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Tips for better video conferences

woman on conference
Video conferencing: The new normal

Working from home has become a common reality, and it's likely to continue for the foreseeable future. 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 if you can. 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 and lighting. 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.

Try to avoid being backlit. It turns you into a silhouette and people can't see your face. Natural light is best, but if that’s not an option, bring a lamp close to you but behind the camera to light your face evenly.

Dressed for WFH success

Make sure you're dressed professionally—at least 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.

Dress rehearse

It's a good idea to test your video conferencing software and your microphone 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.

Give yourself a few extra minutes before the call to set up. 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.

Master the mute button

The mute button is your friend. It's good to mute your side of the call if you're not speaking, but check that your microphone is un-muted before delivering a two-minute monologue that no one will hear. Your microphone can pick up a lot of background noise, so muting allows others on the call to easily hear who's speaking.

Speaking cues

Unfortunately, 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.

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. And certainly don't look at your phone and don't eat. Try to look into the camera when you talk. 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.)

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.