For lunch meetings, there are nearby restaurants. For quick talking points over coffee, there’s your office Keurig or the coffee shop next-door. For everything else – every other type of meeting – there’s now video conferencing. The increase in work-from-home culture and the need for a more personal alternative to the standard phone call have made way for the perfect alternative: video-conferencing. Although some would see these conferences as an opportunity to be casual, it’s important to keep your professional image intact. The same reason you wouldn’t show up to your in-person business presentation wearing your pajamas might be the same reason you avoid turning on the webcam wearing a robe. To keep the other participants from gossiping about you in the private conference chat box, here are some human intelligence skills you should brush up on for your next on-camera business meeting.
Body Language & Posture
Smile, you’re on camera! Body language is the premiere way we send messages without using our words. And when you’re in a video conference, stripped of the ambiance created by in-person mannerisms, your body language is as important as ever. It’s a telltale sign of how engaged you are. For example, talking with your hands not only suggests passion and investment, but it also gives the impression that you’re confident about what you’re saying. And whether in present or future workplaces, confident people are more likely to become successful people.
Body language expert Terry Vaughan also suggests sharing emotion with the lens. Try being as human as possible to overcome the cyberspace that’s separating everyone on the call. Being as human as possible also means being a genuine version of yourself. You might need to practice talking to a camera lens, and if that’s too weird, start with a mirror. Anything you’ll be doing habitually, you should be practicing frequently.
Finally, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ve seen it happen before so here we are: Please remember to sit-up during all business video calls. Laying down on your couch, your bed or your floor is the very last way to appear skilled or serious. Your posture and positioning reveal everything about how seriously you’re taking the moment.
So you’re working from home. Fortunately, you avoided both the dreadful commute and having to put on all the bells and whistles to look presentable for your co-workers and clients. The good news? Jammies from the waist down is a safe bet. The bad news? You should probably hang up the mickey-mouse print bathrobe and brush your hair. Make the best judgement call in terms of what being professional looks like on camera. Afterall, you may not be physically at work or in the meeting, but some of your professional network still has to see you. Show them the respect they deserve by offering your most presentable self – even if it’s just for the hour. Then Mickey can make a grand return.
Also, make a point to choose the least distracting background to preserve everyone’s focus on what you’re saying and not what’s going on behind you. Flying Legos, flashing lights, and passing traffic are all good things to keep out of the frame. The same goes for sound. If you’re going to be running the dishwasher or have the world’s largest air-conditioning unit, consider muting the mic while you’re not speaking – or better yet turning loud objects off. Be mindful about not distracting other call participants with audio interferences.
No matter what you’ve heard, if you’re multitasking, you're likely not listening effectively. That said, multitasking is a big fat no-no on-camera. Video-conferencing is one of the easiest times to tell when someone has completely checked out. If you’re reading another document on your screen, checking yourself out in your webcam, or talking to someone else in the room with you, everyone can see you doing it! Shifty eyes tell it all. Work on listening actively and contributing to the conversation as you would if you and each participant were in real room together.
Here’s the bottom line about video conferencing, if you wouldn’t do it during an in-person meeting, don’t do it on the video call. Sit up straight, speak with enthusiasm, be yourself, minimize your browser, and listen actively for the length of the call. If you can handle that, I’m almost certain all side conversations by the Keurig and work-related messenger chats will steer clear of your name.