Good Impressions on Video Calls Are Valuable. Let’s Look at Some Best Practices!
2019 to 2020 Shift
In 2019, there were people who hadn’t heard of Zoom. By the end of 2020, many of us were living our lives on it. There are a number of different platforms for business use such as Webex, GoToMeeting, or Skype. Additionally, there are a number of more personal options including but not limited to Google Meet, Houseparty, or a variety of social media apps that allow this functionality like Facebook or What’s App. It’s a good idea to have some other readily available as backups should any other platform be failing anyone on the call.
It’s hard to imagine a tool as valuable as Zoom or other video platforms going away once offices resume in-person operations, and that means that the need for professional video conferencing conduct may very well become a basic job requirement. To that end, we thought it would be constructive to go over some best practices for professional video calls.
Why Should We Care?
The value that effective video call conferencing brings to a workplace, now to include personal lives off-the-clock when society spends more time at home, cannot be overstated. In fact, many workplaces credit platforms that function similar to Zoom for being critical in their ability to pivot into remote work. While voice conference calls have been around for ages, using video conferencing allows for a vital degree of expressive communication has played a major role in adapting to “the new normal”. This expression is also priceless on a personal level when individuals are not able to see loved ones in-person.
That said, video calls are only as effective as the people on them and adapting to a world of video-only socialization can be a hard adjustment. A brief Google search for the popular phrase “Zoom fails” conjures no shortage of people who have entered the internet consciousness by being horribly awkward at Zoom. But do persist! The value of seeing people on the other end is what makes the meeting personalized, and the next-best-thing to being in-person. Having your video off and a black box or a still photo just isn’t the ideal expectation and it takes away from the experience of other participants. Imagine if you were presenting to 10 black boxes or still photos, not able to “read” your audience? Sounds pretty lonely.
Dress to Impress
The visual aspect of video conferencing is important. Without it, we’d simply be back to making audio-only conference calls. A core component of video conferencing is being able to see, react to, and empathize with the other person in a way that’s impossible if you’re just using audio.
Unfortunately, that means no more taking calls in pajamas. Looking professional on a video call is a factor that’s vital for a good first impression and every line of communication that comes afterward.
While we aren’t going to blame anyone for wanting to conduct business calls in pajama pants (or sans pants), it’s important to make sure that anything visible on camera communicates professionalism. Note if you move around (or stand up) this can change the viewers line of sight! That means wearing the same clothing that you would be wearing if the meeting were being conducted in-person.
Also consider your background and how that might blend or clash with your chosen attire. Virtual backgrounds may at times “blur” more easily and cause you to disappear, so you might want to consider skipping it altogether. Remember, that you can always preview before going live!
Camera Placement Matters
It goes without saying that you don’t want your professional calls looking like a found-footage documentary. While it should also go without saying that nobody wants to look up someone else’s nostrils, we’ve all probably had a video call where an attendee’s nasal cavities were the center of attention.
Camera placement is one of the easiest things to control while also being a potentially massive detractor if it isn’t taken into proper consideration. Put simply: good camera placement is invisible. If your audience isn’t thinking about it, that means you did your job correctly.
Place your camera in a well-lit environment, on a steady surface, and with the light coming towards your face, never behind you which can cast dreadful dark spots. It should ideally be positioned around your eye line and far enough away from where you’re seated to frame the full profile of your upper body. Angling the camera too high or too low can start your meeting off on an awkward note, as can sitting too close to it.
Ultimately, the best solution for finding an effective camera angle is to experiment when you have free time and definitely preview your video appearance prior to joining the call. Experiment to see what camera placement gives you the more professional eye line and frames your upper body best.
Be on Time
(and Use Waiting Rooms in Case You Aren’t)
There’s an old saying in the business world: “If nothing else, you can always show up early.” This is especially important when using a platform like Zoom to communicate with customers, clients, and coworkers.
Late arrivals to a video meeting can be awkward for everyone involved. The notification sound that comes from someone entering means that everyone is instantly alerted to a late arrival, and this can be distracting for whoever is currently speaking.
This issue compounds even further if the speaker is late. While late starts in physically social settings can generally be mitigated by allowing participants to mingle, this becomes awkward when moved on to video platforms.
Using waiting rooms is a handy solution if you’re hosting the meeting. Having everyone start the meeting at once can offset some of the awkwardness that comes from the host being late, and it allows you to account for any late arrivals. Additionally, setting up a custom greeting for your waiting room to go over talking points for the upcoming meeting is a great way to make sure that everyone’s on the same page when you start.
To Mute or Not to Mute?
This is going to vary based on the type of video call and number of participants. For meetings with many participants, it’s usually best to start the call with your audio on mute. Typing, crunching, other sound from people or machines in your area are a big distraction from the speaker. It also takes the video off of the speaker and on to the camera where the sound is coming from (they’ll see YOU!). Then, someone will be forced to speak up and ask you to put yourself on mute so the meeting can be conducted without interruption. If this is a much smaller group meeting, you’ll likely be speaking together more, but you should remain mindful how sounds from your microphone will still distract everyone in the meeting, both audibly and visually.
Don’t Get Stuck on Filters!
Filters are fun. We get it. After spending enough time in calls, being able to socialize as a cat, talking potato, or Disney princess goes a long way in fighting video conferencing fatigue. That said, there’s a time and a place for funny filters, and they’re a bad idea when you’re talking to clients, managers, or anyone who isn’t in on the joke.
While this might seem like a no-brainer, it’s a mix-up that can be deceptively easy to make. The internet has no shortage of “Zoom fails” videos where a cute filter utterly dominates the focus of the meeting. To that end, it’s helpful to double check your filters before hopping on a meeting. After all, you may have unwound on a casual Friday call with a cartoon dog filter, but that same filter becomes a lot less fun if you forget that it’s still on when meetings start on Monday.
Before you start a day of video calls, take a second to check for any active filters. Using Zoom as an example, on the Desktop client click your profile in the corner and open up the Settings window. From there, you can check to see if you have any filters enabled. This is the same way that you turn on filters as well, so make sure to use that power responsibly!
The best practices surrounding Zoom calls are constantly evolving, but the central principle remains the same: treat it with the same respect and consideration that you would give to an in-person meeting. Being able to make good impressions is a career skill that cannot be overstated, and it’s sure to get more mainstream recognition as video conferencing platforms become even more interwoven into day-to-day operations.
Remember that there is a chat feature with many video platforms. You can use this instead of speaking to everyone out loud on the call or can often direct message one individual versus the entire group, as well.
Consider Using a “Zoom Room”
If you’re using video calls enough, consider setting up a private (closed-door), designated space just for those calls. This can go a long way towards communicating your professionalism to clients and other companies. While these configurations are understandably rarer in homes and apartments (which can have limited free space), they’re growing increasingly popular in offices as companies rely on video for more and more communication.
A Zoom Room is exactly what it sounds like — a space that’s been set up for the purpose of hosting video call meetings. These spaces usually feature a television and mic-enabled webcam mounted at a fixed angle, along with favorable lighting and (occasionally) tasteful backdrops. They should be limited of distractions from other household members, including those furry companions we hold so dear. It may take some trial-and-error, but once a space is properly set up, you ideally won’t have to configure it again for a while!
If all of that sounds excessive, it’s not. Setting up a good Zoom Room, complete with curtains as a backdrop, is relatively straightforward and affordable. It’s not hard to see the advantages of having an uncluttered meeting space: using the same space saves you from having to worry about lighting, camera placement, and webcam connectivity before new meetings.
When identifying spaces to consider using as a video conference call space, it’s important to be mindful of the acoustics. No matter how professional your lighting or webcam setup is, bad audio quality can quickly derail a meeting. Make sure that your designated location is free from distractions and doesn’t echo excessively when people talk.