In the last decade, more and more people have been working from home, thanks to technology. Before the COVID-19 crisis, approximately 8+ million Americans, about 5.5% of our working population — worked from home, as per the 2018 U.S. Census report. And with the outbreak, more people had to get quickly used to work-from-home using video conferencing, and online communication has become more routine for a wide range of people and businesses. All types of meetings, starting from staff meetings to research discussions, and significant corporate events – have now all become virtual events.
It does not matter if you’ve been participating in virtual meetings for years or just started recently – video conference isn’t just another conference over video. It is an entirely new interactive experience. One which requires adapting your perspective, habits, and tactics to make it work effectively for you.
But conversation tactics that work well among collaborators in a conference room may not translate seamlessly to at-home office or living room quarters and a computer screen.
Based on organizational behavior study reported in the Harvard Business Review, when your presence is virtual, they recommend considering six high impact behavioral improvements:
#1) Focus on your camera, not your colleagues
We all know that direct eye contact is a vital way to reinforce your point. In a video conference, this means looking into the video camera, not at the different images of our colleagues. As humans, we’re trained to look at the people we’re talking to. Speaking into a camera lense is not natural or comfortable — but well trained entertainers and politicians do it everyday. Practice looking into your camera when you speak. The more you use it, the more comfortable you’ll become with it.
#2) Maintain a strong voice
Always use a louder-than-usual voice because, in addition to being audible, strong voices convey authority, credibility, and confidence. This concept is just as true in virtual conferences as it is in actual ones. So even though you’re using an external or internal microphone and thus may be tempted to speak at a conversational volume, maintain a strong, clear voice as if you’re in a large conference room.
#3) Frame yourself wisely
Adjust your camera from proper framing. In a video conference, your head and the top of your shoulders should dominate the screen. The farther away or more obscured you appear, and the less engaging you will appear. In the picture, if your head is cut off at the top or bottom, you’re too close to the camera.
Also, be mindful of your background. Find a nice spot where the background is simple, lighting is good, and reflecting your professionalism.
#4) Be present and mindful
In a conventional meeting, you are generally mindful and present. But in a video conference it’s easy to forget you’re still being watched.
You may be tempted to check your email or attend to other work, but multi-tasking is perilous because you don’t want to be caught unprepared if asked a sudden question. Don’t risk your reputation by not paying attention.
You can focus better if you close unnecessary windows, keep your phone at a distance, and remember that you’re always “on camera.”
Also, be mindful of how long and how often you speak, and if you are interrupting other people.
#5) Don’t become your own distraction
In a live meeting, you never have to worry about talking while muted, annoying ambient noise, or the interference of pets and children. But these are all common pitfalls of virtual meetings.
Start by training yourself to stay on mute whenever you’re not speaking and unmuting yourself only when you do speak. Staying on mute shuts out sudden noises as well as routine noises you may not be aware of, like the ticking of a wall clock, the clickety-clack of your typing, or even your own breathing.
Make sure to turn off your camera when you’re doing something visually distracting as well, such as moving to another room or eating.
Finally, if boisterous children (or pets) want to participate in your call, your colleagues will probably laugh or relate, so don’t be worried about or embarrassed by spontaneous distractions. However, if you’re tasked with giving a major presentation, try to have someone supervise them in another room, far from the temptation of your presence, or at least create an engrossing activity for them.
#6) Use the chat window as your partner
Consider the chat window as a presentational helper. When you refer to an article or shared document, link to it in the chat. If you run the meeting, put a link to the agenda in the chat. When others are speaking, respond with support or questions in the chat. The chat window is a unique opportunity in virtual meetings to elevate your presence, add dimensions to your ideas, and demonstrate that you’re fully present.