Over the past two months, I have seen a deluge of articles about video conferences and online meetings: how to look good online, basic etiquette, and how to deal with technical issues. But few are addressing one of the basic communication issues that arise during these online meetings: that more than 70 per cent of communication is non-verbal. Non-verbal signals can be communicated through our facial expressions, our body language, and the tone of our voice.
Unfortunately, much of this is lost during a video conference.
I’ll give you an example. A friend recently complained to me that only being able to see someone from the chest up has limited her ability to “read” the other party. For instance, in a recent face-to-face negotiation, one man bounced his knee up and down if he saw something he didn’t like. Another tapped his fingers in a particular way. Very small gestures, but as soon as she saw them, she knew she had to change tack.
Even if we can’t see everything during an online meeting, we still can rely on facial expressions to ensure that the message we send is being received and understood. Right?
But, the problem isn’t with the video platforms. It’s with the way people use them.
How many of you have been on a video call with someone and all you’ve seen is the top of their heads? Or maybe, they aren’t looking at the camera at all?
Many have failed to realise that, for the foreseeable future, we will be conducting our professional life at a distance. But just because it is at a distance, doesn’t mean you can forego professionalism!
With that in mind, I’d like to share my own personal tips with you for your upcoming video calls.
- If you are going onto a new platform for the first time, check that you have the correct software. Some platforms require a separate app or a particular internet browser. If you are using a company computer, you might need to contact your IT department to install these. I’ve also had issues where clients couldn’t get onto my learning platform because of firewalls. Again, this is something that has to be sorted by the IT department.
- Always use a headset/headphones of some kind, even if your computer has a great microphone. The headphones don’t have to be fancy or expensive – I use the ones that came with my phone. One of the biggest reasons to use a headset is feedback. Often the microphone in the computer will pick up the sound coming out and broadcast it back to the others – which is very unpleasant. Also, when you speak without a microphone, it’s often distorted or sounds like you are shouting from a long way away.
- Be sure you have given your computer the appropriate permissions to be able to access your microphone and camera. If you can’t hear the speaker when everyone else can, chances are one of these permissions is missing. Again, the best thing to do is contact IT.
With the loss of face-to-face meetings, being able to see the other party in your conversation is so important. With this in mind, you need to think about where you put your device so you can be seen. This goes back to the idea of unspoken communication.
- Place the camera so that everyone can see your shoulders and head. My setup is really high-tech. I have a little board that I found (back of an Ikea bookcase maybe? who knows…) and I put it on top of my desk trays. Works perfectly. Before that, I had a stack of books that I kept next to my desk.
- If you are working from somewhere that doesn’t have a desk, try your best to balance the device so that everyone can see your face. I’ve been in meetings where the person was using their phone and placed it on the table facing up. All I could see was the ceiling, the top of their head, or sometimes the underside of their chin. Not exactly the professional image you want to project. It can also be distracting to others in the group. If finding a place to put your phone is a problem, there are mobile phone mounts available online for under €20. These little gizmos can make your life so much easier. If you really can’t get the camera at a decent angle, explain to everyone that you are going to turn off your video.
- If you are using multiple screens, look at the screen with the camera in it. It is very disconcerting to conduct a meeting where all you see is the side of someone’s face.
- Don’t put your computer or device facing strong light because no one will be able to see you – you will look like a giant, dark shadow. The best idea is to have the computer/device facing the center of the room or a wall. If you still look too dark, try putting a little lamp in front or above you.
Location and demeanour
- Be sure to find a quiet place to conduct your meeting. If this isn’t possible (kids, dogs, people upstairs doing construction), put yourself on mute until it is time for you to say something.
- Dress appropriately. I realise that most people are very casual when working from home. Even I’ve gone super casual – most days I wear a t-shirt and yoga pants. But when it’s time for me to meet with a client, I throw on a cardigan and a scarf, which makes me look much more professional. I guess what I’m saying is that even when you are working from home, occasionally you will need to wear something better than a sweatshirt.
- Sit up straight. I know I sound like an old schoolteacher here, but it’s true. I’ve heard multiple stories from friends and colleagues over the past couple of weeks about people slouched chairs or on the sofa while conducting what was supposed to be a professional meeting. So, sit up and keep a professional demeanour. Which brings me nicely to my last tip…
- Pay attention. If you are part of a video meeting where you are expected to participate, give it your undivided attention. That means no texting, or answering emails, or cruising around the internet. If you do have to leave or attend to an important phone call, do everyone a favour and close your mic and camera, then come back to the meeting when you are finished.
Treat a video meeting with the same respect that you would a face-to-face meeting. But also remember that without that personal contact, you might miss some of the unspoken communication. We need to be able to see you to get those non-verbal clues.
Do you have any tips I missed? I’d love to hear them!
What challenges are you facing at the moment? Are you having trouble with a skill? Or it’s a grammar point your struggling with? Send me a message here or on my website, http://www.marshallsayenglish.com and let me know. I’m sure others have that question, too!
Stay safe, and I’ll see you next week!
 To change tack means to try a different method to solve a problem.
 Disconcerting: feeling uncomfortable or worried.
 Demeanour: a way of looking and behaving