Will real video meeting etiquette advice please stand up?
In recent weeks, the video conferencing community has been saturated with articles and blogs describing “video etiquette.” In these literary masterpieces, we have learned such critical information as how many people take video calls in the bathroom and why you should remember to close the door.
That fluff aside, some real best-practices can help improve the collaboration experience. Here are some highlights from the workshops I frequently conduct on this very subject.
First, you must pick the right tool for the job. As I always say, a hammer is a great tool, but not if you need to tighten a bolt. You should take the time before each use of collaborative communications to decide what your goals are and what the right medium is to achieve them.
Is this a negotiation or some other long-form meeting with limited participants? Using immersive telepresence is the best choice for that. Is this a meeting with multiple local participants but only one or two on video? A traditional videoconference room is more suitable. Is everyone joining over video, or is this just a quick catchup call? Having everyone use a desktop solution works fine for that. The key to picking the right tool is not just grabbing the first thing in reach but rather giving it some thought.
The next steps involve getting organized beforehand, just as you would for any other professional meeting. For video meetings, these steps are even more important. The coordination to make everything work is often difficult to repeat, and the time window is often very tight. I recommend these steps:
- Have a formal agenda of what you want to cover and accomplish.
- Bring a pen and notebook to record important points and action items.
- Make sure all follow-up tasks are clearly assigned and understood before the call ends.
- Send an email quickly after the meeting to confirm agreements.
We then move on to behavioral and environmental tips for participants. Here’s a brief list of things to consider.
- Focus on the meeting — don’t multitask. The camera sees and tends to magnify everything you’re doing. Nobody likes talking to someone who is reading an email on a smartphone.
- Omit distractions that make you look bad. Three things that have no place in a video call are your lunch, the sound of typing, and side conversations.
- Desktop video shows the world your desk. How does it look? Do you have a cluttered desk? Are there self-help books, confidential materials, or anything else a remote participant shouldn’t see lying around? Are there enough loose papers to make distracting noises? Does your background say what you want it to say, or is it something distracting or embarrassing (like an open window with the sun making your face impossible to see, a dirty or cracked wall, or the peeling tape of an old poster)?
If you happen to be at home teleworking, no one wants to be reminded that you’re in your kitchen or lounging on your bed. Find a professional-looking environment to use. And while we’re on the topic of view angle, be aware that Web cameras are not placed or optimized for videoconferencing and can be unforgiving. Get the laptop off your lap — no one needs to see a great view of your nostrils.
- Look in the right place. Look at whoever is speaking when that person is speaking. When it’s your turn, look at local participants when you’re addressing them. Look at the camera when you’re addressing remote participants. Most video systems do not provide correct eye line. If you look at the remote participant on the screen, your gaze will be slightly off. Make the effort to look directly at the camera once in a while. That will make you look more honest to those at the remote end.
These and other such tips and tricks are best covered in the workshops I mentioned. The highlight of those workshops is when a remote participant joins in and does absolutely everything wrong. People best remember correct behaviors when they have glaring reminders of how bad the wrong behaviors look.