The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many people sheltering in place and working from home, so there’s been an explosion of video conferencing, and that presents its own challenges for effective communication. I’ve been doing online training for about five years using various meeting apps so I’ve had some time to experience a few snags and learn from the hiccups. I’ll admit not all of us have the time, the talent or the budget to be techies or videographers. Sometimes there will be technical issues despite your best attempts to cover the bases. Sometimes you’ll have to compromise and make do with what you’ve got. But there are some basic things you can do to help your video meetings proceed as smoothly and effectively as possible.

First, I know it sounds obvious, but make sure you know how to operate the application you’re using for that meeting, be it GoToMeeting, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or whatever. Most apps are pretty user-friendly, but they all have their quirks, and you can waste valuable meeting time while you struggle to learn the app on the fly. That reflects poorly on your preparation. Open the app ahead of time, or even do a test run with a friend or colleague. Do you know how to sign in to the meeting? Check your sound-in and your sound-out. Do you know how to mute and un-mute yourself? Make sure your camera is activated. Do you know how to turn it off and on if necessary? You don’t need to be an expert but at least learn those basic functions. Consider using a headset rather than the built-in speakers on your device. When the built-in speakers are in close proximity to the built-in microphone you can get some very intrusive feedback and sound effects.

Having the sound delivered directly to your ears will eliminate that. Speaking of sound, while there are exceptions, it’s a good general practice, especially on formal group calls, to keep yourself muted until it’s your turn to speak. I can’t believe how many people, despite recent months of immersion in video interaction, still leave their mic active even when they’re just listening. Every time they cough, the kids yell or the dog barks, it not only disrupts the meeting, in some cases the app shifts the focus to their image even though they’re not the one speaking. So Jane has the floor but we’re looking at John. That’s disconcerting for the other participants. Test your lighting. If at all possible have yourself lit from the front. When the strongest lighting is behind you, your viewers will see only your silhouette and that’s uncomfortable. Avoid having bright lights in the frame behind you that shine directly into your viewers’ eyes.

Softer lighting in general will help disguise some of those folds and wrinkles, too. Be aware of the camera angle. It makes viewers uncomfortable to see your chin but not your eyes or to see the ceiling fan but only the top of your head. Position yourself and the device so the camera is slightly above your eye level. When the camera is much lower it looks like you’re looming over the viewers. One other thing, secure the camera so it’s not constantly falling over in the middle of the meeting. Remove potential sources of distraction in the background: unsightly clutter, scary artwork or items of a personal nature. You want your listeners to be focused on you and your message not staring at something in the background trying to figure out what it is. And no, we don’t want to see your charming cat waving its butt in our faces.

There are many other pointers that could have been included and I had to gloss over a lot of advice just to keep this video even close to five minutes. But hey, I’m not the guru of video chat and you probably have something valuable to add, so let’s hear from you. Help me fill in some of the gaps. What challenges have you encountered in the world of virtual meetings and how have you addressed them? I’ll bet you have some stories to tell and I’d love to hear them. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you in the next video.

COVID Communication Skills: Pointers for Video Meetings

The coronavirus pandemic has caused an explosion of video conferencing, and that presents its own challenges for effective communication. Here are some pointers, learned from painful experience, to help your video meetings proceed as smoothly and effectively as possible.