By now, most of us are used to carrying on with socializing, going to school, or going to work via video conferencing software. Whether you use Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, or other programs, you probably know a thing or two about how to have a successful virtual meeting.
But are your virtual meetings effective?
Here are 5 things you didn’t know you’ve been doing wrong on while meeting on a remote video platform.
- You have a busy or distracting background
When speaking to someone in person, it can be annoying to watch your listener gazing around at things behind you or next to you. On Zoom, direct eye contact is somewhat taken away from us. As listeners or meeting participants, we often use this to our advantage; but if you are ever speaking up during your meetings, the lack of eye contact does you no favors. You have no idea if your listeners are watching you, or staring at your pile of laundry on the floor behind you!
The easiest way to ensure your background is free of distraction is to turn on your camera before you begin your meeting and check to see if the image is something you would be okay with showing your coworkers in person. Even though it’s virtual, these webcam meetings are essentially invitations to your home for the entire team. Make sure your environment is presentable!
The ideal video background is mostly plain, has something pleasing to look at, and does not include a bright window (see #4, Lighting). Try sitting in front of a piece of artwork or a decorated bookshelf. A plain wall will also do just fine.
- Your camera is in a poor location
We have all (unfortunately) opened up our front-facing cameras on our smartphones while holding them far below our face—not a great angle! Your webcam should be in a spot that is at least eye level or higher when on a conferencing call. This will ensure that you are looking upwards toward your colleagues, not down on them.
Do you have more than one monitor? Is your webcam an internal lens, or an external device? Where you place your camera versus your screen with everyone’s face makes a huge difference in connectivity—and we’re not talking internet service. Think about it—if you are looking at someone’s face on your left monitor, but your webcam is on top of your right monitor, everyone who sees you will just be getting a side profile of your face. To solve this, simply move your Zoom/Teams/Meet window over to the monitor screen that has the webcam at the top. This will give the illusion of eye contact, which can improve even more by looking straight into your webcam when speaking.
Speaking of cameras, try your best to keep yours on! We know we would all like to stay anonymous and in our pajamas but try dressing for success (from the waist up…) and being present with your cohorts by showing your face. I’m sure you would like to see theirs, too!
- Low-quality equipment
There is quite possibly nothing worse than not being able to hear someone when they are sharing important information. Is that happening to you when it’s your turn to speak? Most video conferencing tools use your laptop or desktop’s default microphone to pick up your voice—a tiny hole in your screen that might not be anywhere near your mouth. Modern technology has made it easier for devices to pick up our voices, but if Zoom is becoming a big part of your work life, you may want to invest in a professional microphone. There are small, inexpensive versions that you can use as a headset, and there are more pricey versions that sit on your desk. It’s up to you to choose what your investment should look like. Bottom line, how you sound is just as important as how you look; it’s even more important if you are not turning your camera on!
- Bad lighting in your recording area
Unless you’re continuously making usable recordings or facilitating important trainings, there’s no need to make your video conferencing session look like a professional photoshoot. However, there is also no need for your face to be so out of contrast that your listeners can’t read your lips when you talk. We may decide that a window is the most non-distracting background we can find, but we would be wrong! The light coming in from a window behind you creates a contrasting outline around your head and face, making it hard to see you on screen. Try closing the shades to block out the extra light or turn your setup around so that you are facing the window, and the light comes in from behind your computer. Imagine the great image when your face lights up with the natural light of the window in front of you!
Another idea to increase your lighting is to invest in a light-diffusing lamp that you can place, yet again, behind your computer or webcam; the light should always come from behind and above your camera. You may simply turn on two desk lamps that you already own! Turn on your camera to test out your options before your next meeting.
- There’s too much background noise
Finally, let’s talk about what’s going on quite literally behind the scenes. Perhaps the best and the hardest part of working from home is that we can remain close with our families and/or roommates. However, not everyone is used to going to work with you! Their lives must carry on, as does their noise. When you get ready for a web conference, are you in the room alone? Is there a possibility of interruption? Just because a possible distraction in your home office may not show up on screen visually, it could show up audibly very easily (especially if you’ve invested in a microphone). Don’t blame this on the others around you—take it into your own hands and find a private space to work. If that’s not as easily accessible, practice turning your microphone off or muting yourself when you aren’t expected to respond or present.
These 5 mistakes are tough habits to break, but if you practice each time you log on, you will be the most professional and effective video conference participant there ever was!