Steve Fenton

Microsoft Teams – What Microsoft taught me this week

After my day job this week I’m attending the Virtual MVP Summit that Microsoft are running. The event is normally held in-person, but due to the current events it was switched to 100% online with attendees and presenters all joining sessions from home using Microsoft Teams. When you stick 150 people into an online video call, you get to test the edges of technology, but there are some neat tricks that I have learned by watching the experts in action.

There are differences between making a one-to-one call, a team call, and a massive call such as the MVP Summit sessions that spanned the globe with loads of attendees. You’ll hopefully be able to judge when a piece of advice applies.

Measure time in minutes

When booking a quick meeting, define it as a quick meeting. Old work habits make people book 30 minute chunks, but try booking a ten minute call instead… stay focussed and make it end on time. Building this habit makes a clear statement that calls do not need to be 30 minutes, or an hour. We all got stuff to do!

Start early

If you own the meeting or call, start it early. For the MVP Summit, calls were opened up at least thirty-minutes before the session with a PowerPoint title slide up on screen share. This means people can join before the start time and confirm they are in the right place. This also allows the session to start on time as people are already “in their seats” when the clock ticks over into meeting time!

Join on mute

This is one that Teams will suggest for you once there are a few people already on the call, but I have now installed this as my default. When you join any call, join on mute. It’s the online equivalent of slinking through the doors and slipping into one of the seats on the back row. It doesn’t disturb the presenters or audience.

Use video

Yeah, I know. Almost nothing in the world is as horrible as that little mirror-box that reflects back your face from the worst possible angle. However, the quality of your interaction as human beings is improved beyond measure by being able to see the other humans on the call. We all look the same on these webcams so we just need to suck it up and before we know it, we’ll be over the novelty and we can get on with the job. This doesn’t apply in calls with a hundred users!

Hide balloons

You have probably seen the team ads with the chap joining nonchalantly from outside a hipster café. His team get distracted by balloons in the background, so he used the background-blur feature to reduce the distractions. The real reason this feature exists is because the reflective surfaces behind you will show embarrassing images of people who think they aren’t in front of the camera. Like the crew in this Sex and the City episode…

Crew Visible in TV Reflection

You can easily toggle this on and off using Ctrl + Shift + P from anywhere in the team window. (Kudos Lee Englestone).

Push to talk

Because we are all working from home right now, there is going to be background noise. Although I have family in the house, the main background noise is my cat drinking from a tap. He likes it fresh. Because of this, I stay on mute and use the space bar to drop in and out of audio. If you hit the mute button, the space bar will toggle it, making Teams work like a walkie-talkie. Roger and out.

You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + M to toggle the microphone from anywhere in the team window. (Kudos Lee Englestone).

Screen casting

Obviously you want to avoid embarrassing toaster messages while presenting, so close down all your other messaging apps. Don’t chance it! If you are going to be live-sharing a single app, make sure you just share that single app. It stops any information leaking. If you are going to be switching between two or more apps, clean up a second monitor (remove all non-presentable apps, task bar, etc) and share the whole monitor. Having to stop sharing app one, then start sharing app two, then repeating… ain’t fun in a live call.

Use chat

Meeting chat allows you to drop notes, questions, and links into a chat associated with the call. This can be seen by everyone and is a good way to make a note without interrupting the people speaking, or to share something that you would otherwise spell out loud, slowly, several times. When you are on a massive call, you would think co-ordinating who is speaking would be tough, but it’s not… nobody speaks. We are all sat trembling with terror at the thought we might not be muted, so we say nothing. Chat saves us from this fear.


If you are running a presentation, meeting chat will be closed by default and it won’t pop up alerts; because it would distract you from your flow. To solve this, having a second presenter who monitors the meeting chat and curates the questions to pose to the presenter at a good time.

Tag your questions

When you are asking a question in meeting chat, start it with “Question:”. It helps the presenters spot questions amongst all the comments and other noise. When there are over a hundred people on a call this helps a great deal.

Your tips

Do you have any tips for team calls that you want to share? Let me know!

Written by Steve Fenton on