you are either spending way too much time online, or bereft of social skills. Either way stop reading this and go and talk to someone immediately)
One of the things we've been exploring at Nominet Trust is how do you replicate a natural flow of conversion when working on video conferencing that just isn't subtle enough to pick up on these?
A 1-1 call is less of a problem. But when you have a group talking online, or 1 person online and the rest physically in a room, the flow of conversation can be really challenged. I am sure you've been there in a meeting where the whole flow of the debate stops so you can 'check in' with the person on Skype to be sure they are hearing everything.
We've got a few solutions to these problems:
Unlikely as it may fist appear, a particularly effective answer involves the ancient art of jazz hands.
Stick with me.
Direct democracy - something that's gained popularity among many social movements, most recently the Occupy Movement - is a really useful way of visually getting a sense of what is happening in a room and ensuring everyone's voice is heard. Other than being good for mass protest meetings and occupying stock exchanges, it also translates very well to video conferencing.
At its heart is a system of hand signals to show how you are feeling. 'Twinkling fingers' or 'Jazz hands' means you agree with what is being said for example. Raising a hand means you have something to say.
While you may feel like an idiot the first time you unleash your jazz hands to show agreement with what someone is saying, it's actually an incredibly valuable way to signpost how people are feeling without collisions over the sound in a call. Try it once and I guarantee you will find yourself effortlessly pick up the habit. Indeed so much so that it will you'll find yourself doing it in really inappropriate situations, like in the pub when someone says 'shall I grab some crisps'. The whole process itself is more fully explained on the image and couple of links below. But even if you just take on board the jazz hands to show agreement and giving a cue to say you have something to say, your group Skype and Hangout calls will go much easier, I assure you. It's worth saying that in a bigger group you will need someone to take the facilitator role to ensure that people are being given equal voice, and help steer the conversation.
For those who are particularly used to working with chat windows and Skype simultaneously, the chat function can also serve as a place to use a text interpretation of this kind of hand signal. But in my experience this can often lead to a splitting on conversation between those speaking and those who are typing, the physical hand signals means everyone keeps focused on a single conversation.
Another solution that has been really effective is when you have one person joining a physical meeting by video conferencing and you don't feel comfortable introducing everyone to jazz hands (shame on you). Firstly, don't underestimate the value of a good table mic so they can hear everyone speaking. It makes for more natural conversation and ensures that people don't have to do their 'Skype voice' (which sounds like they are talking to their deaf nan). Secondly, its really handy to have a private chat window open between yourself and the person Skyping in. That way you can cue each other about when something isn't heard or when the Skype caller needs to interject.
Ultimately though, if we all took on hand signals system there would be no need for private chat windows, and all our video conferencing would be much more interesting and more inclusive. So I urge you, find your inner jazz hands and share them with the world!