An Essential Guide to Better Online Meetings & Video Calls: How to present yourself in the best possible light
For a while, online meetings were reserved for business and corporate use. All that changed just over a year ago with the pandemic. When applications like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams gain much popularity and become integral to our everyday life.
It is likely that even the average person would have a few virtual meetings and video calls every week or even days, be it for social or work. We do not think twice about picking up our devices and making that video call to our love ones any time of the day.
Meeting colleagues, clients, friends, and family on the screen has suddenly become a part of life. With vaccines finally arriving, it seems like we are turning a corner. But, there is no reason to drop our guard. Until we have completely won the war against the virus, online meetings will continue to play an important role in our lives. Even after social distancing, company may choose to continue with remote working given how much practice they have over the year.
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When we talk of online meetings, and I am referring to the work-related ones, a million different questions crop up in our minds. What sort of background is the best? How should I dress? Am I too formal or overly casual? Do I need a more light? Can anyone hear me? And so on.
How to Have Better Online Meetings and Video Calls
We shall look at many such questions and try to answer as many as we can in this article. Here are 18 essential tips to present yourself in the best possible light.
The best possible background is the one that is clear of any distractions. A simple bright colored wall will do in the absence of something more sophisticated. It is best not to sit with your camera aimed at all the dirty laundry that needs to go through the washing machine or the dishes you need to do right after the meeting. If you don’t have a bright colored wall or plain background, it is time to roll up your sleeves and start tidying up. Putting things away, close that closet door, clear the table, put the dishes in the dishwasher and laundry in the basket. Remember, you want to be the focus and not have things in your background part of the conversation.
2. Portrait lighting
Portrait lighting, as the name suggests, is nothing more than a light or lighting accessory that is used to take headshots in video or stills. But you don’t have to go overboard trying to find the best lighting gear just for a meeting. You can use soft light sources such as a table lamp or reading light especially those that use LED bulbs. But if you need a dedicated portrait light, there are many affordable options to choose from. A simple ring light with an integrated light stand and a smartphone holder costs under 20 dollars.
The dressing will depend on the work culture of your office. However, you still have to dress for the occasion. If you are meeting a client for instance, you want to be portrayed in the best possible light. It is then highly recommended that you wear a tie, shirt and have a suit on.
Your facial appearance will also be a big factor. Don’t forget to comb your hair. If you have long hair, you may want to have it tie it back. If you need a shave, get one before the meeting. These may be common sense, but worth addressing just the same.
5. Near a windows for natural light
If you don’t want to invest in additional gear, try to sit in front of a large window. Preferably one with white curtains on. White curtains will diffuse the light, making it soft. You may need to move your furniture around to make it work like propping up your laptop on a chair if you do not have a side table you can use.
6. Good microphone
A good microphone is a must-have requirement. It is more important than the quality of the camera. Not that we are saying that a low-resolution camera will do, but the best part of a good meeting is the audio quality. If the audio is crisp, people can work with it, even though the video is low-resolution. But the reverse is not true.
7. Webcam/camera positioning
Saying this from personal experience, I have never liked the camera angle that you get with a laptop. You are always looking down on a laptop screen so, the camera angle is always looking up at you. The person who you are speaking to always gets a view of you looking down on him/her. Instead of this, put your laptop on a laptop stand or some books. If you are using a dedicated camera, it should be set to your eye level or approximately the same level as you imagine the other person’s eyes to be using a camera stand.
Don’t be late. Being late for a meeting that you are going to attend from the convenience of your home, means you simply have no regard for time, or worse, the other person. We can understand that there may be technical glitches. So, try and take care of everything at least 20-30 mins before the start of the meeting. Don’t try to set everything up right at the start of the meeting.
9. Human factors
Work from Home was supposed to be fun, right? No commuting, no having to find a parking place close to the elevator, no negating of rush hour traffic and the associated savings in cost. But who thought that one year down the line many of us would be begging to get back to our offices.
Why? Because, when we are working from home, we have to consider so many other parameters that we don’t have to in our office. Our children and partner, for instance.
After all, they think that if their mommy and daddy are at home they can play with them right? The last thing you would want is to have your 6-year-old stroll casually into the room when you are making a presentation to a client asking to play.
The solution is to get your partner to help out. Ask your partner or older children to babysit the younger kids during your meeting.
Else, you can assign some homework for the kids to do at the time you are in the meeting. Tell them you are going to review what they have done right after you are out of the meeting. And, that unless there is an emergency you do not wish to be disturbed. Your tone should be firm as if you do mean business. This should keep them engaged while you are in the meeting.
10. Set the boundaries
Many of you might be content creators, scheduling online interviews, or vlogging for a living. For you, even the slightest distraction can mean huge delays and loss of time. It means having to reshoot the sequence all over again or spending more time editing it later.
Vloggers have a system for keeping their workplace secure and prevent anyone from transgressing when they are working. They use large “On Air’ signs or “Do not disturb” signs to let everyone know when they are recording. We can take a leaf out of their book to avoid someone knocking on the door or just barging in.
11. Animal factor
Pets, just like our children, take a lot of time out of our daily schedule. They can be extremely demanding too at times to get our attention. If you are a cat or dog parent, setting a boundary can be a challenge.
I noticed this with my Labrador Retriever. When I was in a meeting and had the door closed, it did not go down well with him. He would express his displeasure by growling, barking and scratching the door waiting to be let in.
But I made a point to play fetch, take him out for a walk and spend some time with him before my scheduled meeting time. This tires him out so you can have your meeting in peace. If you have a schedule that you keep for when you walk the dog, then try and avoid scheduling your online meeting just before such a time. But if you can’t do that, enlist help from someone else in the house to walk the dog, instead.
12. To save time, prepare for the meeting
Just like what you would normally do for a physical meeting – have your notes, meeting agenda and points to raise already on a tablet or your laptop or a writing pad, ready as references for the meeting, you would need the same for an online meeting. You need to do your homework and be prepared before the scheduled virtual meeting. Nothing changes except that you are sitting in front of a camera rather than in an office or meeting room. Being prepared also means you are able to keep the meeting time short and be more productive.
Have what you need in front or near you – reference documents like sales reports, website analytic data, and other material should be best kept as prints and as ready references.
13. Test audio and video
Check for the audio levels and video quality. I always make it a point to connect two different laptops or devices and check the primary one I am going to use for the meeting for its video and audio quality. Get someone to help you with this as the other device needs to be in a different room entirely or both devices will suffer loop back interference with high pitch coming from the speakers. You may experience some delay especially when the other device is within earshot and you hear yourself repeating. That is normal and we won’t worry about it.
14. Permissions and access to hardware
Operating system, web browser and video applications sometime require user permission to access the hardware, in this case the camera and microphone. This may only happen once, the first time you use them, but it is still best to iron them out and be sure your applications have all the settings and permission it needs before the meeting. If you have an antivirus or fire-wall system on your computer, ensure that they do not block your audio and video during the call.
15. Browser settings
Browser-based online meeting or video call applications such as Google Meet, Hangouts, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and others will need to be allowed to access the microphone and webcam, a setting on the browser itself. Again, don’t wait until the meeting. Test these out beforehand. There is usually an option for sound and video check in the application. Run through the setup to make sure that everything is as it should be.
16. Watch the time
If you are the client or the boss, and the meeting is with your team (of subordinates) or your vendor, you must keep an eye on the clock to keep track of how long it has been. The computer clock ticking at a corner of the screen is more than enough for me to keep track of time. For some, a larger table clock may be better suited.
17. Keep eye contact
Two things I have always tried to do from day one of my professional career. Always offer a firm handshake and always keep eye contact when speaking to someone or being spoken to. While the first of the two is out of the question, considering the situation we are in, the second one still holds water. When you maintain eye contact, you are connecting with the person that you are speaking to. It showing that you are sincere, attentive and respect what he or she has to say.
18. Remember to unmute
A very common issue, but something that is often overlooked. You forgot to unmute before talking and there you go presenting your point when nobody else can actually hear you. Or, if you are the meeting organiser, and have set everyone on mute for your own presentation, you quickly realised that when you ask a question, there is no reply. The first thing to check is the mute settings for you and for your participants. It can be avoided if you have tested the audio and video before the start of the meeting and just a quick check on the microphone icon.
Hopefully, the above tips will help you to have a better virtual meeting experience. The tips are not exhaustive. There might be a few more that you can come up with to make your online meeting experience even better and more productive. Feel free to share your experience here with us.
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