Master the Art of The Video Conference

Posted by / August 19, 2016


We have entered a new dimension of conferencing, beyond that which was known before. It lies in the space between face-to-face meetings and audio conference calls, and it is a world where participants may feel and act as if they are present in two places at once. It is a realm we call… no, not the Twilight Zone—the Video Conference!

TV jokes aside, today’s gadgetry would no doubt have seemed like science fiction not long ago. It’s easy to take for granted how far we’ve come and how much our habits and behaviors have changed as a result of new technology, but the difference is easy to see. Could anyone in the 80s or 90s have imagined the computing technology we carry around in our pockets? Could anyone have foreseen the inevitable rise of Pokemon GO? Not likely.

But the digital age has done more than provide us with entertaining apps. In a few clicks, we can connect with anyone, anywhere, at any time. And that connectivity is a powerful force that is shaping the economy globally and locally.

The Need for Mastery

Video conferencing is one of the most powerful modern tools for individuals and organizations alike. But as with any new technology, there is an art to using it well. Just as there is a finesse to talking with strangers on the internet that few have managed to grasp (I’m looking at you, Youtube comment section), there is an art to having a successful video conference.

At Synergy CT, we believe in the power of AV technology, but we also believe that the best use of technology puts the human element first. When video conferencing goes poorly, sometimes the tech itself is the problem. But more often than not, video conferences fail because teams don’t follow some important steps.

So without further ado, let’s get started and look at the keys to video conference mastery!

1. Come prepared.

Nothing stifles an online meeting more than failing to prepare. You should know exactly what the agenda is, and participants should be able to review the agenda beforehand and prepare. This is one of the surest ways to improve meetings of every kind, but it’s especially applicable to video conferences where distractions are more pronounced and more effective at derailing the meeting’s flow. Writing down the goals of the meeting and even including any supporting materials with the agenda will help keep the meeting on track.

2. Stay focused.

Side conversations and multitasking are distracting enough in face to face meetings. They’re even more distracting during video conferences. Presenters need to be especially careful to stay on topic during a video call. It helps if there is an assigned leader of the meeting to keep everyone on task and to prevent any wild goose chases. Encourage participants to jot down short notes on anything outside of the scope of the meeting, and ask them to save those—and any emails or texts—for after.

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3. Get the technology right beforehand.

Test your video conferencing system out before the conference starts. If there’s a technical difficulty, you want to take care of it before so that the meeting can still start. Sometimes systems fail, but the worst failure is failing to prepare yourself. If you’re calling in via a video conferencing app like Webex or Starleaf, be sure you have any software you need installed and up to date. Many video conferencing systems allow you to join early, so take advantage of that when you can and meetings will start more smoothly.

4. Keep the environment professional

You may not be in the office, but your workplace should still be clean and distraction free. Take your room’s lighting into account. Some natural lighting is fine, but sunlight can be fickle—either causing unwanted glare or annoyingly disappearing and reappearing as clouds pass. Use artificial lighting when you can to create a more even light source, avoid glare, and ensure you show up clearly on the video feed. Whether you’re in an office or at home, it’s good to keep your desk and walls clear of any distracting decorations.

5. Dress appropriately.

Even if you’re calling in from home, keep your attire work-appropriate. That may be a given, but let’s be honest—the temptation to wear pjs is very, very real. Don’t do it! When you show up to a video conference looking like you just rolled out of bed, it’s hard to keep the tone of the meeting professional. It’s also a good idea to avoid wearing busy patterns, some of which don’t show up well on camera or else are distracting to the eye. Try and stick to solid, neutral colors—not too bright, not too dark—and your fellow video conferencers will thank you (maybe not aloud, but trust me, they’ll be thankful).

6. Don’t shout.

SEE HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO FOCUS ON WHAT THIS SENTENCE ACTUALLY SAYS? Well, having to raise your voice in a video conference is a lot like when your dad or grandma or any tech-challenged person in your life types full sentences with caps lock. Big communication problem, easy fix. If you have to raise your voice to be heard, adjust your mic gain until you can speak at a normal volume. No one wants to be shouted at, and raising your voice will only tire you out and add unnecessary stress. Keep any disagreements polite and settle them outside of the meeting unless it’s absolutely necessary.

7. Look into the camera.

As far as video conferencing is able to emulate in person meetings, creating the illusion of eye contact remains a challenge. The problem isn’t the user’s fault—at least, not entirely. When you join a video conference on your laptop, the camera is only a couple feet away from your face. Worst of all, it’s positioned nowhere near the eyes of the people you’re meeting with on screen. But in that scenario, you can move the camera back a bit and look slightly more towards the lens and achieve a pretty close approximation to the real deal. A small adjustment goes a long way!

8. Avoid double-talk.

Double-talk, the phenomenon of repeatedly and unintentionally talking over one another, can cripple a video conference. To avoid it, wait a moment longer than you normally would for responses after you speak, and only talk when there is a clear pause after others speak. This is another instance where having a meeting leader or organizer take the reins can help keep the call running smoothly.

9. Keep meetings concise.

A common mistake in planning meetings is trying to do too much at once. No one meeting can cover everything, and the longer the meeting the more difficult it is for everyone to stay focused. To keep video conferences concise, try breaking up the agenda into more manageable chunks. Instead of holding one big meeting, you can delegate those chunks to the team members who can most effectively handle them. A series of shorter, more concise video conferences with fewer participants is more effective than one mega-meeting with a bloated agenda.

10. Summarize meetings and clearly define next steps.

The real value of any meeting, video conferencing or otherwise, is in the actions that follow from it. If those next steps aren’t clear to some participants, define them before the conference ends! It’s a good idea for leaders to follow up after the meeting with a short email summary. A fruitless meeting is frustrating for everyone, and everyone feels their time is better spent in meetings when there’s more emphasis on the follow-through.

Deliberate Practice: The Ultimate Key to Mastery

The art of the effective video conference is not entirely new, but it still has its inherent difficulties. Much like the art of conversation, effective video meetings depend on a code of etiquette and a particular set of skills that anyone can achieve. The key is to actively seek those new skills.

With any art, success arises from the act of consistent, deliberate practice. So next time you have a video conference call, keep these tips in mind. The more often you put them into action, the more you’ll see your video-enabled meetings improve!

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful! Let me know what you think in the comments, and as always—thanks for reading.

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