Who could have guessed that 2020 would usher in the need to be camera ready for every meeting? Or that videoconferencing would become the de facto standard for meeting with people? Being able to meet, speak, brainstorm and plan with others around the city (or world!) is a wonderful use of technology. In addition to saving time, modulating costs, and lowering carbon emissions, it truly has become a necessary professional skill. While videoconferencing is newer technology, there are still professional protocol guidelines to be followed. Presenting yourself well, professionally, or academically, is always an essential component of etiquette. Here are my favorite tips and tricks for meeting virtually.
Rise Up ~ The camera may be too low if your laptop is sitting on a table or desk. The view people have will be an unflattering shot of your neck and nose. Better to lift your computer (using books or a box as necessary) so that the camera is slightly higher than eye level. This angle will make you look 10 years younger and 10 pounds lighter. Okay, perhaps not, but try it for yourself and see the difference.
Cover Up ~ People are notoriously bad at understanding their settings. If you want to be sure that you are not on camera for a certain point during a meeting, have an index card folded in half to drop over the camera lens in addition to turning off your camera. This technique is especially helpful if you have only dressed from the waist up and need to step away from your desk for a moment... which brings us to the next tip.
Dress Up ~ While inappropriate attire makes great fodder for internet jokes and social media memes, you do not want to be caught in your pajama bottoms. Dress professionally from the ankles up. (Ah, the greatest boon of tele-meetings, slippers all day!) Not only will your posture, voice, and demeanor change to match your professional attire, but you will know you can confidently rise as needed.
Set Up ~ You may not have a home office or backyard shed to use as your studio, but you do not need one. Trick the camera and choose a wall or corner to be your backdrop. Position your computer so that instead of a view of the entire room, the other attendees only see the area you selected. Remember to decorate this area in a way that enhances your professional persona. You can use a virtual background or blur, just be sure to practice with it in advance, as occasionally if you move too quickly the background will waiver.
Light Up ~ The right type of lighting will help you to look your best. If you do not have a ring light or professional spots, simply increase the light shining on your face. Even placing your computer near a window can make a big difference. Floor lights and desk lamps turned to face towards you or the ceiling can help illuminate the area.
Powder Up ~ This tip spans the genders. Anchormen have known for years that face powder is a must when appearing on camera. Your local drugstore has many choices, and the internet has nearly infinite options. Makeup will smooth your complexion and minimize shine.
Freshen Up ~ Especially when you have back to back meetings, have a small mirror, brush, powder, lip balm, and tissues nearby. This way you can be sure to put your best face forward.
Bottoms Up ~ Pick your favorite coffee mug and use it consistently for all meetings. It does not matter what liquid it holds. Water, seltzer, soda, juices, coffee, tea or... if needed, wine. Drinking from a glass is not camera friendly. Your lips are morphed into a strange fishy face for all to see.
Show Up ~ Just like meetings in real life, you should arrive a few minutes early. Log into the meeting. The standard default, unless instructed otherwise by the meeting coordinator, is for you to have your video on and your microphone off.
Speak Up ~ When you want to add to the conversation, pay careful attention to when the current speaker is finishing. Remember, there can be slight delays in the transmissions. Be sure to enunciate your words clearly so that those listening can hear. But take care not to yell. This is especially important since some attendees will be listening with earbuds or headsets.
Chat Up ~ Do be aware that for many of these videoconferencing sites there is the ability to chat and message the group or individual participants. As with most things on the internet, do not consider this chat private. The person hosting the meeting has the ability to download, read, and save the chat.
Finish Up ~ Just because your meeting is set for an hour does not mean you should expand the content to fit the allotted time. Create and share meeting agendas in advance and keep to them. Ending early allows attendees to stretch and reset before their next meeting.
On the whole, we can agree that pandemics are just no fun, yet the silver lining of lockdown is the expanded options for communication it created. We have learned to match our modes of communication to the messages we wish to transmit. There will always be times when it is best to meet in person. In fact, before the pandemic, this was our default. Now we have learned to work effectively and efficiently via video. As we emerge from this epidemic, we will have additional options to suit the work we do. Videoconferencing is certainly one that is here to stay.
Stay healthy and safe.