Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams have come into their own during lockdown, providing a much-needed way to continue face to face communication with our clients, teams and loved ones.
We have quickly embraced the new reality of home working, and the big change it has meant to our daily communication. But there are several challenges associated with providing a glimpse into our private spaces via video calls.
The team at Volpa are no strangers to working from home, so here’s our handy guide to making sure your clients and colleagues focus on what you say in the meeting, not what’s going on in the background!
Find a quiet working space
Easier said than done in some households, we know. Our Volpa team calls take place amidst the full spectrum of distractions going on at home – small children clamouring for attention, older kids needing support with home schooling, barking dogs, that ill-timed Amazon delivery. Such interruptions are fine in a quick, informal catch up, but for meetings where you really need to make an impression it’s not ideal.
Plan ahead to claim some quiet time for the important calls – distract the dog with treats, bribe the kids with TV and pop a note on the door to avoid interruptions.
Ready for your close up?
The average video conferencing screen reduces your presence to a tiny rectangle, stacked Brady-Bunch style with the other participants. If you are using a phone, getting an overview of everyone in the meeting is even more difficult. You either see just who is currently speaking or have to flick between screens to see everyone else.
Video calls also make it more difficult to tune into the subtle body language signals that we would usually be so aware of in a physical meeting room. As a result, participants may feel overlooked and uninvolved in the discussion.
There are several things you can do, however, to improve your visibility and presence in a virtual meeting:
Consider where your light source is
Good lighting on you face will ensure your expression can be seen clearly, and not half-hidden in shadow. If you can, choose to sit facing a window, rather than the light coming from behind or off to one side. Sitting in the garden during the hot weather may seem like the perfect solution, but not if you are squinting into the sun. A desk lamp or ring light placed behind your camera works well, and also evens out your skintone – there’s a reason all the beauty vloggers use them!
Fill the screen with your head and shoulders
This keeps the focus on you and not your background. Where you do have a background visible, try and keep it as plain and uncluttered as possible. Obviously, there are limitations depending on where you are working from, but if you want people to pay attention, don’t sit in front of your bookshelf. We’ll all be browsing your titles instead of listening! Only use virtual backgrounds if they work with your space. These can be glitchy unless the background is completely plain and will only detract from your presence.
Sit up straight.
This is a no-brainer, really, but lounging on the sofa sometimes proves too tempting! Make the switch in your brain from ‘at home and comfy’ to ‘at work and professional’ when on a business call. This also applies to what you wear…
Think about how you are dressed
Nobody is saying you need to dust off the power suit, but you wouldn’t turn up to meet a client in your pyjamas, either. We’ve all embraced comfier clothes during lockdown and actually, seeing the more casual side of a colleague at home can help build relationships. But use common sense when it comes to creating the right impression. Brush your hair and check your top half for food stains, at the very least.
If a meeting is dragging on, it can be tempting to start looking at something else on your screen or finish that email. Be aware, this can come across as rude and distracting for others. Other activities that some may find disrespectful during a meeting are eating, smoking, and wandering off to make a cup of tea. If you need to excuse yourself for any reason, do mute your mic and switch off your video. Nobody wants to go viral when they go to the loo!
Make your voice heard
It’s a good idea to test your microphone and sound levels before you enter any important meeting. Some meetings require all participants to mute their mic while not speaking and raise their hands if they want to speak. This is good practice, as it ensures the annoying noises (keyboards clacking, headphone mic hitting off jewellery, dogs barking, kids squealing) aren’t affecting the sound quality. And yes, we’ve all learned the hard way to unmute before we speak!
If you do begin to say something at the same time as another person, try and make a conscious effort to not be the one to stop and apologise. We are terribly British and hate to interrupt, but no one can see you leaning in waiting to speak so sometimes you just have to go for it if you want your point to be heard. It’s worth noting that men find this much less of a problem than women!
Look at the camera and not the person on screen
Humans are used to making eye contact and watching faces for their reaction, so this seems very unnatural, but it is important. The person you are talking to may be to the bottom right of your screen, while your camera is to the top. Looking at their face while you speak will result in a sideways or downward glance, which unconsciously signals a lack of confidence or conviction in what you are saying.
And lastly… be considerate.
Video conferencing isn’t within everyone’s comfort zone. Be aware of which voices you don’t hear. If you think the discussion has been dominated by one or two people, try going round the room before the meeting ends to make sure everyone has their chance to contribute.