So you’re new to video meetings? Maybe you’ve dabbled with FaceTime or perhaps joined your friends in a virtual happy hour. Like so many of us, maybe you’re just figuring this whole thing out.
That’s okay. The last few months have brought about enormous change in how we work and interact. What hasn’t changed is the value of good communication and collaboration. And while communicating over video may be different from communicating in person, it is possible for us to be just as effective if we follow a few quick and easy tips.
Recognize that we’re in an unfamiliar situation.
Let’s start by acknowledging where we are. Remote work has been a sudden change for many of us, who have not had the opportunity to create a distraction-free environment.
If that’s you and you are not always able to manage the space you’re in, experts suggest it’s best to be upfront about the situation you’re in and potential interruptions. For example: “Just want to let you all know before we get started that my kids are here with me, and they may suddenly make an unannounced appearance.” Or: “I apologize in advance if it gets really noisy here and I suddenly go on mute.”
Get to know your technology.
One of the best steps you can take is to spend some quality time with your technology. By that we mean your webcam (if you have one), your speakers and/or headphones, and your software apps, whether Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or another provider. Review features like chat, mute, and background replacement to make sure you can quickly turn these options on and off as needed during an important meeting.
When it comes to technology, consider using webcams and headsets designed specifically for video conferences. You’ll be impressed by how much clearer you come across when communicating your message.
To look your best and avoid awkward camera angles and framing, position the video camera at eye level and a comfortable distance from your face. Also, be sure to mute your audio when you’re not speaking to reduce background sound. Attention to these small details can make a big difference in how your communication is perceived.
Practice, practice, practice
Some people make it look so easy! How do they do it?
They practice. And so can you. Try running a meeting with a family member – or alone – and record yourself speaking. Now replay the recording to see how you appear to others. How was the lighting? Were you able to hear yourself? How was the background behind you? Don’t be afraid to check out videos, podcasts and other online tips for looking and sounding your best.
Once you’re confident with the technology, you’ve had a chance to practice using it, and you’re ready to host your meeting, the last thing you want is an interruption. An email notification, an unexpected phone call, a text message from a family member – these can all disrupt the flow and create a distraction. Consider shutting down other apps, silencing your phone, and so on, at least for the duration of the meeting.
Let your on-camera personality shine.
Once your video meeting gets underway, here are a few techniques you can use to ensure you come across as comfortable and engaged, like a professional:
Look straight at the camera to make "eye contact" with the people you are speaking to.
Try to avoid looking down at your notes or off to the side too often.
Name people when you’re speaking to them; it helps them feel included.
Vary the tone in your voice to express your warmth and personality, a technique taught to broadcast journalists and stage actors.
Be present. Be social. Be authentic
Efficiency is always a priority in business, but these days it’s perfectly fine – even encouraged – to relax efficiency a bit for the sake of connection.
In a period of social distancing, many people will feel a stronger need to connect on a personal level with their colleagues. For one thing, those impromptu hallway meetings and water cooler conversations aren’t happening when we’re all working from home. With that in mind, you might consider setting aside a few minutes at the beginning of meetings for people to reconnect socially, share news, and just say hi. Take time to cultivate social warmth. It’s essential to good business.
Experts also say that what resonates most when communicating via video is authenticity, not perfection. So feel to be yourself – within the limits of a business meeting, of course! Above all, be mindful.
Help others join the conversation
There is a perceived formality to video conferences that can make newcomers feel uncomfortable or anxious about joining or speaking up. To get past this feeling, it’s often helpful to think of meetings as conversations. Meeting organizers can foster this by speaking directly to individuals in the meeting and inviting them to participate. For example, “Jasmine, I really value your expertise. What are your thoughts on this topic?”
Repeat information early and often
This is one time when redundancy is a good thing. Because of technology considerations, people often have a hard time hearing everything that’s said. They may have intermittent connectivity, or they may be interrupted by things going on in their environment (for reasons discussed above). There’s also a tendency for people to speak over each other on video calls, not intentionally of course.
Whatever the reason, you can put people at ease and communicate your content more effectively by acknowledging disruptions and making allowances for reiterating key points and summarizing content and next steps.
Finally, one last piece of advice: Be forgiving.
Some people clearly have a lot more experience organizing video conferences and presenting from remote locations, like their own home. Maybe that’s you. But many of us are really just figuring this out. Let’s give everyone the space they need to be a little awkward or uncomfortable at first. Like you, they’ll figure it out.