On Camera: The art of video conference etiquette

In 2016, few companies do business in just one spot. Colleagues, clients, consultants and prospective employees are spread far and wide. When you can’t meet in person, there’s an excellent alternative: video conferencing.

Done well, it can help you save big on travel costs, save valuable time and keep you connected in ways a phone call can’t replicate. Done poorly, it can be a frustrating mess for everyone involved. Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to meet face-to-face from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. But just because it’s easy to connect doesn’t mean it doesn’t take preparation.

Follow these tips to make sure your next meeting via Skype, Gotomeeting, WebEx or any other system goes smoothly.

Before the meeting

  1. Make sure the technology is working. If you haven’t done many video conference meetings or are using new equipment or software, consider doing a test run with a colleague. Check your webcam, microphones, monitor, software, internet connection and any other component involved in the process. And be sure you leave enough time to solve any problems you discover (or find the person who can).
  2. Set up early. If you’re running the meeting, get to the room with plenty of time to turn on the necessary devices and connect. Then you can use any extra time checking your hair and working on your winning smile in the camera.
  3. Be ready to connect. Make sure you’re prepared with any phone numbers, long distance codes, account names, PINs, passwords, web addresses, magic spells or other info necessary to access the meeting.
  4. Dress the part, whatever it is. It probably goes without saying, but even if you’re joining a video conference from your bedroom, you’ll probably want to change out of your pajamas. Consider your audience and the purpose of the meeting and remember that it is still a meeting, even if you’re far apart.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. Look out for anything within view of the camera that could be distracting to the people on the other end of the line. Make sure your desktop LEGO collection or the street performer out the window behind you won’t be drawing attention away from what you’re saying. Be aware that sitting in front of a bright window could make your face appear in shadow. Also, watch out for distracting noises. Conduct your video conference from a quiet room whenever possible. Sounds from the environment that may be easy to tune out in person can be hard to ignore when you’re hearing them in the background.
  6. Get your papers in order. Passing printouts around the table won’t be very useful if one or more of your attendees is in a different state. If you plan to reference any documents, images, spreadsheets or other materials, give everyone in the meeting access to them before the meeting begins.

During the meeting

  1. Look them in the eyes. Try to position the camera and the screen as closely together as possible so that you can look back and forth between the person and the camera.
  2. Watch your body language. Most good advice for social interaction applies doubly in a video conference. Don’t let your eyes wander too much. Don’t give the impression that you’re more interested in something the other meeting attendees can’t see. Remember that looking someone in the eyes during a video conference really means looking into the camera. Be aware of nervous tics, especially those that produce sounds a microphone can pick up, such as clicking pens, tapping fingernails or yodeling.
  3. Wait your turn. No matter how sophisticated your technology is, communication over teleconference is never quite as smooth as talking in person. There’s usually at least a bit of a lag time, so be careful about interrupting or speaking over people.
  4. Use the mute button. Particularly if a lot of parties are on the conference, it can get loud quickly as the sounds of multiple locations bleed together. You may want to use the mute function if you’re not the one speaking. Just be sure to unmute when you’re ready to talk.
  5. Be wise about multi-tasking. It’s tempting to check emails or social media or otherwise multi-task during a meeting (especially when it’s less than exciting). It can be even more tempting when you’re not in the same room as the people you’re meeting with.