With Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Slack meetings now a part of our everyday lives, it’s more important than ever that we take this new method of video communication seriously. And since none of us grew up with FaceTime, here are 9 ways to do it better.

Lighting Matters

First of all, please stop showing up to meetings in the dark, or with half of your face lit. Your image is grainy and it looks like you just didn’t give the meeting much thought or effort.

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Pay attention to the light being reflected from your computer screen. Try not to look like one of doctor freeze’s victims. Blue is a pretty color but it does not look good on your face.

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How about this one? Have you had a meeting where someone is backlit and looks like they’re in the witness protection program?

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There’s a simple fix for this. Buy a light and shine it on your face. Specifically, consider buying a ring light that has adjustable color temperatures. It’s a little thing, but it’ll make the virtual disconnect just a little less jarring. At the very least, it’ll prove that you pay attention to the small details, and that’s never a bad thing.

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Angle your camera properly and center your head

Don’t be this guy, with a tiny little head at the bottom of the screen.

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And no one wants to look up your nose.

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If you’re using two monitors, make sure that you’re working on the one with the camera. Otherwise it appears that you aren’t paying attention or that you don’t even realize you’re on camera.

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If you join the meeting via mobile phone – try not to – but if you have to – find a way to mount your phone so that it’s stable. Hold still. If you’re moving your phone or walking around, it can be very distracting.

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Dress for the meeting

I get that people are at home and that dress codes have taken on less significance lately. I’m not saying you need to wear a shirt and tie or a fancy dress. In fact, I often wear plain solid T-shirts when I present. Let’s face it. Casual is in. That doesn’t mean showing up for a meeting looking like you just rolled out of bed or finished a workout is acceptable. Brush your hair (assuming you have hair to brush), shave (unless you’re a beard guy), put on a little makeup maybe, and think twice about that baseball hat. Yes, you’re at home, but you still need to appear professional.

Pay attention to how you sound

A nice microphone isn’t a bad investment, but it’s probably not something you really need. Just check with the person you’re talking to to confirm that you’re coming through clearly. You don’t want them struggling to understand you and “Zoom live subtitles” haven’t been invented yet. Oh my, that’s a really good idea. Someone please invent that.

While we’re on the topic of sound, you also have to consider background sound. If you have dogs that bark when the doorbell rings, consider a bark collar or put a sign on your doorbell to prevent people from ringing it. If you have kids at home, make sure they know when your calls are and ask them to do their best to be quiet. You can’t always prevent external sounds from happening, but that’s another reason to consider a fancy microphone.

I was conducting a meeting the other day when the trash pickup came and I assumed that everyone could hear the truck as clearly as I could. But when I asked, they said they couldn’t hear anything. It was because I had a mic only a few inches from my face and the gain turned all the way down. Something to consider.

Pay attention to your background

Tell me if you’ve ever done this. You’re in a Zoom meeting with another person or people and you’re listening to the speaker and you find yourself distracted by someone’s background.

Is that the whole Harry Potter library and a collection of horcruxes?

Why yes it is. Isn’t that distracting?

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Maybe there’s an open door behind you with people or pets walking by every once in a while. Also distracting.

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Here’s one that you may not have considered. You’re working from home for the first time in your career. You don’t have a home office so you’re using a bedroom. There’s a bed behind you as you’re talking to your boss or maybe even a client. Meanwhile, they feel very uncomfortable because you’ve basically invited them into your bedroom for a meeting.

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I’m being too picky you say? Maybe. But why take the chance? Find a simple, professional setting for your zoom meetings with no distractions. Do you really want the call to become about your environment or would you prefer the focus remain on the conversation?

And that leads us to virtual backgrounds. Personally, I kinda like them, if once again, they are professional and not too distracting. At my house, my desk is in the corner facing the the rest of the room so all I have behind me is a blank blue wall. That’s fine and all, but a little boring.

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So, I uploaded my dream house interior and use it as my background most of the time. Simple and professional.

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Of course, there’s the beach and outer space and other fun environments. For internal meetings, I think these are great. But unless you have that kind of relationship with your client, I recommend simple and professional.

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Meanwhile I’m over here not practicing what I preach. On this occasion, I put on a shirt that matched my wall and had a little fun with my team. So this isn’t a hard and fast rule and it definitely depends on your audience.

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One final note on backgrounds, if you’re feeling really clever, consider using your presentation deck as your background. In this example, I basically just moved the content of my PowerPoint to one side, exported the slides as images and uploaded them as virtual backgrounds.

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I then kept my Zoom preference tab open and simply moved from one virtual background to the next during my presentation. It’s a little extra work, but makes a heck of an impression based on the feedback I got.

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Make eye contact

When you’re talking, try to look into the camera. It’s weird. It’s definitely weird. You’ll be inclined to look at the other faces on your screen, but if you can make the effort to look into the camera instead, it’ll amplify your sincerity a notch or two.

Did you know that you can move Zoom attendees around in gallery view? Try moving the person you’re talking with to the top of your screen near your camera so that it appears more like you’re making eye contact with them.

And when you’re not the one talking, when you are the listener or the attendee, it’s very respectful to the speaker for you to leave your camera on so that he or she can see that you are engaged and listening. As someone who has presented virtual training to literally hundreds of people over the past few months, I can attest to this truth. When I can see my attendees faces, it makes me feel appreciated and respected.

Look, I get it. You’ll be tempted to turn off your camera so you can multi-task and get other work done while you listen in. But if you’re honest with yourself, truly honest, you know you’re not giving 100% of your attention to the speaker when you’re doing that. Consider that several months ago you would have probably had this meeting in person and you would have waited to look at your phone or check your email until after the meeting. That’s all I’m asking of you – no more than you would do if you were there in person.

“But wait,” you say. You’re not multi-tasking. You just don’t like the way you look. Doesn’t that send the message that you don’t care enough about the speaker to run a brush through your hair?

I know! I’m being picky. I’m being overly sensitive. But I’m not here to pull punches because you don’t know when you’re going to be in a meeting with someone who’s feelings are hurt because they are more sensitive to something like this than you may be.

Utilize your peers

Because virtual meetings allow us to be in many places in a day, anywhere in the world, consider bringing a special guest to your meetings. Maybe your manager could help you close a hard customer, or maybe there’s a specialist in your office that can help answer those tough questions that make you uncomfortable. While a six-legged meetings can be overwhelming or cost prohibitive in person, it’s nothing to ask an expert to help you out on a virtual call. Take advantage of that opportunity if it makes sense.

Use wired internet

You may not even realize it, but you can plug an Ethernet cable into most modems and wireless hubs. If your WiFi is even a little spotty, consider doing this to cut down on bad connectivity.

Have a clean desktop when you share your screen

This is similar to the background advice I just gave you. You don’t want the person you’re talking to distracted. That means not having a lot of files on your desktop or tabs on your browser or lots of windows open. Have your presentation ready to go so you’re not looking everywhere for it when you need it. Consider having a couple of monitors and designating one for Zoom screen shares.

I really wanted to come up with a tenth way to improve your virtual meeting etiquette and proficiency because my OCD doesn’t like ending with 9. Instead, I’m going to share this image of my setup so you can see my layout, including the monitors, mic and lighting setup.

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There ya go. You may be thinking that I’ve given way too much energy to this and maybe I have. But if the person or people you’re talking to have good camera placement, lighting and sound, there’s a chance that they’ll expect that of you too. So be prepared to impress.

Thanks for reading. – David McBee