Guidelines for International Groups Using Skype Calls
New technologies for online conferences have improved the opportunities for international cooperation among LGBTI groups in the last couple of years. These guidelines want to support leaders and participants of such international working groups or committees with practical know-how. It is based on the experiences of members of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups with meetings, in which Skype is used. We assume that they can easily be transferred to other technologies for online telephony or video conferences. The guidelines do not have the intention to address generalities that are true for any meeting.
A. How to Use Skype?
- Skype is an IP telephony service that offers free calling between subscribers. In addition to standard calls, Skype enables telephone conferences, file transfers, text messaging, video chat, and video conferencing. The service is available for desktop computers and other mobile devices, including mobile phones.
- Every participant needs to install Skype on his*her computer.
- Before someone can “skype” with someone else, they need to exchange their Skype names and accept to be connected via Skype.
- Skype offers telephone and video conferences. Video allows for more direct contact, but needs far more bandwidth. Unless everyone has an excellent internet connection, video conference connections will not be stable. Therefore, telephone conferences are preferable. However, if you can technically afford video conferences, this can make it easier to understand the emotional reactions of the other participants.
- You can use the chat function for writing down names, so that their correct spelling is assured. You can also upload files.
B. Before the First Meeting
- Find a common date (e.g., by using Doodle—see below: Technical Tools).
- When the date is fixed, invite all committee members to the Skype meeting.
- Make sure that everybody has the correct time either by reference to a standard time (e.g., London time) or by naming place and time for each participant. Pay attention to differences in the use and changes of daylight saving time.
- Make sure that the inviting person is connected to all members on Skype by asking in due time to send their Skype names and to activate the connections.
- Circulate the preliminary agenda for the first meeting and ask for additional topics to be named before the meeting. Ask for short reports if someone cannot attend—to be included in the minutes or to be circulated together with the agenda before the meeting.
- Send a reminder about the date one or two days before the meeting including the date, the agenda, and all relevant documents that are needed for the Skype meeting. And ask them to use the latest Skype version—update before the meeting.
C. First Meeting
- Identify or elect your committee leader or coordinator. The function of a leader/coordinator of the Committee is crucial for the functioning of international committees working mainly based on Skype.
- The moderator of this first meeting should take responsibility for time taking, paying attention that each participant has a chance to speak at the beginning, i.e., introduction, moving forward to the next topic.
- Take responsibility that someone else takes minutes, that the minutes are circulated, and that all participants of the committee get them (not only those, who participated in the meeting). Set a deadline for amendments of the minutes.
- Agree on rules about apologies and consequences for people, who do not participate and do not apologise. (E.g., people, who miss meetings twice without sending an apology, get a reminder and are informed that they will be excluded if this happens a third time.)
- Skype needs a special kind of speaking discipline. Especially, if you cannot see each other, make sure that everyone can voice their opinion, but only one person speaks at the time. This can be challenging. Interrupt when there are several people speaking, and before moving on, ask if anyone has anything to add. With participants who are not yet used to Skype conferences, it might be useful to address this at the first meeting.
- Clarify the long-term goals of your committee.
- Prepare yourself mentally for the meeting: what do you want to address? What do you want to achieve? What are priorities? What decisions are necessary because of pressure of time? Who is new or has a weak position or is slower in English and needs some attention from your side not to get lost?
- Inform everyone about apologies.
- Go through the minutes from the last meeting and check if everything is correct and actions were put into practice.
- If background noises are disturbing the communication, try to find out if this comes from one of the participants. Ask this person to switch off the micro while s*he is not speaking.
E. End of the Meeting
- Make sure that Skype meetings do not last longer than 1.5 h. Plan for 15 min less. Skype in a foreign language with all its technical problems, disturbing noises, and difficult negotiations is exhausting.
- Try to close the meeting with finding the next date(s) and avoid Doodle if possible. Doodle is helpful for setting the first date, but makes the task to find a common next date a lengthy process. Propose a date as soon as in the agenda, so that people can make up their minds.
F. After the Meeting
- Have the courage to make smaller decisions on behalf of the Committee and the wisdom to distinguish it from what needs additional discussions amongst the whole Committee.
- If you get the minutes, double-check if all Committee members have received them.
- Make sure that discussions via e-mail and their results are transparent to all members of the group, not just a few selected insiders. Keep everybody informed!
- Send the minutes to your responsible contact person in the Board / Steering Committee and keep this body regularly informed about important developments and plans of the Committee.
G. Annual Obligations
- Set up an annual budget for the activities of your Committee and send it to the Board / Steering Committee.
- Write an annual report about the work of the Committee and send it to the Board / Steering Committee. (Clarify the expectations of the Board: do they expect primary results or also processes?)
H. Technical Tools
- The following technical tools are free to use. Their security and privacy standard are not necessarily the highest. Check if they are high enough for all participants of your working group and your organisation.
- Familiarise yourself with these tools and check if new technical tools come up that could support your work.
- Doodle: For finding a common date, Doodle is a good tool. Find the function for different time zones and make sure that your proposal is realistic for each participant (not too early, not too late). Send the link via e-mail to the Committee members. Do not give the e-mail addresses to Doodle.
- Google Docs: For editing a document together, Google Doc offers helpful tools that allow common online editing for groups.
- Dropbox: As the material produced by the Committee increases, it might be useful to set up a common cloud folder (e.g., Dropbox).
- Screen Sharing: Skype has a function that allows screen or window sharing, so that the other participants can see a document, which is open on your screen, on their screen. Another option would be a screen sharing program like join.me.