For us in Lac du Bonnet, it has been almost a year since the pandemic forced us to change the way we conduct business daily. Virtual meetings, something that we once protested with all our being, have become a significant part of our lives. They have become more than a trend, and even when the pandemic is over, the adoption of virtual meetings won’t be going away.
Many organizations enjoy virtual meetings as a way to communicate with clients and employees, board members and volunteers. In many ways, they have simplified our lives solely by eliminating the need to travel to a meeting destination or find a meeting location. Virtual meetings also offer more engagement than the beloved conference calls we had all adopted.
With that in mind, we would like to share some common tips to help you make your presence at virtual meetings more comfortable, more natural, and of course, more professional.
Virtual Meeting Tips for Choosing the Right Location
1. Work from a quiet, low-traffic room
Choose a space that is quiet and offers privacy. When you’re working from home, you’ll want to find a space that isn’t a high-traffic area for the rest of your family. It’s acceptable to have a random family member make a sudden guest appearance, but not acceptable to have them milling around in the background like extras on a movie set. At all costs, please avoid choosing the bathroom as your location, and if your perfect room is your bedroom, make sure that your bed isn’t in the background.
You don’t have to showcase an entire room; keep it simple with a 4′ x 4′ space that keeps the focus on you and eliminates distractions from creeping up behind you.
2. Use a neutral background
Avoid backgrounds that are overly busy or cluttered – and above all else, choose a neat and tidy background. Your background doesn’t have to be anything more than a neutral-coloured wall. Your background shouldn’t include your ceiling. If you don’t have a suitable background, you can create one by hanging a curtain or sheet behind you – just make sure it’s not all wrinkled.
3. Lighting is key
When setting up your meeting space, avoid having a window behind you unless you can close the blinds. The open window creates a backlight, which leads to a very bright background, and turns you into a silhouette. Another good tip is to avoid sitting directly below your light source, as this will create strong shadows. Instead, position your meeting space so you can sit facing the window, so the light shines on your face and illuminates you. A desk lamp set up behind your laptop will also work.
Virtual Meeting Tips for the Tech to use
1. Laptops, desktops and tripods
While smartphones and tablets are convenient for virtual meetings, using handheld devices creates a distracting video stream as your image shakes and waves around and holding your device makes it nearly impossible to take notes. Your laptop or desktop should be your go-to device when setting up meetings, but if this isn’t an option, invest in a tripod for your handheld device so that you can operate it hands-free.
2. Improve your sound with a microphone
The built-in microphones on our devices and laptops are really good for everyday use, but they’re not perfect. If you want your voice to be clearer, more intimate and conversational, invest in an external microphone to give your voice an extra boost.
3. Books, boxes and other boosters
The most common mistake in virtual meetings is the position of your device. People tend to put their laptops on their desk; after all, that’s where it goes. Doing this results in an awkwardly positioned camera angle, which most definitely allows us to see your ceiling and right up your nose. The trick is to use books, boxes, or other boosters to raise your laptop off the table until the camera is eye-level or slightly above eye-level. The camera angle will produce a more natural capture, as if you were sitting across the table from the others in the meeting.
Virtual Meeting Tips for Professionalism
1. Dress the part
We’ve all gotten used to going to work in our pyjamas, but I can’t imagine very many of us showing up at the office wearing them, so why would you wear them to a virtual meeting? When you are getting ready for a virtual meeting, dress the way you would if you were meeting in person. Although we have become relaxed, appearing too relaxed can send the wrong message to your audience.
2. Remove distractions and pay attention
Again, working how you would if you were meeting in person, turn off your phone, shut down any files that you won’t be needing during the meeting, close your email window and focus on the task at hand. One more great tip, especially if you will be sharing your screen with others during the meeting, is to turn off your notifications. You probably don’t need your boss, client or co-workers to receive these notifications too.
3. Leave Fido and Fluffy out of it
Virtual meetings derail quickly when a pet pops up on the screen. One second you’re giving your status report, and the next second, no one is listing because they are cooing over the cuteness that just entered the meeting. It happens all the time, which is probably why they don’t allow us to bring our pets to work; no one would get anything done. To avoid this interruption and help make it easier for participants to listen to you, don’t allow your pets into your meeting space. At the very least, ensure that they won’t be making a surprise appearance if they do enter the room.
Virtual Meeting Tips for Communicating
1. Arrive early
It is common practice for the host to open the meeting room 5 to 10 minutes ahead of the start time. Arriving early allows you to settle in, adjust your camera settings and backgrounds, test your audio and identify any technical problems. Arriving early also provides you with an opportunity to chat with everyone, just like you would in person. If you arrive late to a virtual meeting, do it quietly without interrupting the meeting’s flow. If required, the meeting’s moderator will announce your arrival when it is appropriate to do so.
2. Body language says a lot
Unless you are speaking, it is good practice to mute your microphone to avoid capturing unwanted background noise and disrupting the meeting. Unfortunately, doing this eliminates the usual minor banter that is communicated when your audience is engaged with what you are saying. When combined with an audience of people staring off-screen, it can make it appear as if you are talking to yourself.
To work past this and show that you are engaged in the meeting, be present in the meeting, stay focused on the screen, nod your head in agreement, smile when something wonderful or funny is said, be comfortable, but don’t be so comfortable that it appears you may fall asleep.
3. Knowing when to talk
Many of us have difficulty finding the moment to speak. It’s not that we don’t have things to say; we simply don’t want to interrupt someone else. Knowing when to talk gets increasingly difficult as the number of people in the meeting grows. If you are a meeting moderator, you can choose to call on people one at a time to contribute, ensuring that everyone is provided with the opportunity to share. As a participant, you can raise your hand and turn your microphone on to signal to the group that you would like to say something. You can also use the built-in chat features to share your information, ask questions, or let the moderator know you would like to contribute to the conversation.
Where do you look?
When we speak with people, we look them in the eye, and most of us have developed the habit of doing the same on the computer screen. While we feel like we are paying attention and looking people in the eye, we actually aren’t. When we are in virtual meetings, the key is to speak to the camera lens, which is easier said than done. If you want to improve your virtual meeting skills, practice this one until it becomes familiar to you. Mastering this skill will showcase your confidence and visually indicate that you are actively engaged in the meeting.