Tired of video meetings? Turn off the webcam and use Google Meet for voice conferencing, supplemented with chat.
Google Meet includes four distinct ways you can convey information to other people: Video, audio, a presented screen, or text in chat. Combined, these four functions make it possible to convey both information and emotion.
But video conferencing can be tiring. When people meet in the same room, a group shares a single environment, but when people video conference, each additional participant adds visual complexity. It's like picture-in-picture television, many times over: Lots of irrelevant visual stimulation from divergent backgrounds may make it hard to focus. As a result, frequent video conferencing can produce visual exhaustion similar to what you might experience after time in a screen-filled sports bar or restaurant.
Audio-only conferencing can make it easier to move while you meet. Join a session with a wireless headset and a smartphone, then roam wherever your network connection allows. An audio meeting not only eliminates visual distractions, but also reduces the need for a high-bandwidth network connection. Most importantly, with prudent use of the mute feature, an audio meeting allows you to stretch, get a drink, or take a bio break.
To use Google Meet for audio-only conferencing, all participants really need to do is to join a Google Meet session (either on the web or from a Google Meet mobile app), then turn video off. However, the following tips offer a few techniques for you to try as you experiment with Google Meet for audio meetings.
SEE: How to use Google Meet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
1. Notify people of your intent in your event invite
Often, people use Google Calendar to create an event, Add Google Meet Video Conferencing, then invite guests. When you do, it may help to indicate that you intend the event to be audio only. Typically, you would add this information as a note in the event details, but in some cases, you might add it in the location or event title fields. Invitees will then know that they may choose to use the dial-in data to join the call, instead of joining with a device with a webcam.
2. Dial in or let Google Meet call you
Google Meet information in Google Calendar events contains information with both a phone number and PIN code that participants may use to dial-in to a meeting. When you plan to join a meeting audio-only, that's all you need to do--dial in. Should you need to dial in from a different country, select more phone numbers for a long list of dial in options as well as a different PIN.
When you join a Google Meet session from a desktop-class web browser, a Join And Use A Phone For Audio option also displays. Select this when you want to split your Meet session, e.g., join from a laptop with a webcam, with audio via a phone. This makes it so that you can turn off video, then move around with your phone and any headset linked to your phone. Be aware that if you end the session on the web (in this case, on your laptop), your phone audio will end, too.
3. Distribute only the dial-in info
Instead of sending an event invite with both a Google Meet link and dial-in information, you might instead share only dial-in data with guests. To do this, you'll need to share the dial-in information in a method other than a Google Calendar invitation. For example, you might send a separate email to guests, or share the dial-in information via a text or messaging. This gives people only the dial in option, which helps ensure that people will join via phone.
SEE: Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (TechRepublic download)
4. Identify yourself
In an audio-only conference--especially when you meet with a group you don't know well--make sure to identify yourself. A brief, "Hi, this is [your name]," provides a bit of context that's needed when names and video aren't visible.
5. Enable captions
Some people may find it helpful to use the Google Meet app to join audio-only sessions, since the app offers the ability to enable captions. Captions attempt to accurately turn spoken words into text in real-time and display the words in the Google Meet app. This added source of information may help participants better understand conversations without visual cues.
6. Always manage muting your microphone
As with every remote meeting, the one essential skill everyone must master: Mute your microphone when you're not speaking. If you dialed in from a smartphone, tap the mute icon in your phone app. If you connected from within the Google Meet app, select the microphone icon to toggle mute. Or, use keyboard shortcuts with the Google Meet app to toggle mute: Ctrl+D on Windows or Chrome OS, or Command+D on macOS.
7. Alternative: Video intro, then off
An alternative to an "audio only" session could be a session that starts with a brief period with every webcam on, followed by a conversation with video turned off. That transition can signal the start of the formal agenda, while still giving people a chance to share video to help humanize remote meetings.
8. Alternative: Audio + chat
Google Meet also includes a chat feature within the app. During a meeting, chat offers a way for people to interject a comment, but without the need to interrupt the current speaker. As with audio-only meetings, you might want to let people know that you plan to use chat in advance, since for some people chat is easier when done from a device with a keyboard.
9. Alternative: Audio + Google Doc, Sheets, or Slides
An audio-only session also can be useful for collaboration within Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides. Share access to a file with meeting participants, then host your Google Meet audio-only session to discuss and collaborate on a document together. People may then edit, insert comments, or talk.
What's your experience?
If you use Google Meet, what standard practices do you have regarding the use of webcams? If you've tried audio-only meetings, how well have they worked for you? How do audio-only discussions combined with a shared Google Doc change how your team works? Let me know how your organization collaborates with video, audio, and shared files--either with a post in the comments below, or on Twitter (@awolber).
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