Communication tips for online meetings

These communication tips should support you to improve the effectiveness of your online meetings for deaf and hard of hearing attendees. As well as everyone’s communication needs being different, everyone’s arrangements for working at home or offsite are different too. The strength of the internet connection or lack of equipment (e.g. microphone headset) may impact on the quality of online meetings, so you may need to experiment to find the way that works best for you and your colleagues.


 General meeting considerations

  • Deaf and hard of hearing meeting attendees may be multi-tasking to follow meeting content (e.g. lip-reading, reading captions, using their own assistive software or apps, watching an interpreter etc.). It can be helpful if you ensure you do not speak quickly, and if you pause at regular intervals to check for understanding.
  • It can be helpful to clearly indicate the different keys stages of the meeting. For example, by signalling when the formal meeting has started, when an agenda item has ended and the next is beginning, and when the meeting has ended.
  • It can also be helpful to regularly check that all attendees understand the key discussion points and actions before moving on to the next agenda item.
  • Where possible, try to allow some time before the meeting starts for attendees who are using communication support to check captions are working or to help interpreters practice changeovers.

 Agenda and actions

  • Use an agenda and keep to the order, to provide context for what is being said.
  • If the agenda is long, consider arranging more than one meeting or building in breaks, where possible.
  • At the start of the meeting confirm that actions will be verbally summarised at the end and will be circulated in a written format after the meeting. This will help deaf and hearing of hearing participants to focus on the discussion instead of having to listen and make notes at the same time.
  • Microsoft Teams has a recording feature, allowing people to review information that wasn’t heard the first time.

 Video meetings

  • Video enables people to identify who is speaking and helps with lip-reading.
  • A good internet connection is important for good video quality. Your connection may be improved if you plug your computer into your router rather than use Wi-Fi connection.
  • If the picture quality is poor when you use your camera, try adjusting the camera settings e.g. turn off auto-focus.
  • If the sound and picture are not in sync (e.g. blurring, jittering, pixilation) then video communication may not to be helpful for people who use lip-reading and it may be preferable to use audio only. It is best to ask the deaf or hard of hearing person what they prefer in this situation as some people will be unable to access audio only.
  • Let the group know if your camera is not working, or if the picture quality will likely be poor. Consider alternative ways to communicate or support verbal information where this applies e.g. make use of the chat function.
  • Try to sit in a well-lit area but not with a source of light behind you, as this can put your face into shadow and make it harder for someone to lip-read.
  • Make sure your face is close to the camera.
  • Look at the camera and try not to cover your mouth while speaking.
  • In video meetings, it can be helpful to raise your hand when you want to talk, or use the ‘raise hand’ function, if available.
  • If you mute your microphone when you are not speaking, this will reduce background noise.
  • Where possible, only one person should speak at a time.
  • When it is your turn to speak, speak clearly and don’t rush. Remember to repeat any key points at the end of longer or more complicated sections. Pause regularly, and provide the opportunity for others to ask questions.

 Audio meetings

  • For good quality sound, it can be helpful to use headsets with microphones. If a headset isn’t available, try to speak nearer to the microphone.
  • During audio only meetings, make sure you introduce yourself by saying your name before speaking.
  • If you mute your microphone when you are not speaking, this will reduce background noise.
  • Where possible, only one person should speak at a time.
  • When it is your turn to speak, speak clearly and don’t rush. Remember to repeat any key points at the end of longer or more complicated sections. Pause regularly, and provide the opportunity for others to ask questions.

 Chat functions

  • Make use of chat functions, if available. This can help attendees to take turns to speak without the need to interrupt one another, particularly in audio meetings.
  • Use the chat function to ask questions and clarify details, for example when numbers or complex jargon are being discussed.
  • It can be helpful for at least one attendee to monitor the chat function for incoming messages.

 Captions

  • Automatic captions are not 100% accurate but they can still be very useful.
  • Microsoft Teams has a live captioning
  • Speech recognition relies on good quality sound and accuracy can be improved if a headset is used. If a headset isn’t available, try to speak nearer to the microphone.
  • Where possible, have only one person speaking at a time, as this helps to increase the accuracy of captions.

 Large online meetings (8+ attendees)

  • A minimum of 3 designated roles are recommended for a meeting of this size; the chair (who leads the meeting using the agenda), the co-chair (who manages turn taking and monitors the chat function) and the note taker (who captures minutes and actions).
  • Best practice for large online meetings is to have the video turned off when you are not speaking. Only the chair, co-chair and interpreters (if applicable) should have their video turned on at all times.
  • Every participant should take care to turn on their video when presenting an agenda item and to turn off their video when their item is completed.

 Things to consider for meetings with interpreters present

  • It can be helpful to hold these meetings with as few attendees as possible.
  • Good video quality is important. If your video quality is poor, try to plug your computer into your router rather than use Wi-Fi connection, adjust your camera settings, or use a separate web camera.
  • Management of turn-taking when people are speaking is very important to help the interpreter determine what each person is saying.
  • It is recommended that the ‘blur my background’ function is switched off, as this can make it difficult to see signing.
  • Build in breaks for online meetings with interpreters present, these may need to be every 30-60 minutes.

 Assistive technology tools

Disability Services have a list of useful assistive technology tools and free smartphone apps available to help with note taking and other aspects of meetings and group discussions.