The Dos and Don'ts of Effective Video Conference Calls
Turn those awkward video conference calls into effective collaboration with these expert tips.
With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down offices around the globe, countless companies and individuals are reimagining what the workday looks like. However, those changes extend well beyond trading office attire for sweats—for many people, it means a sudden deluge of video conference calls, too.
But with many folks using Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms for the first time, simply logging in for a meeting and getting the most out of those video conferences can be two very different things. With the help of experts, we've rounded up the definitive dos and don'ts that'll help you make every video conference call go off without a hitch.
Do: Keep the area behind you tidy.
If you wouldn't invite your coworkers into your office without cleaning it up first, don't invite them into your home office when it's anything less than tidy.
"You want colleagues to see your home office as neat and organized," says Kristen Southall Watts, author of The Solo Workday. In addition to cleaning your space, Watts recommends avoiding a direct line of sight to the door, and rearranging "your office so that family members who peek in won't become part of your meeting."
Don't: Position your computer below your face.
Maintaining good eye contact is essential for meetings, whether you're having them in person or online, so make sure you have your camera positioned appropriately.
"Everyone has angles that look good for them—but no one's angle is from the ground looking up," says Flynn Zaiger, CEO of creative digital marketing agency Online Optimism. Instead, Zaiger recommends elevating your computer so that it's slightly above eye level to make it easy for others to see you and keep you looking your best.
Do: Turn off your notifications.
Those notifications coming in on your devices aren't just distracting to you—they're distracting to everyone in your video call.
"You do not need to be notified of every news headline or newly uploaded video the moment they happen, especially not during your designated work blocks," says Watts, who notes that "every time you take a quick look at your social media feeds, you lose lots of productive time."
Don't: Wait until the last minute to work out tech kinks.
If you want your meeting to run smoothly, make sure you've tested your software—including your video and audio settings—before starting the call.
"Starting the meeting and then realizing the audio is choppy or the video is messed up causes delays," says Reuben Yonatan, CEO of GetVoIP, who cautions that this could even cost you business if it makes clients see you as inefficient. To make sure everything's in proper order, Yonatan recommends first doing a dry run with a friend who can give you feedback.
Do: Build in some downtime between calls.
Even if you have back-to-back meetings, having just a few minutes of downtime between them can make all the difference in how effective you are in each one.
"After calls and conferences, you'll need a few minutes to dash off follow-up emails or texts, organize any notes you took during the meeting, and mentally shift gears for the next task," says Watts, noting that a lack of prep time between calls can increase your risk of distraction.
Don't: Speak too quickly.
Don't let your usual mile-a-minute speech make it difficult for your coworkers to understand the point you're trying to get across.
"Do not speak too fast so that those listening (and watching) have trouble understanding you," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. If you need to pace yourself with a pause, Sweeney recommends smiling at the camera instead of using filler words like "um" or "uh," which can make you seem unprepared.
Do: Pay attention to other people's body language.
Having too many people speak at once can turn into an unintelligible cacophony in an instant. If you want to avoid overlapping speech, make sure you're reading the meeting participants' body language to get cues for when it's safe to talk.
"The usual signs to look out for are nodding heads, or mouths starting to open," says Julian Jost, CEO and co-founder of Spacebase.
Don't: Keep unnecessary tabs open.
If you want to keep your mind focused on the task at hand—and avoid potential embarrassment—make sure you've got all unnecessary tabs closed or minimized during your meeting.
"You don't want to be caught off guard when someone asks, 'Can you share your screen and show us?'" says Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, who notes that having too many tabs open at one time could even affect the quality of your call.
Do: Use your headphones.
Your coworkers want to listen to you—not the sound of your kids playing, your dog barking, or the ambulance going by outside.
"Most laptop microphones are really bad, and pick up every little noise," says Julie Bee, president of BeeSmart Social Media. "Earbuds and headphones keep the background noise to a minimum and pick up on what you're saying."
If you want the participants in your meeting to stay engaged, try to foster a dialogue instead of delivering a speech.
"Our attention spans are even shorter these days, so instead of sitting in front of a computer and talking to those on the call, engage people in conversations," recommends Bee, who says that this habit also keeps people engaged and attentive on the call.
Do: Use the mute and video off buttons.
You don't need to have your microphone or camera on throughout every meeting if you haven't been specifically asked to do so.
"If you're not speaking, mute yourself. If you need to move around a lot, or get up and take a break from the meeting … then hide your video and mute yourself," suggests Bee.
Don't: Rely exclusively on WiFi.
Having a backup plan in case your WiFi cuts out means you won't miss a single important detail.
"Nothing beats the rock-solid network performance of an old-school ethernet cable," says Jovan Milenkovic, co-founder of KommandoTech. Though many laptops no longer have ethernet ports, Milenovic notes that CAT5 to USB adaptors are inexpensive and readily available to make it possible to plug in.
Do: Set up automatic recording.
Instead of frantically trying to take notes during your meeting, set up automatic recording so you can enjoy a verbatim log of everything that happened afterward.
"Zoom allows you to automatically record calls, and this can be invaluable for recording client or team feedback on a project," says Dusti Arab, business strategist with The Reinvention Co.
Don't: Leave other internet-enabled devices running.
Turning off other internet-enabled devices around your home before starting your meeting can help you limit lags in your connection and keep your video conference calls running smoothly.
"Even the best internet package will not guarantee that your home internet can sustain long business meetings over videoconference," says Milenkovic, who recommends asking roommates and family members to put gaming and downloading on hold for the duration of your meeting, whenever possible.
Do: Use the chat function.
There's an easy solution if you want to avoid having everyone talk over each other when it's Q&A time at the end of a meeting.
"Use the chat function to state that you have a question or statement first instead of just blurting it out," suggests Matthew Ross, co-founder and COO of The Slumber Yard.
Don't: Wear your sweats.
Treat your virtual coworkers with the same respect you'd treat them with in person and make sure you look the part for your meeting.
"Try to avoid anything too bright and anything with too many patterns," suggests Kyle Turk, VP of marketing at Keynote Search. Turk adds that even if you think your coworkers will only see you from the shoulders up, wearing work-appropriate bottoms is always a good idea in case you have to stand up or move.
Do: Have a back-up plan.
Have all applicable login information for your meeting on hand and you won't miss a beat if your connection lags.
"Make sure you have a phone number or back-up plan in case it does not connect online as planned," suggests Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of global strategic marketing firm Mavens & Moguls.
Don't: Use your keyboard.
If you want to take notes during your meeting, have a notebook handy instead of tapping away on your keyboard.
"Whether you're taking notes or responding to emails or team chats, the sound of your typing is distracting," says Mark Strassman, SVP and GM of UCC at LogMeIn. If hand-writing notes doesn't seem like an adequate alternative, Strassman suggests using the built-in transcription service available on most videoconferencing platforms.
Do: Enable hot keys.
Instead of fumbling around to find your microphone access button, enable hot keys before your meeting so you can easily chime in whenever necessary.
"Enabling push-to-talk will assure that you are not the cause of white noise, echoes, and background noise in a group call environment," says Keenan Beavis, founder of Longhouse Media, who notes that this functionality is available on platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Discord.
Don't: Forget to log off.
Before you change back into your sweats, you're going to want to take one crucial final step: end the call.
"[Don't] let your guard down before you log off—the mic/speaker may still be live!" cautions Arnof-Fenn.