The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
11 Professional Videoconferencing Tips
Videoconferencing has become a daily activity for many businesspeople, but just because we do it a lot doesn’t mean to say we are doing it well. Consider your last virtual meeting; how professional were the attendees? Was there that one guy with a background filter making him seem as if he was floating in space? If there were several attendees, did some of those not contributing look bored? Were they looking down at their phone, was the room in the background messy?
Here is a videoconferencing etiquette refresher that discusses many of the pitfalls inherent in this relatively new business communication.
When there is no agenda (with time limits on each item), meetings go off on unexpected tangents, and little gets achieved. An agenda helps attendees focus and keep on track.
2. Pre-meeting Information
Provide information in advance and request that everyone attending review the material before the meeting. Do this, and you will not waste time bringing everyone up to speed at the start of the session.
3. Meeting Times
Here’s a little trick that encourages people to be on time. Instead of setting a meeting for 10:00 a.m., set it for something like 10:12. An odd meeting time is more memorable and has proven to be effective in improving the timekeeping of chronic latecomers.
Be punctual; use a calendar reminder to alert you ten minutes before the start of a meeting.
Those Zoom virtual backgrounds are cute but not professional. We’ve all sat watching someone floating in out of space, and then there’s the story of the attorney in Texas who accidentally left his cat filter on during a Zoom call at a court hearing. Filters are also unstable. You may find that the green screen breaks down as you move, revealing glimpses of the room behind you.
The most professional approach is to position your computer so that there is a plain wall behind you or a bookcase. However, ensure there are no inappropriate books or items on the shelves. This has been the downfall of many an executive and news reporter!
5. Dress Professionally
This depends on the meeting, but working from home is no excuse for dressing like a hobo. Enough already with the sweatpants.
6. Transition into the Call
Take a few seconds before the call to focus on the meeting. Too often, people are working on something else when others join the discussion. Imagine this in an in-person meeting where you go into someone’s office, and they ignore you while dealing with something else. It isn’t polite, and the same goes for a videoconference.
7. The Dreaded Mute Button
Be aware of this important button. There are legions of stories online about what people heard during a call when one of the attendees thought they were muted. Some of which were not pretty.
Ensure there is sufficient lighting. Nothing is worse than being barely able to see someone during a meeting. Consider purchasing a videoconference ring light. These inexpensive items can be attached to a laptop, and others have stands. You can order them online for less than $25.00.
9. Beware the Camera
Remember you are on camera! If you decide not to wear pants because you’re at home and people can only see your top half, that may be okay. But, if you forget and stand up to do something, or the meeting ends, and not everyone has signed off, your professional image will suffer.
10. Look at the Camera
One of the sad things about virtual meetings is that they lack personal connection. In real life, we react to social cues; we look people in the eye, we gesticulate, and we focus on them when they talk. Do your best to look into the camera as if it was the person or people’s face. One thing that makes this difficult is when you have the window showing your own image open. It’s too tempting to keep glancing down at yourself. Close it, and you will be able to focus more on the other attendees. Heck, you know what you look like!
11. Close all Unnecessary Programs
Whether or not you will be sharing your screen during the meeting, close all programs to avoid distraction. If you are going to share your screen, this is very important because you may not want people to see that you have been Googling something private that is not in keeping with your position. Close your email browser and switch your phone to silent. Have you ever noticed that with a larger group, somebody’s phone dings, and everyone looks down to see if it’s them?
Follow the simple steps above, and you will not only take your videoconferencing to the next level, the people you meet with will notice your professionalism.
Videoconferencing: The Blooper Reel
In the first article this month, we talked about how to raise your game when videoconferencing. How to be more professional, better prepared, more efficient. So, it occurred to us that highlighting some noteworthy videoconference disasters and faux pas featured in social media would be fun and illustrative. Many appear as videos, some as Tweets, and others in articles.
- Be careful when planning a virtual meeting to warn other people in your household that you will be live on a call during a specific time. A young woman failed to do that, and her husband wandered into camera view during her business call wearing just his “tighty-whities.” Once he realized he was on camera, he tried to run out of sight but ran straight into a closed door and fell to the ground, stunned. This was not the impression the young businesswoman was hoping to make.
- In a similar situation, a woman ran naked from her bathroom to get a towel from her linen closet. Unfortunately, she had to pass her husband’s open door, where, unbeknown to her, he was on a conference call with four colleagues. The husband’s next company social event was a little embarrassing.
- Sometimes it takes more than letting people know you will be on a call. Like the woman working from home and on a sales call whose young daughter was on their dining-room table dancing in the background. Or the young child who wandered in front of the green screen asking for cookies. Don’t assume you will remain undisturbed; plan for it.
- Calls involving larger groups can be dangerous because there is a sense of anonymity, especially if someone is more of an observer than a participant. Another classic social media video shows a woman who has muted her sound but forgotten to turn off her video when attending to a call of nature, which a dozen other people on the call all watched. Along the same lines, a Canadian politician got into trouble for doing something similar during an official government business meeting. In his case, he made the national news.
- What you wear counts. A hilarious video shows a man getting up to grab a coffee, only to show he is wearing no pants. What made this particular example far worse was that he put his hands inside his underwear to scratch his butt. He had muted his audio, so a colleague had to call him by phone to tell him that they could see him. The panicked look on his face when he received the call and ran from the room was classic.
- There is a classic video of a law court hearing where one of the attorneys accidentally, and without realizing it, activated a filter, turning him into a cat. The judge points this out to him, and the attorney tries to remove the filter. He assured the judge that it was him behind the feline mask, but the judge was not amused.
- Many people don’t think they are “live” before the meeting begins, which explains why several early attendees sat and watched someone flossing their teeth while waiting for a Zoom session to start. The same is true for the end of the meeting. The meeting is not over until you sign out, as the man who got up after an important business meeting to reveal his colourful boxer shorts discovered when his boss called him out on his unprofessional wardrobe.
- Finally, focus on the meeting, or you could find yourself in deep water. For example, this was the challenge a businessman faced when he decided to join a video conference call while driving. In his defence, he was primarily an observer listening to the meeting. Unfortunately, when he screamed at a driver, “This is not a >expletive< freeway!” his phone audio was not muted.
We hope these examples made you smile and help you avoid being part of someone’s blooper reel. On a serious note, they show how easy it is to fall foul of videoconference decorum and lose credibility with customers, colleagues, and your boss.
Coach's Corner - Make a Habit of Single-Tasking not Multitasking
In The Six Lies Between You and Success, as outlined in Gary Keller's book The One Thing, multitasking is the second lie of the six. He concludes that:
- Distraction is natural
- Multitasking takes its toll on you
- Distraction undermines results
Keller's advice is to focus on the one important thing, and that multitasking is detrimental to this goal. David Levitin, an American-Canadian cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, and author, said, "What it turns out is that we think we're multitasking, but we're not. The brain is sequential tasking: we flit from one thought to the next very, very rapidly, giving us the illusion that what we're doing is doing all these things at once."
He continues, "Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and constantly searching for external stimulation." These two experts clearly state that multitasking is not how to become more productive.
Multitasking is a by-product of distraction and generally inhibits productivity. Productivity is about accomplishment, not about how busy or efficient we are. Busyness can make us feel we are being productive when in fact, we are feeling the dopamine effect.
The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey supports the view that multitasking is ineffective and inefficient for accomplishing goals. He uses the term single-tasking and challenges people to pursue the habit of focusing on one thing at a time. As distractions are natural and lead to multitasking, Bailey promotes the idea of getting out of the practice of multitasking and into the habit of single-tasking. He suggests we devote short periods to actively focusing on a specific task or activity and gradually increase the time spent.
By spending and focusing our time on one activity, we accomplish more in a shorter period because interruptions and diversions waste time. Combining single-tasking with a focus on essential activities and goals, we become more productive and experience greater satisfaction with our daily outcomes.
What is the one thing you going to focus on? By asking yourself this question daily and ensuring you spend sufficient time on it, you are on the road to making single-tasking a productive habit in your work life.
Paul Abra, Certified Executive Coach, Motivated Coaching and Development