Video Conferencing Etiquette 101
Making a good impression in the Video Conferencing world requires knowledge of what is socially acceptable and unacceptable during a conference call. Video Conferencing has its own unique culture and environment that has specific behaviors associated with it. Individuals have their own interpretation of what behaviors are preferable, expected, acceptable and unacceptable. This is a result of V ideo Conferencing being a more recent invention and not having had as much exposure as other forms of technology. Therefore,
Video Conferencing etiquette is not always common knowledge. There are no established rules that have to be followed, but learning some basic behaviors about Video Conferencing can easily improve your experience.
There are many aspects of videoconferencing that are often unknown or forgotten that, if improved, would maximize your experience. The most important aspect of Video Conferencing to pay attention to is how others will be viewing and hearing you. During a Video Conferencing session, most of the problems occur at one end of the call and affect the conditions of the call on the other end. Most Video Conferencing systems have a “self view” window, which allows you to see how you appear on the other end of the call. Often times there are many items in the conference room that can cause distractions. Some of the distractions that the “self view” window helps you avoid include whether or not you are completely viewable on camera, if you are looking straight at the other caller and not looking down from above or gazing up from below, and movement or noise in the background. It is vital to adjust your “self view” screen before making a call. Unfortunately, the audio setting takes a few minutes to adjust and test at the start of a call because your local audio is almost always suppressed from “feeding back” to you in a local mode. People are more tolerant of poor audio or video conditions once the call is in progress and therefore try to avoid interrupting the conversation. It is essential to spend time confirming that the technology is set up properly in order to have effective and productive communication.
Enough is enough…
Once the adjustments mentioned above have been made, it is important that you are engaged in a natural conversation and only the necessary adjustments are made to the system’s settings. Some adjustments (changing light settings, and decreasing background noise) are necessary to create the ultimate environment, but continuously adjusting the video or audio settings can be very distracting. Also, be aware of how minor movements can create unnecessary distractions for the receiving end. Adjusting a camera at one end will result in an image of detailed parts of a hand on the other end. This is uncomfortable for those individuals on the receiving end of the call. Also, if the system being used has a single directional microphone, the constant movement will create various audio complications such as audio break-up, or inconsistent levels of volume on the receiving end.
The incoming view window and your camera should be arranged correctly so that you can remain focused in the direction of the remote site and maintain eye contact with the remote site. When speaking with another individual on the Video Conferencing system, slight shifts in body movement, shifting attention elsewhere, completing a task on the computer, or doing other work tasks can be rude and disrupting to the conversation. All of these behaviors are the equivalent of not looking someone in the eye when having a conversation. Video Conferencing is very similar to having an in person conversation, and therefore facial expressions and body language are particularly important.
As mentioned above, there are many different distractions that can make it difficult for the conversation to flow smoothly. In Video Conferencing, various noises and other side conversations can complicate not only point-to-point meetings, but also multi-point meetings. Many of the individuals involved in the conversation forget that they are still a part of a group conversation even though the meeting is virtual. The lack of physicality tends to increase side conversations, which makes it difficult for the system to determine which noises are essential to the conference call. The microphones and speakers used to send and receive audio will pick up any conversation that is taking place near them and sends it along. The system will also pick up noises such as a cough or a sneeze and deliver them to the other end with as much clarity as a normal comment. Because of this technological sensitivity, it is a good idea to get in the habit of muting your own audio when you are not speaking. This is unnecessary in a point-to-point conversation because it may result in unnatural pauses in the conversation when muting is turned on or off. However, sometimes muting can assist in situations where there is poor audio by minimizing the effects of the audio problem on the overall conversation. For a multi-point conference, the habit of muting the audio when you are not speaking is a good idea. When the audio is not muted, any audio that the system picks up will automatically display the video for everyone to see. This can result in some embarrassing moments if an individual starts coughing or sneezing, or something unexpected occurs in the conference room.
Video distractions are the next item to minimize once the audio distractions have been reduced. Traditional Video Conferencing has relied on cameras and monitors to create a conversational environment. This includes having a professional looking boardroom, having the proper lighting, and creating a welcoming atmosphere. Once the camera is set up correctly, the appropriate lighting is necessary to create the best environment. When there is dim lighting in the room, you appear dark and hard to see. Lighting from one side of the room can create an unnatural shadow across your face. Experiment with lighting prior to a meeting. This may include adding a desktop lamp to even out some of the lighting. Also, when deciding the best location to place the camera in your Video Conference meeting room, make sure that the angle between you and the camera looks and feels natural. Some of the most common places for the camera are near the display monitor or near an area that you watch the most. By minimizing these distractions, you will benefit your presentation and your overall Video Conferencing experience.
In the Meeting
Now that we have established some proper etiquette for setting up the system, let’s discuss the proper way to initiate a conversation. To start a question or comment, first address the person by name. When dealing with a multi-way meeting, call on specific sites for comments or questions rather than just making it a more general question. Avoid sudden movements during the Video Conference meeting. If you need to get up or walk around the room make sure you do so slowly.
Before the Video Conference meeting, it may be necessary to provide specific information to those in the meeting at the local site. When this information is given out prior to the meeting, there are fewer distractions and interruptions. This information may include the location of extra materials available during the meeting or the location of the restroom. If particular items, such as food or drink, are available at one site but not at another, be polite and do not have these items until after the meeting. Remember that this is one meeting and everything on either end should be equal to create a professional atmosphere.
Keep the words professional and simple in mind when deciding what to wear the day of the meeting. The best attire to wear for a meeting includes solids and light colors such as light blue, pale yellow, or pink. White clothing reflects light and makes your surroundings appear darker, and black clothing causes your surroundings to appear lighter. There are some items to avoid wearing when in a meeting. Patterns, stripes, plaid, polka dots, or fine designs on clothing are difficult for the system to process and can often lead to problems with compressing and displaying the picture. Also, avoid shiny jewelry and any other objects that would cause reflections to appear on the Video Conferencing screens.
Important Points to remember
Treat a Video Conference meeting as if it were a “real” meeting. Be on time, have enough materials for all members of the meeting, and most importantly, pay attention. In the case of a multipoint meeting, these considerations are more complicated in delivery but compounded in importance. For example, if handouts are to be given out during a meeting, make sure that the link for the electronic handout is available for the members on the other end. Once again, check your camera settings prior to the meeting to ensure the meeting location is appropriate and that local objects are viewable. It is wise to take a test run of the technology you will be using and confirm that you have all the proper presentation materials prepared. Also, if you have electronic presentations and are constantly in meetings, it would be a good idea to have an extra computer around that also works with the system. If your computer has sudden complications, you will be prepared with a backup computer that works with the system. Remember, the way you conduct your meeting gives an accurate impression of how your company functions.