5 Helpful Reminders for Productive and Professional Video Conferences

See yourself from the director's chair to avoid the most common blunders that undercut your professionalism on video conference calls.

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This article was written by Mitchell Terpstra, an Entrepreneur NEXT powered by Assemble expert. Do you want to future-proof your business with on-demand expertise? Entrepreneur NEXT has the expert solutions your business needs to succeed in an evolving market.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, many in the American workforce were getting used to video conferencing software like Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. The workplace has been becoming more virtual for decades, and leaders in all manner of industries have had to adapt to the new quirks and dynamics of that virtual world.

One of the most prominent and powerful of these digital technologies is video conferencing, which has brought distant workers together to foster more creativity and teamwork. But headaches have come along with new functionality.

Here are some helpful reminders to get the most out of video conferencing.

1. Set permissions ahead of time.

Video-conferencing software has come a long way. There are a variety of new functions that most major video conferencing services can perform, such as screen-sharing or creating breakout rooms for small group discussions. These functions, along with more basic abilities like enabling the video or audio of a participant, are typically reserved for the host of the video conferencing session.

As with anything, preparation is key; it's important to know which permissions you intend to extend to participants before the call begins. Services like Zoom now give organizers significant leeway to set these permissions when they first schedule the video conferencing event. Doing this work ahead of time helps to keep the video conference smooth and makes the organizer look prepared.

2. Keep the chaos to a minimum.

Anyone who has ever participated in a video conference has experienced the awkward problem of figuring out who should speak next. "You go ahead –" "No, you – " "It's OK, you – " are a constant chorus in many group calls. And as is true in in-person meetings, it's easy for the loudest and most assertive to dominate discussion, while the quieter participants struggle to engage. (This can exacerbate traditional racial and gender inequalities as well.)

There are several ways to get around this particular time-waster. First, there can be one participant in the call (typically the senior staff member) who moderates, choosing who will speak next whenever one participant finishes. Or you could use a "hands off" model where the person who spoke last nominates the next person to speak.

Finally, all major video conferencing tools include a text chat function. Participants in calls can indicate their desire to speak within the text chat while others are speaking, sometimes referred to as "keeping stack." The order in which those names appear in the chat can then be a guide to making sure everyone gets their chance to speak.

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3. Make the most of your background.

I'd love to tell you that every boss out there will, knowing that we're in an unprecedented crisis, choose to overlook your background as you participate in a video conference. But just as with how you dress, how your environment looks on a video conferencing call will inevitably influence how people see you—and this will only become more prevalent the longer we are stuck broadcasting from home.

As unfair as it may be, a disorganized and messy background will prejudice some people against you, leading them to assume that you must be similarly disorganized in your work habits. Don't give them the opportunity.

Opt for simplicity in your background when you can. The most basic option here is simply to position yourself in a chair in front of a blank wall. That may not be possible if you are using a desktop instead of a laptop, or if you don't have an appropriate corner in which to sit.

In that case, you should do what you can to minimize clutter and remove any potentially distracting items. If a simple background just isn't possible, a bookshelf can be an attractive option. (And, bonus, might make people think you're smart.)

4. When in doubt, go virtual.

The lazy person's way out of delicately curating a background is to instead broadcast with a virtual background. Tools like Skype and Zoom enable users to select from preselected background images or to upload a background image of their own. (Look in the video options of both pieces of software for this functionality.)

It should go without saying that the image you choose should be appropriate for a workplace setting. Simple is best; a busy image, including the preexisting options that are animated, may distract other people on the call unnecessarily and call attention to your background in precisely the way you wish to avoid. Attractive landscape imagery is a commonly chosen option, as are simple patterns such as a checkerboard pattern or stripes.

5. Close the gap by looking into your webcam.

It's a huge temptation. When you're speaking during a video conference, there's a powerful urge to stare at your own face on the screen. We all wonder how we look when we're speaking, and suffering from nerves or performance anxiety makes this impulse even harder to ignore.

The problem is that when we're looking at our own image, we're not looking into our webcam, and this can be a big mistake. Staring at your own image means your eyes appear downcast and unfocused, as if you aren't focusing on the matter at hand. Since most other participants are looking at your video during a conference, this can be a big problem.

Instead, train yourself to keep your eyes on your actual webcam when you're speaking. You'll appear to be looking each other participant in your eye, making you appear confident and forceful. While this may initially seem unnatural, a little bit of practice will make looking in your webcam feel like second nature. The outcome will be making a more professional and direct impression on everyone else on the call.

Bonus: Wear pants!

As tempting as it may be to broadcast with a blazer and tie up top and boxer shorts below, even the small risk of standing up at just the wrong time means it's just not a good idea.

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