Raise your hand if you haven’t been on a videoconference call in the last 10 weeks. I bet there aren’t many hands raised. Whether you’re in the office still or working at home, you’ve probably hopped on a video call or two (or 100) to catch up with another person or a group of people at some point during this season of social distancing.
Even as some states begin to open up, conducting some measure of business over a videoconference call will be part of lives for some time to come. Whether you’re still a novice at video calls or you consider yourself a solid pro, these tips will help you kick it up a notch.
Know When to Say Yes
Yes, we’re missing face-to-face interaction and, while not perfect, a video call can be a decent substitute when meeting in person isn’t possible. That doesn’t mean it’s right for every conversation. You know those long meetings in the conference room that you dreaded? The same applies here. If you’re going to hang up thinking, “This could have been handled in an email,” then, well, handle it in an email. Save video calls for those instances that would benefit from face-to-face communication. If you wouldn’t call a sit-down meeting for it in person, then stick with voice calls, emails, or text.
Don’t Overthink It
Yes. You are going to be on camera. And yes, I know, that’s not the most comfortable spot for some folks. This is different. Don’t overthink the camera and screen components of this. This is no different than walking into the conference room and grabbing a chair at the table. If sitting down with your team in that environment doesn’t faze you, don’t let the video call get the best of you.
Check Your Lighting, Sound, and Framing
Approach your videoconferences with professionalism. That doesn’t mean you need to pull out your best suit and create an impressive backdrop that suggests you’re in an office setting. It does mean you should pay attention to things like lighting, sound, and framing. Aim for natural light when you can. Sit facing a window whenever possible. If you can’t, put an artificial light source in front you. Try to avoid overhead lights or lights that are positioned behind you. These will make you appear darker and harder to see.
Before you launch your call, test your sound. Most conferencing applications will give you the option to test both your audio and your microphone. Make sure you can hear and be heard clearly. Lastly, pay attention to how you sit in the video frame. Position your camera so that when you look into it, it’s approximately eye level. Don’t look down into the camera or position it so that you have to look up.
Check Your Background
Here’s the good news: If you’re sitting within reach of the keyboard, most folks won’t see much of what’s around you or behind you. That means you could be sitting in the only non-cluttered square foot of space in the house that’s available with the whole family working and schooling at home, and no one will know as long as the area about a foot to either side of you and above you is neat. Whether you’re at a desk, stretched out on your bed, or lounging on the couch, just pay attention to what is filling the background of your frame. Make it as plain, simple, and professional as possible.
Use Headphones and Your Mute Button
Have you ever been inside a fun house and with a room of mirrors? Your reflection bounces off the mirrors that surround you and it creates the illusion that there an infinite number of clones staring back at you. Now imagine that feedback loop with sound. If everyone on your call is sitting at their device with the microphone live while they listen through their speakers, you may start to hear an echo or other evidence of feedback. The easiest way to avoid creating that uncomfortable scenario is to wear headphones or earbuds and mute your mic unless you’re the one speaking. Muting also helps ensure that your neighbor’s lawnmower, your child’s whistling, and your dog’s howling aren’t also part of your meeting.
Watch Your Wardrobe
While it’s fun to suggest you can ‘dress up’ your upper body and wear your PJ bottoms with your favorite fluffy slippers, that’s not the advice we’re going for here. This tip is more about your camera. Avoid busy patterns that can easily become distracting or even distorted on camera. If you’re going to try to tap into Zoom’s virtual backgrounds, you may also want to avoid wearing green or white, lest you become a floating head. In fact, skip solid white tops altogether. It can easily make you washed out and harder to see on camera no matter how awesome your lighting is. Not sure how well your attire will translate to camera? Do a check on the preview screen before you join the meeting.
I get it. It’s tempting. You’ve been listening to someone share the same five points for the last ten minutes. It’s tempting to grab your phone and scroll through your Facebook feed or even to type an email on your laptop with the video call tiled to one side. Here’s the thing: you’re not really fooling anyone. Your eyes will very clearly not be on the screen. Your posture will shift to give space for your movement. They may not know what you’re typing, but they’ll know you’re typing and that it’s probably not meeting notes. Focus on the call. If you wouldn’t do it in at in-person meeting, don’t do it on a video call.