Screen showing a video conference

12 Technical Dos And Don’ts For Making A Good Impression During Virtual Business Meetings

Working from Home: Lights! Camera! Professionalism!

Although stay-at-home restrictions are relaxing in all states, workplace productivity experts say the concept of working remotely will grow and play a much bigger part in company culture for the foreseeable future. With Twitter and Square recently announcing that their employees can now work from home permanently, more business will likely follow suit.

That means more of us will be using videoconference platforms from home to meet with clients, colleagues, and other business associates regularly. And, based on some Zoom meetings I’ve attended, it also means that many people could benefit from polishing their virtual meeting skills on several levels, especially getting the basic technical setup right.

Keep in mind that all aspects of the way you participate in virtual business meetings still impact your professional image, reputation, and connection with others in that meeting.

For years I’ve taught scores of people how to deliver presentations via webinars and videoconferences more effectively. And, because of my past career, I approach training for virtual meetings, not only as a communications coach but as a former video producer.

Applying past experiences to present day situations

My first career was both in front of and behind video cameras. I produced and hosted hundreds of corporate news programs as well as produced TV commercials and documentaries. The technical requirements for producing professional-looking corporate video programs are, in many ways, similar to preparing for a videoconference.

Today, whether I’m preparing clients for in-person or virtual situations, many of the techniques I teach my clients come from my years in video production. This approach ensures they look and sound their best on all levels for media interviews, business presentations, and keynote speeches

Of course, the following 12 technical suggestions are by no means the only factors for ensuring successful remote meetings. But, these tips from my production experience will correct some of the most common equipment-related missteps for videoconference meetings that a lot of people don’t think about.

Internet speed test websitesBandwidth and basic technology fixes

I admit that I’m one of the most technically challenged people on the planet.

Even back in my days of writing and producing documentaries and commercials, I always surround myself with people a lot smarter than I in this field and learn a lot from them.

  • The #1 piece of advice related to at-home video meetings: Make sure you have strong bandwidth (internet connection) to prevent break up or freezing of the video image and audio.

Bandwidth requirements will vary based on many factors. Search the term “bandwidth test” on the internet. In moments you can get a reading for your computer. For the best video and sound, you need a connection with 2.5 Mbps (to receive) and 3.0 Mbps (to send).

  • The lesser the speed of your internet connection, the weaker the connection with your audience, and the more technical issues you will experience. If your test results are close to 0.5 Mbps (receive) and 0.5 Mbps (send), you should probably invest in faster internet service with your provider.
  • Always test accessing the platform’s connection, and audio and video quality a few hours before the meeting – not 5 minutes before start time. You don’t want to be “that person” who held up the meeting because you had trouble simply getting into the meeting. Sure, you will be remembered, but not in a good way.
  • Wipe the computer camera lens with a soft cloth to remove smudges and dust. You want to be clear and identifiable to others, not look like you are in a fuzzy dream sequence from a Lifetime movie.
  • Do you know people who sound like they are in a giant soup can when they speak in video meetings? Yeah. It’s annoying. So, if you are in a cavernous room, such as kitchens and rooms with very high ceilings, chances are your voice echoes when you speak.

There are two options to fix this:

  1. Get a plug-in device, such as a desktop USB mic, a USB or wireless headset with a mic, or an external USB webcam with a built-in mic. Any of these will make you sound better than the built-in microphone on a laptop. Just make sure your add-on mic is selected in your meeting software’s settings as the input source.
  2. Move your computer to another room with no echo effect when you speak. Problem solved. Ta Daaa!

Proper camera position

  • In old horror movies, to make villains look extra threatening, the camera was placed at a low position to shoot up to the bad guy’s face. That unflattering perspective truly helped increase the audience’s loathing factor. But, that probably isn’t the reaction you want from your colleagues during your at-home videoconferences. So, take some preparation time before the meeting.

Sit in a chair in front of your computer. Hold your head up, looking straight ahead. Then position your computer screen’s camera to be about an inch above eye level. If necessary, put your laptop or computer screen on a box to elevate the height. Trust me; it’s worth the effort.

  • Look at the camera when you speak or listen to others speak. Don’t look at the small images of meeting participants. When looking at the camera, you appear to be making eye contact with your audience, which makes you look more engaged.

I usually use the “active speaker view” so whoever is talking is full screen. That makes it easier for me to look at them and the camera while I’m listening. When I am speaking, I look straight to the camera, not at any of the thumbnail images. I know this technique takes practice to get used to, but it makes you look more present in the meeting.

Poor lighting casting shadows during a video conferenceLighting

Now, back to the horror movie villains. Another technique that made Dracula, Frankenstein, and other evil-doers look super creepy, was using lights to cast dark shadows on their faces.

Your takeaway from this movie trivia: Have front-facing, white light on you for video calls.

Video conference with good lightingA simple solution is to put a desk lamp close behind your computer screen or place your computer in front of a window to ensure, so your face is lit evenly.

There are also a variety of ring lights that are free-standing or clamp on the top of computer screens available online.

Example of a good background for a video callBackground

Yes, nearly all movies today use expensive CGI (computer-generated images) and green screens to create spectacularly real looking backgrounds that transport us to any place in the world or the galaxy. (Seriously, didn’t you really believe Jon Snow climbed a wall of ice in Game of Thrones?)

But, I advise against using instant virtual backgrounds offered with videoconference apps for business meetings.

Without a high-end greenscreen and professional lighting kit, these click-on backgrounds usually look cheesy and often distort your image the moment you move your head.

Instead, choose a room in your home with a neat and simple background. Participants should not see anything messy or distracting behind you, such as unmade beds, the TV turned on (even if it is muted), clothes thrown over chairs, or stacks of dirty dishes on a countertop. Yep, I’ve seen them all.

Props – Using screen share

Documents, videos, and other information you want to share are like props in a movie. Have them already open and on your desktop before your meeting.

When you click on your screen share option, they will be quicker and smoother to locate and show others.

Wardrobe and hair

Yeah, I know this topic isn’t equipment-related but warrants special attention.

  • “Looking the part” is a huge factor when actors are cast in a role. Credibility is enhanced when the actor’s appearance is suitable for or expected for the character they play. Studies show the same perception is true in the business world. People who “dress for success” are likely to have more successful careers.
  • When working at home, T-shirts and jeans are fine if you aren’t seeing anyone. But, it’s never a bad idea to dress for a virtual meeting as you would for an in-office meeting. If you usually wear a business suit to meet clients, wear that for your virtual meetings. If your typical work attire is business casual, wear that, even it is only from the waist up! It’s best not to look like you just rolled out of bed or returned from the gym.
  • Comb your hair. Don’t hide a bad hair day under a baseball cap. You probably wouldn’t wear one to the office, would you? Besides, caps cast shadows on your face, and you look like one of those people in a whistle-blower news story who has been disguised to protect their identity.

Closing Credits

I agree with the workplace productivity experts who believe the number of businesses that allow employees to work full-time or part-time from home will grow significantly over the coming years. Already Google and Square have announced their workers can now work from home permanently. And Facebook said within five years, all of their employees will do the same.

Developing our ability to look and sound our best in virtual meetings requires attention to much more than these tips. But, the ability to skillfully use virtual meeting technology from home will be as important to career success as being a valued subject matter expert.

So, for now, that’s a wrap!

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