During this pandemic, I, like many of you, spend the majority of my days sitting in front of a computer screen attending virtual meetings via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype and other connectivity software.
At first, it was a bit comical to see my colleagues “Brady Bunch” style on my screen. However, the novelty has worn.
Throughout this time, I have found the behaviors of some of those participating in these virtual meetings distracting. As an example, for a solid hour, I had to stare up the nostrils of a colleague because she didn’t adjust her computer screen camera to frame herself correctly. To this day, I can’t get the sight of those nostrils out of my head.
My husband laughed when he told me he had just spent an entire virtual meeting looking at the top of the head of one of his colleagues, again because the colleague failed to adjust his screen.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled, “How to Elevate Your Presence in a Virtual Meeting,” Joel Schwartzberg offers the following recommendations to consider the next time you attend a meeting via videoconferencing.
Focus on your camera
Schwartzberg writes that during a video conference, be sure to look into the camera. Making direct eye contact with those to whom you are communicating is critical. I’ve written about its importance numerous times. While speaking into a cold, black circle on a computer screen may not feel natural or comfortable, looking into the camera will help to increase the impact of your message.
Maintain a strong voice
Even though you are speaking into a computer’s microphone, Schwartzberg said to be sure to maintain a strong, clear voice. He recommends speaking as if you’re in a large conference room. A strong voice conveys authority, credibility and confidence. He adds that using a “louder-than-normal conversational voice” will keep you from mumbling and speaking too quickly.
The further you are from your computer screen, the less engaging and more obscure you appear. You may also seem more aloof and less professional. Sit at eye level to the camera and try to position yourself so that you frame your head and shoulders.
Putting a camera too low can lead to unflattering angles, such as your nostrils. Placing the lens too high will leave people staring at the top of your head. Remember, looking into the camera lens is the equivalent of looking into the person’s eyes, so practice doing so until you’re comfortable.
Consider your background
Clutter in your background is distracting and may make you appear disorganized. Try to find an environment where the background is simple and reflects your professionalism.
I’ve noticed many news anchors and talk show hosts like to use their book cases as a background. Perhaps they want to send a nonverbal message that they are well-read.
Be present and mindful
Schwartzberg said that during conventional meetings, participants are usually mindful of their presence. However, during a video conference it may be easy to forget you’re still being watched. Don’t be tempted to check your email or attend to other work.
He adds even if you don’t need to be fully engaged in the meeting, your professional reputation can suffer if it even looks like you’re not paying attention. He suggests closing other windows you may have open on your computer, turning your cellphone upside down and remembering that you’re always “on camera.”
Don’t become a disruption
Consider staying on mute whenever you’re not speaking, and un-mute yourself only when you speak. This helps to shut out routine noises such as a barking dog, the sound you make while typing or even your own breathing.
Also, please make sure to turn off your camera when you’re doing something visually distracting such as eating or moving into another room. During a recent video conference, I was forced watch a colleague chew her lunch, which I will not easily forget.
Use the chat box window
If you have a question or comment to make while others are speaking, consider typing it in the “chat box.” This will help to avoid disruptions. Also, if you need to leave a meeting before its conclusion, use the “chat box” to excuse yourself instead of interrupting everyone to announce your departure.
Whether you’re a pro at virtual meetings or just starting, remember that a video conference isn’t just a conference over video, it’s still a business meeting. Make sure to maintain professionalism — even if you are sitting in your pajama bottoms.