12 Tips to avoid looking like a rookie on a video conference call

Oct 17, 2016 by Brendan Jack

With services like Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Google Hangouts and Join.Me, we're almost at the level of a Star Wars Jedi High Council meeting, where our holograms sit in a room together with actual people.

Gone are the days of holding a phone receiver to multiple ears to hear what the other person is saying. On smartphones, we’re getting patched into conference calls to all four corners of the planet while standing in line at grocery stores (unless you order food online or via UberEATS).

Video conference calls are used to save time, but we still need to be prepared to ensure that time is saved efficiently. Here are some tips.

Pre-planned

As with live shows or presentations, testing tech is essential. Don’t be scrambling for an HDMI cable that the Project Manager accidentally took home the previous day.

It helps to have a basic grasp of video conference tech or have someone who knows how to tweak things on standby.

Who’s who?

Introduce yourself or others in the virtual meeting, to get a feel for the room.

Mic check

With a dodgy microphone, you might as well resort to e-mail correspondence than go back and forth with patchy voice comms, having to re-explain everything.

"Can you hear me?”

“Is this working?"

“Wait, I think I can hear you, you hear me?” Etc.

Talk directly into the mic. Seems obvious, but many people turn their heads and move around while talking, making their voice fade in and out.

Typing and rustling paper can irritate over a sensitive mic. Go for quiet, handwritten notes. Likewise, don’t crumple tinfoil directly into the microphone unless it’s some sort of product demonstration.

Try to setup in quiet boardroom or area, avoiding external noise to disrupt your session.

Live TV and radio use 'On Air’ signs. Put a note on the door to notify others outside what’s happening.

Button it

Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking even if you’re on your own. Background noise can be distracting. Muting also gives you the opportunity to make snarky comments about the person talking.

Also, don’t use mute to make snarky comments. You'll eventually get caught, leading to awkwardness / disciplinary letters / lost clients / resentment from colleagues.

It's best to hang up before making fun of someone’s presentation or tie.

Lighten up

Don’t look like you’re broadcasting from a covert Osama bin Laden cave. Turn on a light or open some curtains to be visible on camera.

Speak directly into the camera

Don’t stare into the distance like you’re daydreaming or checking out the new interns walking past.

The meeting could be recorded. So as with e-mail, be wary that what you say might be documented.

Dress appropriately

Meeting with suited clients in a boardroom while you wing it in your pyjamas isn’t ideal, even if you’re a quirky developer or designer. Treat it like a real meeting.

How’s it hanging?

Try to patch in when you have access to a decent connection. You can wing it from a poor reception area, but it could create irritating delays and hanging.

Be concise

You’ve streamlined your day by not having to travel to meet. Keep it streamlined. Too much banter can disrupt proceedings.

Wait your turn. Talking over someone with a time delay can make it sound like you’re meeting at the Tower of Babel offices.

Moderate

If you set up the meeting, try keep proceedings on track. Consider following an itinerary or notes to work to. Create clarity and brevity.

Allow everyone to engage

When wrapping up, give everyone the opportunity to add final thoughts, even if it’s ‘nothing to add’.

Perhaps the introvert at your Belarus office, who hasn’t said anything, just needed to be given a chance to speak up.

Final checks

Don’t eat lunch on camera, even apologetically. Some people might be distracted by your chewing, sauce spilled on your shirt, or desire to go to an eat as well.

Don’t yawn all the way through the meeting and try not to floss, even if it's directly after lunch.

Don’t be on the toilet.

Don’t read articles or play cellphone app games unrelated to the meeting.

If you do, make sure you’re stealthy. Check that DIY tutorial on building pool decks after you’ve wrapped up.

Summing up

Practice makes perfect - you soon get a feel for what makes video conference calls go smoothly. Prep the tech and have a basic plan of action.

As with most human interaction, it’s about being present and giving your attention. Treat it like you’re meeting in real life - which you sort of are - just via pixel travel.

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