We’re all Zooming now, aren’t we? Or Skyping. Or maybe you’re using an enterprise videoconferencing system while your whole company is working from home.
You know I’m eager to return to face-to-face communication. And, it doesn’t look like that’s happening soon. We should all get better at the virtual meetings that are (and may remain) the new normal.
Here’s how to enhance your online meetings.
Log in a few minutes early.
Showing up late online is as distracting—and rude—as it is in a conference room. We hear the ding when you “join the conference.” We hear you rustling around, getting ready. And we dread somebody repeating themselves to bring you up to speed.
Besides, you need that pre-meeting minute to set up your shot.
We’re not Hollywood producers; we don’t need to be. At the same time, people are used to watching professionally produced video. And consciously or not, they’re comparing us, logging in from home for a team meeting, to what they see on TV.
Follow a few basics to make sure you come across well.
Think landscape vs. portrait orientation.
Your laptop screen is all set for that. If you use your phone for a remote meeting, you’re better off to hold it sideways, so the image is wider than it is tall. First of all, that’s easier on our eyes and our brains because it’s what we’re used to from years of TV and movies.
It’s also more interesting. Our peripheral vision is mainly lateral—even if we were sitting across the conference table from you, we’d see more to your left and right than we would above you and below you. There’s not much value in watching the floor and ceiling.
Yes, Instagram has loosened things up some. Because it’s based on images from phones, more of what we see on Instagram is vertical. So, it’s less jarring than it used to be to watch a vertical video. Still, in a business meeting, odds are good that most people are looking at a horizontal screen. You’re better off to fit in with that than fight it.
Frame yourself well.
We don’t need to see the panorama of your room with you as a tiny figure in the middle—that would be shooting too wide. And you don’t want us counting your pores while a boring colleague is talking, so avoid the extreme close-up.
It irks us to see your head sitting on the bottom of the screen like a prop in a Halloween haunted house. On the other hand, we do want to see a little space over the top of your head. And I mean “a little.” Nobody wants to spend a meeting watching your ceiling fan whirring around.
Rule of thumb: Set your device and yourself for a Medium Close-up. That means we’re looking at your head and shoulders with the bottom of the image at mid-chest.
Then there’s the rule of three. Mentally divide your screen into three horizontal layers. If there were a line between the top and middle tiers, your eyes would be right on that line. So, your eyes are about two-thirds of the way up the screen.
Assuming your camera is at the top of your screen, have the screen straight so the camera is at eye level and pointed directly at you. If the screen is angled back, the camera points up. Then your chin becomes prominent instead of your eyes and you instantly lose some charisma. Plus, there’s the ceiling fan again.
Design your “set.”
Clear the space of anything you wouldn’t want colleagues or clients to see. That photo of you and your friends misbehaving at Mardi Gras? A book you wouldn’t proudly prop on your desk at the office? Set them out of camera-view, along with random clutter.
I’ve experimented with Zoom’s “virtual background.” You can set it so you appear to be talking from a grassy field or outer space or you can upload your own photo to create a customized background.
I thought the virtual green screen made my hair look like a helmet; for now, I’m sticking with clearing off my desk so when I’m on a video conference, I look exactly like a speaker in her office with work to do. You might want to play around with the backgrounds for yourself.
And then there’s the audio.
It’s easy to get preoccupied with the picture. It’s also a mistake. Research shows the audio portion of your videoconference is actually more important.
People will stick with a slightly blurry or grainy image if the sound is crisp and clear. Even a perfect picture will lose them if they’re hearing buzz or static or the audio cutting in and out.
Because audio quality matters so much, don’t do your Skyping with your laptop’s built-in microphone. It doesn’t do your voice justice, and it does pick up all the other noise in the room. It’s not in your best interest for your colleagues to hear your kids playing or your furnace kicking on or the construction noise outside your window.
You’re much better off with an external mic. Doesn’t have to be the costly equipment they use in a sound studio. A gaming headset that plugs right into your laptop will work. Or even the ear-buds-and-mic that came with your mobile phone.
No-audio is nice too.
Mute your mic when someone else is talking. The bigger your meeting is, the more important this becomes. I was in a virtual group the other day where half the people left their mics on all the time to let us in on their coughing and throat-clearing, chair-scraping and paper-rustling.
The noise is distracting. On some platforms, it creates visual clutter too, because the view automatically switches to the person who’s talking. Or blowing their nose. Or shushing their kids.
Give your meeting-mates a break and mute your mic until you have something to say.
Then, be concise and compelling.
This is important in every business conversation, but especially in phone and video meetings. You have precious seconds to engage your colleagues, capture their attention and keep it. Distractions are plentiful for people sitting in their own office or den or spare bedroom.
- When you have the virtual floor, make your point directly without hedging or minimizing what you say. (Skip “sort of” … “it could be” and “maybe.” Ditto for “little” … “just” and “only.”)
- Make sure you’re focused more on your audience than yourself. Tell them what they need to hear, not what you want to say.
- Be mindful of time. Even at our most eloquent, we can count on listeners staying with us for maybe a minute … if we’re lucky. Some experts give us 40 seconds!
- One good way to keep it snappy: avoid repeating yourself. Whatever you have to contribute, say it once. Say it well. And zip it.
What do you say now?
Are you feeling more prepared for your virtual meetings? Maybe you’ve already been part of a Skype snafu or a Google Hangout gone bad?
Post a comment below to tell us about it … or to add to the suggestions.