Virtual debriefs: How we bring regional expertise to global clients

Virtual collaboration

Being a pan-Asian, full-service research agency serving clients from across the globe, technology is at the heart of our communications at InsightAsia. Virtual meetings, project briefings, and post-fieldwork debriefs via teleconference, Skype, Google Hangouts and other online platforms are commonplace in our working environment.

Despite significant advances in virtual meeting technology and connectivity, and the excellent solution virtual tech provides us with as a global business, organising and leading these kinds of meetings effectively isn’t always straightforward. In fact, virtual meetings and presentations require specific skills to ensure success.

We spoke to members of the InsightAsia team to get an idea of how they approach virtual communication to ensure their projects run smoothly, as well as to find out any pet hates, productivity problems and top tips they have when it comes to communicating & collaborating virtually with clients and project teams across the globe.

The good

Virtual meetings make cross-regional communication easier. As we work remotely for clients based all over the world, virtual meetings are often the easiest way to communicate with them about research projects. Everyone can be involved from anywhere, meaning clients get to meet the whole team involved on the project.

All the teams at IA work in different locations too, so virtual meetings can be a great internal communication tool to make us feel more connected.

Virtual meetings save time and money. Virtual debriefs and presentations with clients mean that we don’t need to spend as much money on costly flights or make long car journeys to reach our clients. As well as saving money, less travel time means our teams can be more productive with their time, too.

This is particularly important in the cities across Asia, as pointed out by Lien Phuong Tran, Research Director at IA Vietnam: “Virtual debriefs are particularly important for the big cities in Vietnam, as the traffic is getting worse and worse.”

Virtual meetings ensure 100% focus in the meeting. Rather than worrying about the logistics of travelling to a meeting place, all energy can be focused on planning, polishing and rehearsing the presentation itself. This makes for a more relaxed presenter, and a better presentation.

Virtual meetings increase flexibility. With clients and teams across various time zones, virtual meetings make it easier to choose a slot when everyone is available.

Virtual meeting

This is something Maya Notodisurjo, Account Director at IA Indonesia, is all too familiar with: “Virtual meetings can be conducted at the most convenient time for both parties. We can do the meeting in our pyjamas at 10pm, when the client may still be working, or vice versa.”

Virtual meetings improve efficiency. Because of reduced travel time, we can fit more meetings into our working week, improving the overall efficiency of how we operate as a business.

The bad

Despite the many benefits they offer when it comes to efficiency, costs and communication, when speaking to the team we also discovered that they also have a few virtual meeting pet hates:

It’s not face-to-face communication. As pointed out by Claire Koch, Founder and International Business Director of IA, nothing quite beats face-to-face communication:

“Nothing beats being able to see and respond to your audience as you present. When you’re presenting in person it’s much easier to gauge non-verbal cues, sense any areas of doubt or confusion among attendees and address these appropriately.

“It is also easier to shift the presentation dynamics to a discussion or team collaboration,” she added. “The best face-to-face presentations today are much more about client and researcher collaboration, workshopping the research outcomes and defining agreed actions as a team, and this is much more difficult to achieve in a virtual forum.”

Virtual meetings make audience engagement tricky. Many of the IA teams agree that a lack of eye contact in virtual meetings is a problem, as it can make it difficult to gauge whether your audience are engaging with what you’re saying. This can therefore lead to misunderstanding among the audience.

Marjolein Winkelman, International Account Manager at IA, added: “Although you can turn on the video, this doesn’t always happen. And when you can’t see people’s reactions when you are presenting, or when people mute their microphones to be less interruptive for the presenter, you feel like you are getting little feedback from the audience.

Poor internet connection can interrupt the flow of meetings. The quality of internet connection differs across the world, interrupting the flow of conversation in virtual meetings.

Our Philippines team confirmed this problem, with Frances Joan Bocobo, Senior Qualitative Research Executive, stating: “My pet hate definitely has to be internet connection. Slow or erratic internet is a problem in the Philippines, and from time to time we experience technical difficulties.

Introductions aren’t always made properly. Unlike traditional ‘real life’ meetings, in a virtual meeting you may not have opportunity to formally shake hands or introduce yourself. This means you might not have a clear understanding of the specific interest areas of the different parties in the virtual ‘room’.

Our winning tips to improve virtual meetings and presentations

Make sure your virtual meetings run smoothly and guarantee more successful debrief outcomes by following our team’s 8 top tips:

1. Switch on video

Virtual meeting

There still seems to be a lot of hesitancy to turn the cameras on. Of course internet bandwidths can be an issue here and it may not be possible to conduct the entire meeting or presentation with the cameras rolling, but nothing beats the team introductions and close being made with the video on. This really helps to humanise the whole experience.

2. Use your voice

“Focus on using tone of voice, pronunciation, cadence and intonation as key physical tools to communicate the story,” says Yudan Sugiharto, Associate Director of Qualitative research in Indonesia.

“For someone who is used to face-to-face presentations, his skill will need to be re-learned,” he added, “and presenting in front of a mirror can remind you to smile, which in turn will affect your one of voice.”

3. Let the visuals do the work

Ensure that your slides are simple, to the point, written in the customer’s language and have strong illustrations to help get the key messages across to virtual meeting attendees.

4. Have a meeting facilitator and share the ‘Line Up’ in advance

“An agenda needs to be sent out in advance of the meeting or presentation, with a clear timetable and assigned roles,” says Claire Koch. That way, time can be allocated so as to include slots for presentation, discussion, questions and aligning on next steps. It is important to make sure a virtual presentation does not disintegrate into one way communication, the meeting chair needs to be actively moving things along to encourage dialogue.

5. Test your software and internet connection

Make sure you check your internet connection, the visibility of your screen (font size, display, colour), your webcam and your microphone plenty of time before your virtual meeting or debrief.

Lien Phuong Tran also suggests: “When it comes to technology, ensure you have back-up solutions in place. A back-up phone/fix line is always a good thing to remember, in case you have an issue with internet connection.”

Frances Joan Bocobo also advises having a back-up virtual software in place: “Have a plan B or C in case that particular app shuts down, or other people in the meeting have difficulty accessing that technology.”

6. Be organised

Like any meeting, preparation is key, so rehearsing your presentation is important. Trony Patron, Research Director at InsightAsia Philippines, also suggests sending any necessary documents to the client and other participants in advance of a virtual meeting, as well as using screen share during the presentation.

“Send the materials beforehand. This will allow the other people to review them prior to the debrief/presentation, and make sure they’re ready with their questions and any clarifications for the session.”

7. Keep checking in

Throughout the presentation or debrief, Trony also advises to “ensure that the people on the other line are keeping up with you. Ask from time to time if they’re still on track with the discussion.”

Additionally, it is important to give participants time for feedback, as pointed out by Frances Joan Bocobo:

“Setting time aside for feedback will give you hints towards what the client is thinking, whether they need anything clarifying, if there’s a problem with the connection or just to show them that you’re always open to accommodate any questions they might have.”

8. Be confident!

Last but not least, be confident in your presentation skills! Practising your debrief will make you feel more comfortable presenting, meaning you’ll be able to show some personality and really bring  the story to life.

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