WH: Participating in a video conference

Oh technology, how I love thee — but the video conference is one that I love to hate. Not because it isn’t a great tool, especially in the days of Covid-19, we can do more than ever before remotely. It enables people to work from home, collaborate and share ideas. At it’s best it also helps carbon emissions, reduces unnecessary travel (planes, trains, automobiles) and bloated expense accounts for meals and lodging… However, on the worst of days, it is a huge waste of time, distraction-filled and unproductive. A lot of that has to do with the presenter of the conference, which will be a topic for another day.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to be effective at participating in a video conference. After literally thousands of hours on both ends of a conference call, here are some lessons learned.

  1. Dress for the call – this isn’t a time to show off the joys of working from home, but to show that you’re still “showing up for work” and actually earning your keep.
  2. Join the call 10 minutes early – especially if this is your first conference with that specific person. If it’s new technology to you (Zoom, WebEx, etc) then plan perhaps even more time, 15 minutes or whatever. Don’t wait until the last moment.
  3. Check your background and lighting – unless you’re in witness protection, you want to be seen in a video call, that is the whole point. Make sure you have a plain background, usually a white wall. And then enough lighting to see your face. You need more light coming at you than behind you. Also, some apps like Zoom let you either blur out the background, or replace it with some sort of stock photo. Those are all great ideas. Because someone is going to zoom in and check out your home — ooh, they’re messier, cleaner, crazier.
  4. Announce yourself when you join the call – unless your specific room has a different etiquette. Out of the gate, it’s better to announce yourself than not to.
  5. Mute your microphone/phone – start off with mute, especially if it isn’t a free for all discussion. Beyond the auto distraction of background noise, some conference systems will automatically switch the video to whoever starts making a sound. So if your cell phone starts ringing in the middle of the call, all of a sudden, you’re the big-screen video, and everybody knows it was you. Oop! Mute the auto (mic, phone, etc)…
  6. Turn off all other audio distractions – More important if you’re the presenter, but do put your cell phones to silent, turn off your computer notifications, etc. Also, I will close my email application (Outlook, Gmail, etc) on my desktop/laptop altogether.