Do’s and Don’ts during videoconferencing: Know your etiquette

Bright objects in the background such as tube-lights or windows will make our face appear dark. Representative image: Shutterstock

During the lockdown period, video conferencing has become a way of life. If we do not know the etiquette, we might end up embarrassing ourselves and also cause distraction-particularly at professional meetings. Just as there are certain table manners that are universally understood, the following tips will help everyone appear more professional during web-based meetings. The first section is for everyone, the second is for speakers.

General tips

1. The most important thing to know, is how (and when) to mute and unmute oneself. The idea is to keep the microphone muted, unless and until we are speaking. This will prevent any distracting noises from our home being heard by everyone. For instance, barking of dogs can be heard during most meetings simply because people are not aware of etiquette.

Unless we are mindful about this, it is easy to become the only person in a meeting who is creating noise. Besides, when our microphone is not muted, every time noise is created, our image will pop up on everyone else’s screen. For instance, if there are 85 participants, our image and name will pop up in between, and will be visible to all 85 people.

2. If we are hosting a meeting as admin, we must remember to mute everyone except the speaker. This will enable smooth delivery of content.

3. Long introductions are best avoided. The audience is waiting for the speaker, and we must value their time.

4. While the speaker is presenting, all other participants must turn their own video and audio off. This has two advantages. Firstly, it improves the overall quality of the program by sparing bandwidth. Secondly, it reduces distraction.

5. Avoid chatting with other people at home while on camera. This is disrespectful, and makes us appear unprofessional. If absolutely necessary, please turn the video and audio off while attending to other tasks in between.

6. It is important to dress professionally while attending a business or professional meeting. Shabby outfits must be avoided. We must also pay attention to our hair and make-up, because we want to look our best. A professional web meeting has the same importance as an in-person meeting.

7. Lighting is important. During daytime, it is best to sit facing a window with diffuse front-lighting of our face, with the camera turned away from the window and facing us. Avoid direct sunlight falling on the face. Bright objects in the background such as tube-lights or windows will make our face appear dark. If conferencing at night, use soft diffuse lighting, but avoid overhead lighting. This can be perfected by trial and error.

8. The altitude of the camera is extremely important. Always keep the camera of the device at eye-level. This may even involve keeping our laptop elevated on a tall cardboard box placed on top of our desk, but that is okay. Tripods can be used to keep phones mounted and steady. Low camera angle is the most frequent blooper committed by inexperienced people. They do not realise that keeping a low camera angle makes them look older, often exaggerating their double chin.

9. Pay attention to the distance between yourself and the camera. Remember that this is a tiny camera and the closer you are to the camera, the more distorted you look, like a cartoon. Keeping appropriate distance from the camera will show the actual shape of your face. If you sit too far away, audio and video clarity will suffer. An external USB microphone can improve the audio quality of a laptop.

10. While speaking to the group, it helps to look at the tiny camera opening, and not at the screen. If we look at the laptop or phone screen instead, it will look as though we are avoiding eye contact or appearing distracted. This takes some practice. Smiling gently at the camera (not at the screen) while speaking will make us seem more relaxed to the audience.

11. Keeping an uncluttered background like a clean, plain wall helps the viewers focus on our face. Some computers and phones provide a virtual backdrop; pick one that is not distracting.

12. Avoid doing professional video meetings while lying on your bed or couch. It is often better to use a chair which will help us sit upright, rather than sit on the sofa where we tend to slouch. Sitting upright during any meeting indicates good body language.

13. While attending a meeting, the door must remain closed. This will prevent children and pets from entering the room. If necessary, post a notice outside that says: “In video meeting, do not disturb”. Entrust someone to mind young children and pets till the meeting is over.

13. Ensure reliable internet connectivity and adequate charge to your devices beforehand. Keep an internet dongle handy, just in case there is wi-fi interruption due to power failure.

14. Keep your mobile phones in silent mode, so that they will not ring while you are speaking. This can be distracting to the audience.

15. Do not walk around your house or garden, and do not let other people wander in the background while in a meeting. The device may be placed in a location that allows privacy of others in the household.

16. Avoid eating during meetings.

17. Do not type while speaking or listening in the webinar. Keep a notebook and pen handy, so you can take notes if necessary.

18. People who are new to this format tend to rock back and forth while speaking. In the process, they come up really close to the laptop camera and then rock backwards, this is not only distracting, but also distorts their face. While speaking on a built-in webcam, try to stay as stationary as possible because the slightest movement could blur our image. Hand gestures must be avoided in such meetings, as the fingers often come up as large club-like objects in front of our face. Speaking in web meetings needs practice.

19. As with every other meeting, always be on time. By being late, we are being disrespectful to the others who showed the courtesy to be there on time.

20. Do not do meetings while driving.

21. If you wish to speak in between, raise your hands. Keep questions brief, and to the point.

22. Try to avoid typing comments while a speaker is talking, because your words will scroll across the screen, sometimes blocking the content of the slides. This can be distracting.

23. While entering a meeting, remember to keep the video and audio muted until we are ready to present ourselves before the audience. Joining a meeting might take some time for most people; and there is no need for the audience watch us adjusting our chair, table, lighting, laptop, attire and microphone while we are at it.

Speaker tips:

1. Speakers must ensure that their slides are visible to the audience. Being one of the most common errors, it helps to rehearse this ahead of time with the organisers.

2. There is no need to read out everything that you have written on your slide. You can save time by saying something like, “the causes of severe outcomes are listed on the slide”.

3. While explaining complex concepts, especially basic science, use diagrams and slow down so that the audience can catch up with you.

4. While presenting graphs, please slow down and explain what the graph means, and what is listed on the x and y axis. You can help the audience further by saying “You may enlarge the slide by pinching and zooming on your phone touch screen”, as many people are unaware of the zoom (magnification) feature. Reading slides off a tiny phone screen can be challenging.

5. Avoid long introductory sentences of gratitude and praise for the organisers, and boring historical anecdotes in the beginning of your talk. This tires the audience out. Good speakers go straight to the most interesting part while they still have the attention of the audience.

5. If speaking without slides, write your main points down on a piece of paper, and avoid getting side-tracked. Some talks are best delivered without slides.

6. While using slides, write only the minimum necessary—in the largest font possible. There is no need to make it a reading exercise between yourself and the audience. Slides are mostly meant to convey themes and messages, and are not a substitute for a textbook.

7. Use a plain background for your slides, especially at webinars. The content is more important than the design. Avoid writing in capitals. Use sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Calibri or Segoe if possible, as they are easy to the eye.

8. If you wish, in the beginning of your talk, you may offer to email the slides to those who request them. This saves the audience the time and effort to write everything down. In return, you will gain their undivided attention, respect and gratitude.

9. Always stick to time.

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