How using Teams for Community Events improved my Business Meetings

Matt Weston

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The 2020 lockdown has changed the way that we go about our lives, everyone, everything has been affected in one way or another. The way that we run our community events is just one of those areas. Having switched to Microsoft Teams to host my user groups, I have learned a number of lessons that I have now applied to my business life. In this ebook, I’ll be sharing how I now set up and run my events, and how that has changed my business meetings

How my use of Microsoft Teams changed because of the community

It goes without saying that 2020 has been an unprecedented year, not only for businesses but also for the community. Both sides of the technology environment have had to react in order to survive, which seems to be the theme of 2020 to survive and hope that 2021 is a better year. But I digress!

I personally run two user groups here in the UK, an Office 365 & SharePoint User Group and also a Power Apps & Power Automate User Group, both of which were generally well attended when they were being held physically. The community, for both organisers and attendees, is an integral part of our technological lives, and it’s for this reason that as a community we had to adapt to still be able to deliver content albeit in a virtual fashion.

Why did we need to continue virtually?

The Tech Community is a living breathing entity, which needs the people within it to survive. Exactly can be said for the reverse, we as people also need the community, tech or not, to survive. We are social creatures, and one of the key elements of the Tech Community is that we meet and network with like-minded individuals with similar interests.

The focus of the user groups is the delivery of content to an interested audience, whether it is the latest and greatest technology or sharing experiences that have been gained through the use of the various products.

But one of the biggest selling points of any community event, whether it is a user group or a conference, is that we are going to meet people. People that we know. People that

we are yet to know. Deep down, we are all attracted to these events for this very good reason, because we want to interact with people who have a similar interest to our own.

Personally, this is the biggest draw for me, the networking and interaction both during the preamble, the intermission and definitely in the social event following. For some people, this might be the key social interaction they may have, so even in a virtual world, it was imperative to keep this going so that people didn’t feel as isolated. They had people that they could speak to.

So, I have the need for keeping the community going; I now needed to consider how.

What were my considerations?

There are a number of great communications technologies that have gone from strength to strength during 2020, but certainly, the forerunners have been Microsoft Teams and Zoom. These have been the two key technologies used for most community events, but given that my user groups are Microsoft-centric, there was only ever going to be one choice for what I was going to use.

But even with the technology choice made easy, there were options available to me as to the type of meeting which I used.

Teams Meeting

Teams Meetings are the most common interaction within Microsoft Teams; these are what we create day-in, day-out without giving any consideration to what we’re creating. This is our standard type of meeting which we arrange from within Outlook, or from the Teams calendar, or from our Teams channels and so on.

What can we do when we’re working within Teams Meetings? When we’re taking part, we can share our screens, our videos, our audio, and we can chat. Teams Meetings are designed to be interactive between all participants within the meeting.

With the limit of Teams Meetings recently increasing to 350, and the new functionality with regards to being able to control what is being seen, and who is being seen, then this was a huge potential.

But first I needed to consider the Live Event.

Teams Live Event

Teams Live Events are those that are most akin to webinars, where a presentation or an event is streamed out to an audience. These are designed to be able to transmit to huge audiences using Microsoft Stream as the encoding and streaming platform.

Live Events are run in a much different way to a Teams Meeting, whereby only the presenters actually join a meeting. One or more people can take the role of a Producer who effectively controls what the attendees see, and the Presenters basically join a meeting and present to themselves.

The great thing about Teams Live events is the built-in Q&A, where people can submit questions to the presentation team, and they can be answered privately or published to everyone. The meeting could hold 10,000 attendees (I wish my user groups were this well attended!) and people could revisit the link and re-watch the session afterwards.

The big thing with the Teams Live event, however, was that I couldn’t have a direct interaction between the participants and the presenters other than through Q&A. This

was the big thing that took the Live event off the table; the interaction between people was a must-have.

Given the two meeting types, I decided to run them using Teams meetings.

How did I run my user group?

Now that the technology decision was made, I needed to figure out how I wanted my meetings to be set up to give me control over the meeting without having to administer every part of it.

The default settings for meetings, unless changed in the Teams Admin center, is that everyone joins the meeting as a Presenter. Presenters are effectively pseudo-admins as they can do the following:

  • Share Audio and Video
  • Chat
  • Share content
  • Mute participants
  • Remove participants
  • Approve people from the lobby
  • Change roles
  • Start/stop recording

Effectively they can do everything that the organiser can, short of being able to change the meeting settings.

Ideally, I would want to bring people in as attendees, so that they can’t do all of these

things. So in comparison, an Attendee can:

  • Share audio and video
  • Chat

Given that the default of the meeting is to automatically make everyone presenters, and I would have to change the roles of the majority of people in the meeting, I needed to make sure that my Teams meeting was configured so that the reverse happened. I needed everyone to join the meeting as an Attendee and then promote just the speakers to be Presenters.

Changing the Meeting Settings

The first thing that I needed to create the meeting, either through Outlook or directly through Microsoft Teams so that I have it in my diary, and invite someone to it. I generally send the invitation directly to the speakers to that it’s in their diary. Once it had been created, I then needed to edit the meeting through Microsoft Teams, so that I could see the “Meeting Options” button.

Please note this only becomes available if you have at least one other person attending, otherwise it is not classed as a meeting, simply an appointment.

Once I have my meeting options open, I can then set the rules that are applied to my attendees without me having to do it every time someone joins. To make my life as the organiser nice and easy, I applied the following settings:

Who can bypass the lobby? Everyone – Normally people from outside of the organisation are held in the waiting room until they are let in, but as it was a social event we needed to bring everyone in without having to wait for permission.

Who can present? People in my organization – This is Everyone by default, so again this was changed so that it was People in my organisation. This meant that anyone not in my organisation, so anyone externally, came in and immediately assumed the Attendee role rather than the Presenter role.

Now that people could join automatically, and that everyone was joining as Attendees, the only user admin element I needed to do during the user group was to promote the relevant people to Presenters, which was the minority of the people rather than the majority.

My user groups could now run smoothly with regards to the roles being set, the joining experience, and also the fact that the meeting was being controlled simply by myself as the Organiser and the other Presenters.

How did running the user group change how I ran my business meetings?

Now that I have been running my user groups in a controlled way using Microsoft

Teams meeting options, I started to question myself as to why I wasn’t running my business meetings in the same way? Why was it that any time an external person joined the call, they had the ability to control the meeting or to admit people from the lobby even if they weren’t certain of that person’s identity?

With the settings that I applied to my user groups, people joining as Attendees and the organiser promoting people as needed, I headed for the Microsoft Teams Admin Center to change the default settings for my tenancy from being completely open to being more restrictive.

The Teams Admin Center has a section under Meetings called Meeting policies. Whenever I see policy, it generally means that I can apply different rules to different groups of people, but in this case, I want it to be the default, so I modified the Default Meeting Policy.

There are a lot of settings within Meeting Policies, but right at the very bottom is a section that is related to Participants and guests. This is what I am interested in, as it maps against the options which are set within a meeting.

Notice that we have some options such as “Roles that have presenter rights in meetings” which I have changed to be “Everyone in the organization, but user can override”. The second part of that setting: “but the user can override” is important to take note of, because it’s not something that is enforced, but simply the default position.

I made similar changes to the “Automatically admin people” as this was the same as “Who can bypass the lobby?” when changed from the meeting options. A word of

warning, I first set this to be “Only the organizer” however I found this far too restrictive, especially as there is a common use case where someone will arrange a meeting on behalf of someone else, but not necessarily attend. This meant that I, even as a member of the organisation, was left waiting in the lobby along with anyone from outside of the company. So I then relaxed the setting to be “Everyone in your organization” so that at least myself or my colleagues could get in and start the meeting.

Finally…

Throughout the video, and throughout this eBook, we have focused on how I have used Microsoft Teams in both a social context and within a business context. I find it funny that I learnt a lot more from the social use of Microsoft Teams, and that to overcome some of the challenges that I faced running user groups, I had to learn to adapt my practices in terms of how I created and ran my meetings.

These changes helped me learn lessons, about how I could control those meetings more effectively and how I could make my meetings more secure by limiting the rights that people had when they joined, particularly from outside of the organisation.

I also learned that I could do this as a policy so that everyone within my organisation could benefit from setting up meetings in a secure and manageable way, but not in a way that inhibits the settings from being changed again afterwards.

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