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Tips for successful video calls by Paul McGlone

Love it or hate it a reality of the coronavirus lockdown has been increased use of video calls and video conferencing for work and home.

Done well video calls improve on a telephone call, simply because they add back some of the visual communication we value when meeting in person, however done badly they can be cumbersome, uncomfortable for everyone, or even result in career-changing harm!

How do you make a successful video call, think back, who trained you and your colleagues for this? Nobody?

Even when we feel the coronavirus outbreak is behind us video calls will remain a more common part of business life, so it would be wise to invest some time in getting them right.

Here are some top tips for taking part in work-related video calls, extracted from the GSS Business Essentials training session.

Think

When you arrive for a conventional meeting your appearance is assessed by those you meet – fact! Often this assessment is subconscious, but it is scientifically proven that people make assumptions based on what they see. For example if you are smartly presented certain assumptions may be made and authority presumed. There is a reason most people immediately respect and listen to someone in a uniform, and hence a reason why some use their uniform when completing their jobs.

The psychology surrounding this is complex and can be used to improve all meetings and interactions – this is covered in more detail in for example sales training sessions.
Think now about your video call, of course how you are presented will be a consideration, but there is much more to think about than you would consider for a conventional meeting.

When you start a video call everyone else will be looking at more than just you, take a moment to think about the unique parts of a video call. Calls made from home let others see more than just you, so people in your meeting may make extra judgements about you based on how tidy your home is and how you decorate it. They will see what you chose to wear when not in your work ‘costume’ and they will gather new insight into your competency handling this technology. There are lots of new criteria which may affect opinions of you. It is wise to consider this and preset ourselves the way we want to, just as we all choose how we present ourselves at all other times.

Meeting type

There are many types of meeting, from formal client or supplier negotiations, through to more casual team updates, brainstorming sessions. or even personal calls. Recognise the type of meeting you are about to have and apply your normal social rules to all the other thoughts listed below with this meeting type in mind. Think about how the others in the meeting will be expecting you to interact with them. A video call between you and a colleague you know well should feel very different to a call with a client, boss or team.

Lighting

A first practical consideration that many get wrong is lighting. Whoever you are communicating with needs to see you, so you will need to have some light on your face. That means you can not position yourself with a window or light behind you because you will inevitably display as a silhouette.

Ideally, you want a large soft light source, so consider facing a window or positioning a lamp behind your camera so that you are gently lit without shadows. Check a video preview so you can see how clear you will look, it is equally important to ensure that you do not have too much light on you as this will flood the image so facial expressions will not be visible.

Good lighting will bring you closer to a conventional meeting.

Camera position

One of the most significant things you can do to increase the success of a video call is to ensure the camera is positioned well.
As most of us use a laptop, tablet or phone for video calls we are using the camera built into the device. Each of these devices are designed to primarily interact with our hands not our faces so work best when positioned at countertop level. This is not great for video calls as those you meet do not normally look at you from below.

For most situations, the camera is best placed at eye level and fixed in position so that it is pointing straight at you. If you are using a laptop or a tablet you may want to position your device on a shelf or stack of books. If you are using a phone you need to clamp the phone in a stand or wedge it somewhere secure. Nobody wants to see up your nose, see your double chins or see you uncomfortably leaning into the screen for the whole meeting as you fight to look ‘normal’ on screen.
Unless you are intentionally trying to project a casual carefree image position yourself for business calls with your head and shoulders filling the screen, think passport photo, when you are sitting comfortably. Nobody will want to see you too close to the camera or struggle to find you positioned off in the distance.

Sound

An additional common discomfort for yourself and others in a video call is poor sound quality. Echos and disrupted sound make calls difficult to follow especially when there are several people in the call.
The quick fix is however very simple – earphones.
The speakers and microphones on most devices perform poorly when used hands-free, so don’t use them if you want a professional call. Bluetooth earphones are ideal as they are discrete however wired one work well too.
When selecting your working area check for background noise. The rumble of traffic, loud clocks, wind chimes….should all be avoided if possible.
In large meetings where you are not expecting to speak you can mute your microphone, although I would advise against this unless you really can not make the call without background noise.

Background view

Here is the tip many miss. Unlike conventional meetings where assumptions about you can be built on how you look, video calls reveal more. Take a moment to check and set the view behind you. Ideally, the area behind you should be fairly clear and free from distractions. You do not need a blank wall, however, anything that may offend or that looks inappropriate for a professional meeting should be moved or covered. Do you want others in the meeting able to see your family photos in the background? You may be fine with that, but decide!

If you have a window or space behind you consider if others may walk past and disrupt the call. Pay particular attention to reflective surfaces such as mirrors or windows at night which may create strange reflections and show views you have not considered.
For most business meetings I would advise against simulated or virtual backgrounds, save these ‘toys’ for less formal calls.

Privacy

One thing about most normal meetings is that each party is aware of others around them so volumes can be regulated or sensitive subjects discussed when anyone not invited to the meeting is no longer in earshot.
A weakness of video calls is that we can not see who else is around or behind other peoples cameras, so to make calls comfortable and secure you need to help whoever is speaking by compensating for this.
If you are making a work call you can tell others around you first and ask them not to disturb you or the call. If someone walks into the room announce this in the call so that others know the conversation is temporarily no longer private.
Never video or record a meeting without permission from everyone in the meeting!

Clothing

So you have the stage set, the lighting and sound ready…what costume are you going to wear? On the whole I suggest that if running a call from home you do not go and put on a business suit, this is unlikely to be expected by other callers, but you should tidy your hair, put on some makeup, or shave if that is what you would normally do before you meet people.

Know the video tool

The host of the meeting will normally select the video application they will use to host the meeting. It is inevitable if speaking with many people you will use different applications for different meetings.
There are a few things you should do before the meeting to ensure you know enough about the application you will be using. First install the application on your device ahead of the meeting. This provides an opportunity for you to establish the basic controls.

Ensure you know how to mute your microphone and your video, and use the preview option to check how you will appear on the screen. You may be able to set the name that will be displayed and select other features that will make your call a success.

Concentrate and equip

The last extracts from the full training session are to concentrate and equip yourself for the meeting.
When alone in the room, particularly if you are less active in the meeting, do not slip into thinking you are watching TV. Everyone can see you, ALL THE TIME, so remain comfortable but self conscious. A video call is the wrong time to pick your nose, or start doing another task. Stay present in the meeting, follow the call, and engage as appropriate. Do not check your messages, read or reply to emails that come in during the call, start eating, or start some research on the web unless this is part of the meeting. You need to apply extra concentration.

I would suggest you equip yourself with a drink before you start the meeting, have any notes relevant to the meeting at hand, and make sure you have a pen and paper to make any notes.

A toilet break before the meeting starts, and the above tips considered should leave you ready to take part in a successful meeting, or at the very least it will not be you that let the side down!

I hope the above extracts are helpful for everyone. There are more and further help is available for those taking part in, arranging, or hosting video calls, and training available to help structure meetings to be short and effective for everyone. Contact me if you want to know more.

Paul McGlone

Paul@GroveShaw.co.uk     07779 888 500

image courtesy of www.freeconferencecall.com

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2018