Close to 90 percent of my meetings are video-based. That’s because I rarely get a call anymore — everyone seems to communicate via email, Microsoft Teams or a videoconference. But not every work culture has fully adopted video, which means it’s important to understand some rules of the road.
Rule #1. Wear Pants, and Keep It Professional
While this may sound comical, it is really a reminder to always look professional when you are on camera. Sure, it’s common sense, but on more than one occasion I’ve seen torn T-shirts, paint-covered hoodies, shabby hair and unshaven, scrubby faces on my work-related video calls. The rule of thumb is dress for your conference call the same as you would if you were in the office — align with the norms of your work culture.
Rule #2. Reduce the Noise
Nothing can ruin a great video call like noise: Barking dogs, crunching chips and loud steps with all the pacing can all be quite distracting and debilitating to others on the call.
First, get a great headset with active noise canceling. This will not only shield other meeting participants but also help you block out some of the sound around you and allow you to concentrate. Second, the mute button is your friend — use it, and use it well. Finally, many folks often appear to have a long delay in responding and the usual valid excuse is, “Sorry, I was double or triple muted.” There is no reason why you need to mute yourself in so many ways. Pick one and stick to it. That way, you won’t have your parties waiting anxiously.
Rule #3. Avoid Juggling Other Tasks
It is very easy to get distracted while on a video call, and often you forget that you are on a call and start multitasking. Sometimes, even a simple thing like writing notes on a whiteboard will distract everyone on the call. Some of us (hint, I might be talking about myself) will even engage in stress-reducing activities like playing the guitar while on mute. We all need a gentle reminder to respect everyone’s time and offer our undivided attention when on a video call.
Rule #4. Don’t Eat on the Call
Okay, I get it. I’ve been there: You have 16 back-to-back meetings in one day, and you don’t have the time to break for lunch. You’re hungry and you need to eat. But no one wants to see you eat on video, especially if you are on desktop webcam and you are being projected on the other end of your call onto a 70-inch screen. We can see that salad stuck in your teeth. You might be okay if you are in a large conference room and everyone is eating, which seems more palatable. But it’s usually better to find a way to eat when you’re off camera.
Secondly — and this is related to Rule #2 — if you decide to pause your video and chow down, don’t forget about your best friend, the mute button. Crunching, munching and sometimes moaning (if the chicken salad is that good) doesn’t need to be heard by everyone in the meeting.
Rule #5. Plan Ahead
You probably spend much of your time running from building to building, meeting to meeting, office to home, or some iteration of all the above. Depending on your setup, a video meeting may take a minute or two to start up. Remember to allow extra time if you are using a slow PC, if your notebook must be docked/undocked or if your headset must be paired. If you are setting up a meeting, plan start times accordingly and block time on your calendar to make sure you aren’t late. Similarly, if you are an attendee to someone else’s video meeting, plan to make sure you are parked in front of your notebook or video endpoint so you can start on time.
As we embrace working from home and our teams expand their reach, video will continue to be at the center of how we communicate and get work done. I hope these five suggestions offer a meaningful way to improve video meetings for yourself and your meeting attendees.