Zoom. Teams. Facebook Messaging. GoToMeeting. We have all been spending time talking to other people through monitors, headsets, USB microphones, and shared screens. And everyone has learned what works and what doesn’t.
This list assumes you should be on the call. If you have the option of not attending the call, and you don’t think you will actually contribute or learn anything new, then don’t go on the call.
People are acting more tolerant given the great increase in the virtual work experiment. The key to the preceding sentence is acting. If you do annoying things, people will talk and chat about it, or not, but they will be annoyed. Avoid annoying people by following these basic guidelines for the perfect video conference.
Ensure your video conferencing hardware works with your computer.
Configure your software to use the hardware you want to use.
Turn off apps that may steal CPU from the call.
Get a good headset.
Use a wired connection if possible.
Plug-in laptops to increase performance.
Design an agenda.
Share the content ahead of the meeting.
Wrap on time.
Use some visual means to manage the meeting.
Set good meeting practices.
Establish ground rules.
Schedule with time zones in mind.
Know your software.
Have a backup plan.
Test your audio and video configuration.
Know what other people will see on their screens.
Introduce yourself on audio calls.
Set cameras at eye level.
Talk to the camera.
Plan for good front lighting.
Pick a neutralish background.
Pick a quiet spot.
Avoid wearing clothing that creates a distracting pattern on the screen. Have a backup plan.
Share your video.
Know what is on your screen before you share your screen.
Know your software.
Wear appropriate clothing for the moment.
Don’t eat unless that’s the team’s plan.
Don’t you play with your kids or your pets during the formal parts of a meeting.
If you disconnect, just rejoin–don’t announce or apologize.
Mute when you aren’t talking.
Ensure your video conferencing hardware works with your computer. Mixing and matching older accessories and computers, in any combination, can cause issues with video and audio. If at all possible have the latest accessories with supported drivers available. If using an older computer, you may discover incompatibilities that produce uneven video conferencing experiences.
Configure your software to use the hardware you want to use. As soon as you have your hardware installed, go into the video conferencing apps you use and make sure that audio and video checks work. Select the camera, microphone, and audio out you intend to use.
Turn off apps that may steal CPU from the call. Unless you have a creator level computer outfitted with a fast CPU and a lot of memory, you will want to exit all applications that you won’t need during the call. That includes background operations like syncing music libraries or processing video.
Quality counts. Don’t show up streaming fuzzy video from an old laptop’s low-quality camera especially if you are in sales, and you want to impress potential customers–or in human resources holding remote interviews. Buy a new 1080p HD camera with good light sensitivity. And get a good microphone. I always have a Blue Yeti standing by. And figure out headphones as well. Even though the entertainment world is now accepting poor audio from earbuds, an external microphone will always be better. Make sure the system is configured so it separates in the inputs appropriately.
Get a good headset. Avoid speaker, headphone, and microphone issues with a well-integrated headset, either wired or Bluetooth. Check out the Serious Insights hardware reviews for options.
Use a wired connection if possible. Eliminate WiFi interruptions and increase speed by plugging into a wired connection if one is available.
Plug-in laptops to increase performance. Most power settings by default reduce a computer’s performance when on battery power to increase use time. Plugging in and setting the computer to maximum performance will make for a better video conferencing experience.
Design an agenda. Set expectations. Provide context so people can be prepared. If the agenda is a random catch up or a morale event, those still deserve an agenda. Establish start time, end time, and any other structured items. (See How to Design a Meeting for additional tips).
Share the content ahead of the meeting. Post links, send out attachments, use whatever protocol your team has adopted to get material out to attendees BEFORE the call. This is where video conferencing only solutions struggle against tools like Microsoft Teams with their completely integrated environments. Ideally, teams will agree not only to share information before meetings but to adopt a single repository as the ongoing location for the output of the team’s work.
Wrap on time. An agenda is a time commitment, a promise. Hold to it. If it looks like a meeting should run long, negotiate with the team to extend the time. Better, negotiate a new time to pick up the work so this meeting doesn’t cascade into a series of frustrating delays.
Use some visual means to manage the meeting. Using cards on boards, like those used in SCRUM or KANBAN, is great as they give teams not only the agenda but also a place to make assignments and take notes.
Set good meeting practices. Agree upon visual and verbal queues so team members can take turns without frustration.
Establish ground rules. Some guides suggest not holding side conversations or personal chats. But when working with teams of subteams, side conversations may be necessary to answer questions or provide reminders during a presentation. If this behavior is OK, then make sure all participants know that.
Schedule with time zones in mind. It may be almost impossible to get all teams together in a call that fits the time zones for all participants–but do try.
Know your software. Understand key elements like how to mute and unmute, how to set-up hardware, how to share a screen, and any other feature you may need. Take time to play with the software before you are in a live meeting situation. With so many people working from home, reach out to hold practice sessions.
Have a backup plan. Somes video conferences might not work for all. Plan ahead with dial-in numbers or other alternative ways for people to join. Share the alternatives in the appointment meeting notes so no one has to spend time explaining them during the meeting.
Test your audio and video configuration.
Know what other people will see on their screens. Clear out any clutter you don’t want people to see behind you.
Use headphones. If you work in an area with other people, use headphones. Your neighbors already hear you, they don’t need to hear the entire conversation.
Introduce yourself on audio calls. If on a conference call with no video, introduce yourself so people can match the voice with a name.
Pay attention. This one is really hard because you probably do it in a physical meeting. But try. don’t play with stuff or fiddle with your phone. Don’t catch up on other work. Be present and ready to participate.
Set cameras at eye level. You can see what you look like. If you are OK, and you are probably your worst critic, then it is probably OK for others.
Talk to the camera. Don’t look at the screen when you are talking. Talk to the camera. It’s really hard, but practice will get you there.
Plan for good front lighting. Set up lighting from the front using a light ring or other sources. Avoid backlighting, especially bright backlighting, that will make you look dark on the screen. Check for external light that will interfere with your lighting or the camera during the meeting. Use blinds when available.
Pick a neutralish background. Take time to design your background. Where the computer is doesn’t always equate to the best location for video. Teams and Zoom now support virtual backgrounds, so try those if you aren’t happy with what you kitchen looks like from the laptop.
Pick a quiet spot.
Avoid wearing clothing that creates a distracting pattern on the screen. You have seen moire patterns on the weather forecaster. Don’t make the same mistake. Avoid patterns on clothing or wear other accessories that will distract from the work. Unless its cosplay video day at work, then go for it.
Have a backup plan. Phone, tablet, dial-in number for a phone. There should be no excuse for not being on a call that you accepted. You don’t need to blame the hardware if you have considered alternatives before the call.
Share your video. Don’t be the blank screen with the initials. It’s just rude.
Know what is on your screen before you share your screen. Shopping. Vacation planning (we wish) and other content may not be the right tone for a meeting. Clear your desktop of anything that isn’t needed for the meeting, and pre-load any documents you want to share.
Know your software. This is a personal practice repeat of an item from above. Why? Because knowing your software is your responsibility. Period. Take the time to learn and play before a meeting.
Wear appropriate clothing for the moment. If you are presenting to a customer and you would wear a suit in a face-to-face meeting, then wear a suit (at least the top half of a suit). If you are on a team meeting and the usual vide is casual–don’t overdress just because you are on a video call.
Do you eat? Typically no. But if its a lunch meeting and the agenda calls for eating, then eat.
Do you play with your kids or your pets? Again, this depends. Some informal calls benefit from a hello from a child or a quick look at a dog and his cute bandana. But if you are trying to get work done, only include children or pets only in the informal part of the meeting.
Be early. Even if you aren’t the early one, get on the video conference a few minutes ahead of time to ensure everything is working—and that you are never the one everyone else is waiting for.
Connection issues? Just reconnect. Unless you were the one talking, then don’t say anything. Just come back in and keep moving on.
Mute when you aren’t talking especially if you are doing something that could even remotely be noisy, like typing.
The Ultimate Guide to Video Conferencing Mastery
A few other things to think about
This list focuses on how to have a great video conference. Not all meetings need to be great. Teams trying to stay connected may decide they want to just talk as they eat. Cameras will view them askance, there will be comings and goings, and you’ll see food in mouths up close. And that is all OK. If the people on the video conference buy into the premise, then all is good.
Apply these rules in formal situations. Use them when presenting to a customer, to a management status meeting, an engineering review, a prospective employee, or at a conference or other speaking opportunity.
Work is always a mix of formal and informal. Do lose the fun and spontaneity that can be had with colleagues by overthinking every single video conference. Just make sure you do spend time thinking about, and behaving well, during the video conferences that matter.
For hardware reviews from Serious Insights click here.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.