I don’t know who needs to read this. But I’m just going to leave it here. You know who you are.
For the first time ever, we are globally working from home and globally learning how to use technology to our advantage. For people who are good with tech communication, we are feeling like we have come into our own. For people who have never done a teleconference in their lives, never mind a videoconference, and possibly never even Facetime with their grandkids, this is proving to be a massive learning curve. So today, I’m going to give you five easy tips to have an effective Zoom meeting.
By the way, I’m saying “Zoom” because it’s a common platform. This isn’t an endorsement and they aren’t paying me.
(Also, by the way, Zoom, call me.)
Tip number 1: Adjust your camera
Are you in frame?
This is step number one to a good zoom call. Put your face into the frame roughly at the top centre. We want to be able to see the top of your head.
Can we see your hands?
Ideally, we want to see your hands at the same time as your face. If we can’t, see if you can back up a bit from your camera.
Where is your camera located?
If your camera is too low, you’re going to look like you’re looming over your prey. Also it will give you a tiny head and massive hands.
Do we see up your nose?
Your camera is too low. Raise it up.
Do we see just your forehead?
Your camera is too high. Lower it.
Tip number 2: Manage your audio
Speak up and speak clearly. The microphone can only pick up what you say. If you mumble, the microphone can’t hear you. Also if you are too far away, the microphone can’t pick up what you’re saying clearly.
A pro tip here: learn to listen. If people suddenly start trying to talk over you, it might not be that they are trying to cut you off. It might be that they can’t hear you and they are trying to get your attention.
If you are in a room like a bathroom or a kitchen, or a large room with nothing to absorb sound, you are going to be heard through an echo. This makes it really hard to hear your message. Try to find a small room with a carpet.
Today’s videoconferencing and audioconferencing tools use something called “audio priority.” That means that only one person can be heard at a time. If you start speaking, the other speaker will be cut off and the camera will go to you as the priority. In person, it’s good manners to show you are listening by saying, yes, uh-huh, I see. But on a videoconference or teleconference, it switches the camera and video to you. It’s better to nod quietly than be an accidental audio and visual hog. (You can also change your view so you see all speakers at once.)
The best thing you can do if it is not your turn to speak is to use your mute button. You’ll be able to cough and say yes all you want.
Tip number 3: Minimize background noise
Do your meeting in a quiet room
Find a room that has minimal household traffic and set that up as your permanent zoom room. Stay in one place and don’t move around while you are on your call. Treat your conference call or your conference video exactly as you would a normal business meeting. If you wouldn’t take another call or suddenly start talking to Snuffles the Wonder Cat in the middle of a meeting at work, don’t do it at home. It might be cute once, but it gets very tired very fast when our whole lives have moved online.
Don’t create noise
If you have ever been on a call where someone has started typing, you know how loud it can be. Remember audio priority is going to give priority to the thing that is making the most noise. If that is you typing an email because you lost interest in the call, then that is going to be what gets heard by everyone.
On a personal note, I do all of my teleconferences using headphones, so if you vape, please know that your inhale creates a long, loud, high pitched scream that I get in my headphones. I can mute myself, but I can’t mute you, and audio priority means that unless I can break through that high pitched scream, you and I are going to go through that nicotine fix together. Except I’ll be deaf and filled with rage.
Let your family know you are on a call
Our families are having a tough time learning what it means to have us home all day. Normally when we are home, we are accessible and welcome their interruptions. But in the case of working from home and trying to have web-based videoconferences, it’s a real challenge to find the balance between work and family.
Tell your family when you are going to be on a call. Yes, we do want our spouses to help with the dishes and meal prep. No, we don’t want that to be the background of our calls.
If you’re feeling fancy, stick a sign on the door that says, “Call in progress.” Or some such thing. Either way, you’ll need to be clear about what your household noise levels need to be.
Tip number 4: Deal with your surroundings
Have a light in front of you
To make sure your face gets seen by having a light directed at it and not behind it. Think of sitting in front of a window and so you can get the best of natural lighting. If that’s not possible, try and find a lamp or a way to get light aimed from above and in front of you so it’s as natural and as comfortable as possible.
Pay attention to backlighting
If you sit with your back to a window, or with a brighter room visible behind you, your camera is going to struggle to keep you as the focus. Either turn your chair around so that bright light is now in front of you, or turn on a light in front of you so your face is now the brightest thing.
People in the background can be seen
So recently I did a very long web conference call that was going to start very early in the morning. My husband, who was laid off in the first round of lay offs, has become something of a late riser, so there was every chance that he was going to stroll past in the background while I was on camera. Sure enough, he did. Thankfully we had had the important talk the night before so he strolled past dressed “enough”. Just remember that people in the background can be seen even when they think they are invisible. (Also I have had the rather poor timing of removing my office door to repaint it so I can’t block out Mr. Nudie Man.)
We can all see your laundry
In addition to people being seen, stuff in the background can also be seen. Pick your background well. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but try and keep clutter and personal items out of the background. We’ve all seen those memes, right? Don’t be that person.
Tip number 5: Be present to the call
Focus on the topic
If you are texting or taking other calls or making dinner, are you really paying attention to the call? And even if you think you are, what about the people who are distracted by what you’re doing? Social distancing has had an impact on our cellular ability to understand what it means to sit still and pay attention to a meeting. It is definitely easier to remember to treat a board meeting like a board meeting when you’re not in PJs in your spare room, but for the sake of effectiveness, you’ll need to find a way to do exactly that. If you can’t focus on the call, turn off your video so we aren’t watching you be distracted. That’s distracting.
One of the best ways to stay engaged with the meeting is to take notes. You need to focus on what is being said in live time, so your brain will happily stay committed to its single task. And the best side effect of that is that you get notes after the call so you know what happened.
Watch your resting face
Oh your resting face. Yes. It can tell many stories without your conscious intention. I know you can see your face on the zoom call because, if you’re like most people, you’ve been staring at yourself for most of the call. But you need to mind your mind because your face is all that is visible on a call. Do yourself a favour and put a mirror on your desk as well. When your eyes wander from the camera, check yourself in the mirror, which should have a better resolution than your web cam. Is your face pleasant? If it’s not, rearrange it and make it look approachable again.
Whether you are zooming or webex-ing or whatever-ing, your ability to have a productive call will depend on your ability to be present and present-able. This is a new way of being for the next little while, so embrace the new technology and have fun with it.