Our business practices have rapidly changed since COVID-19; and it is extremely unlikely we will ever return to the ‘old normal’. Consider the revolution that has occurred for meetings, with the exponential growth with video conferencing software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet.
While we’ll move back into face-to-face mode for some meetings, is there any doubt that our world has changed, for the better, as Zoom has conquered all before it? Much has been written however, on the naïve way many of us operate in video conferences.
The following hints and tips from the experts will help us all.
Dress like you would if the meeting were face-to-face
How would you present yourself if meeting face-to-face? That is exactly what you should do for an online meeting. I’m regularly surprised how flippant people can be with appearance when they are not in the same room as other people.
We’ve all heard stories of a person needing to unexpectedly stand-up during an online conversation and found to be wearing pyjama pants. Yes it happens! However, such slip-ups are not the main reason to dress ‘properly’. It is the positive psychological impact on your demeanour by your professional appearance that is important.
Check your surroundings and positioning
Look for a set up with a plain, uncluttered background and good lighting for any online conversation. A ‘blank canvass’ background is ideal as you don’t want the others being distracted by movement and clutter. With a blank wall behind you can also more easily use Zoom’s virtual backgrounds.
The ideal spot for your camera is at about shoulder height or slightly higher. It is best not to have the camera located where you will be looking downwards – which means they are looking up your nose.
What will other people hear?
Zoom allows you to set yourself on mute and only be heard when you press and hold down the space bar. This is a great option and should be practiced. I’ve seen meetings disrupted for all sorts of reasons, some that could not be foreseen. Using mute in this way prevents your meeting being distracted by your children playing or a dog going crazy in the background.
On a group meeting recently, the sound was being constantly interrupted by one person who was (noisily) using a keyboard.
Engagement with other people
Practice looking into the camera. We all know the impact in a face-to-face meeting when a person keeps shifting their eyes around, rather than engaging with the person they’re speaking to.
People will notice if you’re constantly looking away from the camera. So put your mobile phone out of reach so you’re not tempted to check for messages or browse the net.
While it is usually acceptable in a group meeting to drink (only water, tea, coffee!) it is not acceptable to eat. Save the lunch for later.
Leaving the meeting
There will be reasons why you might need to temporarily leave a group meeting. Don’t just disappear off the screen, leaving an empty space. You can let people know either verbally “I need to leave for 2 minutes”; or by using the chat option. At the very least, signal that you’re leaving. When you do take such a break, stay connected but turn off your camera until you return.
Why wait until the meeting to use the technology for the first time? Can you have a trial using the technology beforehand?
Have a colleague do a brief mock meeting with you and provide you feedback, including on the background & surroundings. It is amazing how you can look around a setting and think it ideal but the person at the other end can see a problem.
Use some common sense; practice in advance; and treat the video conference meeting as you would for a face-to-face meeting.