If you’re like the rest of the business world, overnight, you found your calendar filled with video conference calls. The nature of the COVID-19 crisis has many of us working from home. While the long-term impacts of the coronavirus are unknown, I’m confident that the increased usage of video conference tools will be with us for a long time.
Whether you’re hosting a video conference call or participating in one, these seven tips will help you have efficient and productive online sessions.
1. Connect to the Meeting Early
It’s crucial that all meetings start on time, in person, or online. Starting a meeting late is disrespectful to the attendees that showed up on time. And consistently missing start times will erode trust on a team.
The first agenda item I place on any meeting is “Arrival Time,” and it begins ten minutes before the official start of the session. This need is particularly critical for meetings that involve technology.
If you’re hosting or participating in a video conference call, plan on connecting ten minutes before the meeting begins. This time will also allow for any software downloads and updates for the chosen video conference software.
2. Connect Your Audio Via Phone
Most online video conference tools provide two options for connecting your audio: through the computer audio or by dialing-in on a phone line. While the first option is easier and quicker to connect to your meeting, the second option provides more stability and flexibility.
By having your phone serve as the audio connection for the meeting, you’ll gain a significant level of stability. When something goes wrong with your computer or the Internet connection (and trust me, it will happen eventually), the audio link to the meeting on your phone will remain uninterrupted.
Moving the audio to your phone will also reduce the bandwidth (speed) required from your internet connection. The audio portion of the video conference call takes up as much (if not more) bandwidth than the video. So, if someone in your house suddenly starts streaming “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” it’s less likely to interrupt your conference call.
Additionally, I like the flexibility of knowing that I can get up and move around during the call. I’m not stuck in front of the computer. If the doorbell rings, I’m free to walk away from my computer, with the audio of the call still being served to my phone’s Bluetooth earpiece.
3. Participants Should Use Video Whenever Possible
One of the challenges of not meeting in person is that you lose the valuable non-verbal cues from team members. In 1971, Dr. Albert Mehrabian published data that reported up to 93 percent of communication is non-verbal. While video conference calls can’t replace attending a meeting in person, it certainly helps in many ways.
When participants are on video, they are less likely to get distracted. Simply being on a phone call makes it too easy to hit mute and then start surfing the web or responding to emails. With video, a meeting leader can see if people are engaged in the topic. If not, that can be an important signal that the meeting needs redirection.
Additionally, the video stream provides a human connection. People are more likely to be accommodating and friendly when they see the faces of their team members. Working alone in a home office can be a lonely experience. Having a personal connection through video can help ease the pain of isolation.
If you’re hosting a video conference call and you see a participant turn off their video stream, you should enquire if they are having any issues. Sometimes it’s a sign that they’re distracted.
4. By Default, Mute Your Audio
Even with just a few people on a video conference call, it’s best to keep your line muted until you talk. The background noise from your air conditioner or the neighbor mowing their lawn can distract from the meeting.
Since you’re on a video call, consider replacing short verbal confirmations, like “yes” and “no,” with gestures. I like to give a thumbs-up instead of voicing agreement to an idea. If I really like the idea, it may get two thumbs-ups.
If you’re the host of a video conference call, consider ways to leverage the video. Above I mentioned one example of giving a thumbs-up versus verbal confirmation. Another way to leverage gestures is to encourage participants to raise their hands if they want to share or have questions.
5. Lights, Camera, Action!
What good is a video stream if your fellow attendees can’t see you? Take the time to optimize your home location for lighting. Ideally, the primary light source is coming from in front of your monitor but slightly offset to one side.
Intense overhead light may cause your face to be in the shadows. And the sunlight through windows can also be tricky. Window blinds may cast uneven shadows on your face. And, the time of day may dramatically change the light levels in your office.
Consider investing in a desk lamp that provides a soft, natural light on your face. If the bulb is too intense, consider a lower wattage, or bouncing the light off a wall.
6. Leverage the Technology
Most video conference tools incorporate a chat tool. Leveraging this tool has advantages over in-person meetings. A perfect example of how to use it is during brainstorming. If you’re asking the team to identify possible venues for a launch event, give the participants three minutes to come up with ideas and then send them to you via chat. You can copy and paste their responses into a local document that you share on the screen.
Many virtual video conference tools also have a whiteboard feature that allows multiple users to view and annotate on-screen which is shared live. Learn how to leverage the technology of your video conference tools.
7. Stay Focused
The final tip is probably the hardest. Stay fully engaged in the video conference call. It’s a proven fact that the human mind cannot multitask. So, the biggest challenge of working from home is the myriad of distractions that can undermine your attention.
The ideal location for your computer is a room that has a door for privacy. If other people are at home during your video conference call, let them know that a closed-door means you need privacy. A closed-door office will also prevent your pet from photo-bombing the video call. It might be cute to have Mr. Fluffy crawling behind you, but it’s a distraction for you and the other attendees.
Turn off other nearby technology. While you may think it’s nice to have a TV playing in the background, it will distract you. Additional technology to disable is email and chat applications. You don’t need to check messages while you’re focused on the meeting. And finally, if the temptation to surf the web during your session is too strong, quit your browser application.
Remove physical distractions from your desk. If that pile of mail or your iPad will distract you, move it to another location for the call.
Even though you’re working from home, you’re still “working.” So stay focused on the task at hand.
Conclusion – 7 Tips for Better Video Conference Calls
Video conference calls are now a regular part of the meeting ecosystem. Implement the following seven tips to create more productive and efficient video conference calls:
- Connect to the Meeting Early
- Connect Your Audio Via Phone
- Participants Should Use Video Whenever Possible
- By Default, Mute Your Audio
- Lights, Camera, Action!
- Leverage the Technology
- Stay Focused
For additional tips on creating and leading effective meetings, see “5 Tools to Improve Any Meeting.”
If you have any comments or questions about these video conference tips, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rob Simons is a coach, facilitator, and storyteller – a unique fusion of skills that makes him uniquely equipped to coach entrepreneurs and business leaders to scale organizations. Using the Rockefeller Habits as his foundation, Rob has successfully trained hundreds of clients to build a culture of purpose, alignment, and accountability in organizations across a variety of industries. Contact Rob at email@example.com or 210-845-2782.