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Video call-etiquette: Tips for better video conferences

Video conferencing: The new normal
Working from home has become a common reality, and it's likely to be a normal way many of us do business from now on. Enter the video conference—the virtual meeting room where we can still have live, face-to-face collaboration. Now is a great time to take your video conferencing skills from 0 to 11. At First Tech, we've got some tips on how to makeover your video calls and be the envy of every meeting.

Create your studio
The most important part of a video call is the audio. It's best to find a quiet, private space. Use headphones or a headset to take the call. Using your computer's speaker and microphone can make you sound like you're echoing. Not using a headset can also let in a lot of background noise.

Set up your camera so it has a clear view of you. It's best to keep your camera at eye level so that when you're looking at the screen it appears as if you're looking at the people on the call.

Check your background — use your camera before joining the call to see what it sees. Is there anything you don't want others to see in your frame? Move the camera or remove items. If you use Zoom, you can use one of their virtual backgrounds or create your own for fun or to hide clutter.

Get the light right — try to avoid being backlit. It turns you into a silhouette and people can't see your face. To light your face, natural light is best, but if your quiet studio doesn’t have a good natural light source, bring a lamp close to you but behind the camera to light your face evenly.

Dressed for WFH success
Make sure you're well-coiffed and dressed for success above the waist. It's best to avoid patterns or stripes which may be distracting on camera. Wearing a bright white or black shirt may cause your camera to auto-adjust the brightness and make it hard to see your face, so wear a less extreme color. It also doesn’t hurt to have good posture.

If you can keep your lower body out of the camera, wear sweatpants, shorts or whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident. Live your best life.

Quiet on set!
Many of us live with others: partners, children, roommates, and pets. It’s good to let others know you're starting a call and shouldn't be interrupted. If you can't get too far away from them, ask them to keep the noise to a minimum. Remember, using headphones will help your audio immensely.

Dress rehearse
It's a good idea to test your video conferencing software before the call, especially if you've never used it before. Also, make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection and that your device is either plugged in or fully charged.

Test your microphone before you video call, especially if it's an important meeting. Test it by video conferencing your colleague. Nothing is worse than trying to share something critical, and not being able to communicate clearly because your audio clarity and volume are poor.

Give yourself a few extra minutes before the call to set up and if possible, log onto the call a little early, especially if you're unfamiliar with the software that your host is using. Once the call has started, check to see if everyone can hear and see each other. A good way to do this is by having everyone either check in or introduce themselves.

Start time secrets
Many people are scheduling video conferences on the hour. Often the applications can get overloaded, causing meetings to lag or crash. Consider starting your video call 2 minutes before or after the hour. This will put you in a much smaller window of meetings that are starting at the same time, and more likely to stream with fewer issues.

Master the mute button
Be aware of your video and audio settings. Check if your microphone is muted before delivering a two-minute monologue that no one will hear.

However, the mute button is your friend—it's good to mute your side of the call if you're not speaking. Your microphone can pick up a lot of background noise, so muting allows others on the call to easily hear who's speaking. Also, if you need to get up or move around or do something else during the call (or if your toddler suddenly makes an appearance), it's a good idea to switch off your video to avoid causing any distractions.

Raise your hand
During in-person meetings, you can pick up on visual cues to help find the right time to speak. It's a lot easier to accidentally interrupt on a video call. Wait for a few moments of silence before speaking up in case there's a sound delay.

If your company or team is going to have regular online meetings, it's a good idea to decide on a system for asking questions, such as raising your hand or using chat to ask a question. If you're running the meeting, it's also helpful to call on people by name.

Speak clearly and watch how fast you speak (and don't forget to unmute yourself!). But speak at your normal volume — there's no need to shout, and if you do, your co-workers may lower their volume and then miss something else.

If you're in a large meeting or a Q&A, use your app's text chat feature to let people ask questions without speaking on top of each other. The meeting leader can then read the questions one at a time, keeping the chatter and confusion to a minimum.

Screen share advice
If you do need to share your screen during a video call, take a few seconds to prepare before you hit that share button. Clear your desktop of any extra tabs or programs you may have open and make sure any private or sensitive information is hidden.

Stay focused 
Be attentive and engaged during the call. As tempting as it is, try not to do any other work or read articles or send emails. (Don't look at your phone and don't eat!) Try to look into the camera when you talk. If you look at yourself or others on your screen, it may look like you're looking at something else. When you're not talking, make sure you're paying attention to whoever's speaking or sharing their screen and that you're looking at any materials you may need to reference. (Again, others can see where you're looking.)

If there's a pause in the conversation because, for instance, you need to pull up an email or reference a document, make sure to communicate that. Delays or long stretches of silence might make it seem like you've lost connection, so this just keeps everyone on the same page.

Keep in mind that you're more visible on video calls than in offline meetings, since you get to see close-ups of everyone's face individually instead of a whole group of people at once. It's often helpful to keep your own face visible on-screen, just as a reminder that you're on camera, and so you can see what others are seeing.

It's important to remember that video conferences are essentially in-person interactions that allow businesses to communicate more effectively.

Welcome to pro level
Once you have your setup, you're good to remote into any meeting without needing to spend much effort at all. Business now and into the future won't be business as usual. Get ahead and win!