A lot has changed since the initial publication of this article in April 2019. As many employees rapidly made the transition to full-time remote workers due to the coronavirus outbreak, video conferencing etiquette has become even more important to understand and execute. While much of the original advice still applies today, more tips have been added to help make your online meetings as effective, productive, and professional as possible in today’s rapidly evolving environment.
Manners Make Your Online Meeting More Productive
Virtual meetings are an invaluable tool for connecting with everyone from prospects and clients to coworkers and remote team members. With a simple conference call or the click of a link to an online meeting, you can carry out everything from sales calls to status updates with worldwide participants – and with the addition of video conferencing, it can feel as if you’re in the same room. But, have taken the time to consider your online business etiquette?
As anyone who’s ever participated in an online meeting or conference call knows, there are a few undeniable differences between face-to-face meetings and their audio or video equivalents. Video conferencing etiquette (and conference call etiquette for that matter too) are subtly different from normal business etiquette. Be aware of these differences – especially since online business meetings are becoming increasingly the norm these days. Using the tips below will help you avoid committing an unintentional faux pas in your next online meeting.
Preparing for Your Online Meeting
Whether in-person or virtual, meetings that don’t serve a clear purpose are a waste of time. Preparation on the part of both the call’s organizer and its attendees is the key to a successful online meeting.
If you’re the meeting organizer
Before the call, send a meeting request with an attached agenda to all attendees describing the purpose of the call, who will be attending, and any expectations for what needs to be achieved during the session. We have a variety of meeting agenda templates for you to choose from.
- If you require meeting participants to review materials prior to the meeting, provide them well in advance and clearly state your expectation.
- Let attendees know ahead of time if you need decisions to be made during the meeting so that they can prepare.
- Avoid human error by using a calendar integration to schedule your meeting. This ensures that the dial-in information and meeting link will be correctly provided to your attendees.
- Test your video conferencing platform by double-checking your audio and visual settings before launching your meeting. This will prevent time from being wasted on getting your technical house in order during the call.
It’s also a good idea to set roles before beginning the meeting. If you’re the host, you don’t have to also take notes, keep aware of the time, and run the Q&A. We know that the human brain isn’t designed for multitasking. In fact, when you’re doing more than one thing at a time, all you’re really doing is rapidly ping-ponging between the two tasks and this can lead to a loss of up to 40% of your productivity.
Trying to be both the leader and the note taker will slow down the conversation, as well as potentially cause you to miss important pieces of information. Instead, either assign someone else the responsibility of note-taking or use a conferencing service that can record the meeting and store t in the cloud for easy access. You can then share the recording with participants or play it back later to transcribe meeting minutes.
If you’re a meeting participant
There’s nothing worse than getting invited to a virtual meeting without any clue what it’s about or what questions may be asked of you.
- Review in advance any materials sent to you. Be proactive and ask ahead of time about expectations if the organizer hasn’t provided upfront information. You want to be as prepared as possible.
- If appropriate, offer to help pull together information for other attendees. This can be especially helpful if the organizer won’t have time to prepare adequately, and this also shows your initiative to your team leader.
- Always be ready for a video conference. Even if your meeting invite doesn’t specify that video conferencing will be used in the meeting, being camera-ready means you won’t be caught off guard if face-to-face is the preferred way to communicate.
- Optimize your setup for video conferencing. Clean up your desk, and turn your webcam on before your meeting to see your workspace appears in the background.
- Improve your lighting. Participating in a video conference from a dimly lit room makes it difficult for other participants to see you, and can compromise the fidelity of your video conferencing system’s display. Backlighting can be especially problematic. So try to use natural light from the front or side when possible. Overhead lighting works as well.
Once the session begins, keep your eyes on your webcam – not on yourself. It may not feel natural at first, but looking at your face on your computer screen while you’re speaking limits eye contact and reduces feelings of engagement among other participants.
9 Tips for Proper Meeting Protocol
Tip #1 Stick to a Schedule
No one enjoys sitting around on an empty conference line, listening to hold music and waiting for the host to show up. If you’re running an online meeting, start promptly out of respect for attendees’ time. When latecomers join, don’t repeat what you’ve already covered. Instead, catch them up later – after the call – rather than wasting the time of everyone who arrived on schedule. To avoid making participants late for other meetings or taking them away from other priorities, be conscious of your end time as well.
One of the best tools in your arsenal for staying on schedule is your agenda. Make sure you follow the timetable set out in advance. Your attendees are expecting this pace also. If they know the schedule you’re trying to stick to, they’ll be able to help you stay on track rather than wasting time figuring out what else to cover or interjecting with unrelated items.
Tip #2 Minimize Distractions
Distractions make a significant impact on a video conference. It’s tempting to think that just because you aren’t in the same room as your fellow attendees they won’t notice you scrolling through your phone or composing an email on another screen.
Distracted behavior hurts everyone, especially if distractions mean that the organizer has to go back and repeat information that’s already been shared. To reduce potential distractions and stay engaged:
- Turn off or silence your phone (if you aren’t using it to call in)
- If you’re calling in on your phone, do not work on other projects on your computer. Stay focused on the meeting.
- If you’re connecting on your computer, close down all other apps and browser windows to eliminate notifications.
- Avoid rustling papers, eating noisy foods or making other distracting noises in the background.
- Be careful not to interrupt others when they’re speaking. Though, this can admittedly be difficult if lags in audio responsiveness or video streaming make it unclear when other participants start and stop speaking. This is a significant reason to invest in a conferencing solution with the highest quality HD audio and video.
Another great tip: mute your mic when you aren’t speaking. We’ve all heard conference call horror stories about people who assumed they were on mute only to share private or unsavory information to an unintended audience.
Meeting manners don’t go away just because you aren’t physically present with the other participants. Put the golden rule to work here: do unto other online meeting attendees, as you would have them do in your meetings.
Tip #3 Start the Call Right
Meetings should always start with introductions. If you’re hosting the call, make sure everyone is properly announced so that all attendees are aware of who’s on the line. If people don’t know each other, a round of brief introductions that increases awareness of everyone’s roles and responsibilities can make the rest of the call go more smoothly.
Once introductions have been made, briefly remind participants why you’ve gathered. Include the reason for the meeting and any necessary objectives or outcomes. This is also a great time to go over any housekeeping items or ground rules for the call. This can include asking participants to shut down notifications, but it’s also a good idea to set expectations regarding questions. If you have a prepared presentation, for example, you may ask that attendees hold their questions until the end – rather than have a more informal discussion, where back-and-forth is appropriate.
Tip #4 Keep It Professional
Virtual meetings often feel less stressful than in-person meetings, which can make it feel tempting to relax, kick back and be more casual than you would around others in the same room. Even if participants can’t see you at home with your bare feet kicked up on your desk, your casual attitude will carry across in the sound and tone of your voice.
Whether you’re participating in an audio or video conference, maintain a professional posture and appearance. Dress the way you would as if you were meeting in person. Don’t assume that pants are optional on a video call. Fellow attendees may only be able to see you from the waist up until you unexpectedly need to stand up!
Tip #5 Protect Sensitive Information
If you are sharing your screen while presenting to the other meeting attendees, make sure that only intended content is seen. Before you launch a video conference, close unnecessary tabs from your browser window and other apps you’ve been working on. When sharing your full desktop, searching in the browser’s address bar could summon up potentially embarrassing auto-complete results. Launching a fresh browser window and preparing ahead of time will help keep sensitive or potentially embarrassing information confidential.
For extra control of what participants see during your presentation, choose the option to screen share only one screen or one app (i.e. only a Powerpoint presentation) instead of your full desktop. This way the focus is on you and your presentation, not on anything that will distract from your message.
Tip #6 Keep the Meeting Moving
While being respectful of everyone’s time is always a best practice, keep in mind that many workers are now juggling unanticipated childcare or other caregiving responsibilities on top of their usual workloads. The best thing you can do to support them as an organizer is to keep the meeting moving. First, limit meeting attendees to only those who are truly necessary. Just because you can have dozens of meeting attendees doesn’t mean that you should. Keeping the guest list limited to essential participants minimizes disruptions stemming from over-talking and can help keep the meeting’s agenda on track.
It’s also a good idea to encourage participants to use the chat and file transfer features in the video conference for side conversations or questions. This way, the main conversation can continue uninterrupted.
Tip #7 Plan an Effective Wrap-Up
At the end of the meeting, don’t just log off and move on with your day. Instead, end with a quick recap providing decisions made and actions agreed on. In addition, let everyone know what to expect next, such as:
- That you’ll send out meeting minutes and a link to the conference recording.
- You’ll follow up with answers to questions that you weren’t able to provide during the meeting.
- You’ll make arrangements for the next video chat follow-up.
And of course, thank everyone for their time. A successful online meeting requires active participation by every attendee. Show your appreciation for their efforts by saying thank you before closing down the line.
Tip #8 Prioritize Security
Rapid increases in demand for video conferencing services have revealed the unfortunate fact that some services aren’t as secure as assumed or required. When choosing a video conferencing company, make sure you do an apples-to-apples comparison of security features and prioritize which are right for your business needs.
Further, review the user-based features that allow added levels of protection such as meeting waiting rooms, dial-out capabilities, meeting locks to unauthorized attendees, password protection, and private recordings.
Tip #9 Give Some Grace
While the tips I’ve shared hopefully help transform what in the past were in-person meetings to successful online meetings, there’s one additional note I’d like to leave you with. And that’s to be patient with participants and allow some grace for any miscommunications that occur.
Video conferencing allows you to receive more of the physical cues that play a role in communication, but when you’re on an audio call, you’re essentially flying blind. As Drake Baer writes for Fast Company, “When people communicate face to face, there’s a whole bunch of information being transferred that isn’t even verbal. The way you hold your body shapes your confidence, your eye contact indicates whether you look careless, creepy, or cool.”
Because you’re only receiving part of the full communication process on a conference call or a virtual meeting without video, comments may be misconstrued. Without the full context of body language and facial expressions, the tone can be misinterpreted. Subsequently, if you leave an online meeting feeling less than positive about what was said, take some time to investigate more thoroughly. You may be able to resolve potential issues by remaining open to the possibility that signals were missed during the call. Suggest a video conference next time.
Putting it All Together
Online meetings and video conferences are an efficient means of communication and invaluable methods for bringing people together. But without preparation and processes intended to make them as effective as possible, they risk wasting participants’ time without actually achieving anything of value.
Follow these 9 video conference etiquette tips during your next meeting, and hold your team members to these same standards. By elevating your online meeting experience, you can ensure your next call runs smoothly and remains productive for everyone involved.