January 13, 2021

Are You Sending The Wrong Message On Video Meetings?

Conducting business virtually makes the importance of your visual impression critical to success. Regular use of video, however, can breed fatigue, leading to complacency and bad habits. It’s good practice to reassess periodically whether you (and your team) make optimal impressions over video, both meeting with internal teams and external contacts. If you (or others) notice any of the following bad video meeting habits creeping in, take a moment to consider their negative impact on audiences and better practices to follow instead.

1. Missing In Action

In the absence of meeting face to face, online meetings are a chance to engage and interact with colleagues. Whether or not you feel it’s necessary to be seen, if everyone else has their camera on, you should too. If your camera's off, people may assume you’re not paying attention or prepared. As a habit, being the person nobody ever sees can weaken your professional visibility.

Of course, there are situations where you should turn off the camera, like when in transit or speaking to someone else in your household. Briefly addressing your visual absence (in smaller groups) can show that you’re engaged and prioritizing attendance while balancing interruptions.

When you do have to turn off video, do colleagues see a plain circle with your initials or a generic icon? Look more personable by adding a professional looking headshot as your avatar.

2. Mismanaging Distractions

Working remotely is not always distraction-free, but that doesn’t excuse you from planning ahead to create as optimal an environment as possible. And, while you can't control for everything, you can manage how you react to disturbances -- especially when a camera is pointed at you.

For instance, it’s unprofessional (and potentially embarrassing) to be caught on a live mic sharing a private conversation or scolding someone off camera. Similarly, over-apologizing or making detailed excuses can draw unnecessary attention to an otherwise innocuous event.

If a problem arises, remain composed and excuse yourself to handle the situation. Use mute and disable video when needed. Note in the chat that you’ve stepped away briefly. This ensures that if someone asks you a question, they’re not left wondering if you’ll respond. Reengage as soon as possible; don’t dwell on the issue.

3. Multi-tasking

Everyone is busy and under pressure to fit everything in. However, video meetings require full attention and active listening. Attempts to multitask won’t go unnoticed (no matter how subtle you think you are) because of the close view of your face and eye contact. You may see yourself as productive by responding to emails, but others will see someone who's not paying attention and doesn't value their time (especially if they have to repeat themselves because you're distracted).

If you use two monitors, keep the video application open on the screen your camera is on (and make eye contact with the lens) so others don't feel like you're looking away from them. If taking notes or doing relevant research on a second screen, depending on meeting size, you might mention at the start why you need to look away frequently. (This is usually self-explanatory in person, but not so on video.)

Remember, you never know who is focused on you at any given moment and the camera amplifies facial expressions and body language. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing something in a face-to-face meeting, refrain from the activity in video meetings too.

4. Taking Casual Too Far

Working from home means you're in a casual, laid back environment, but it does not excuse how you should present yourself on video. While not always easy, maintain professional boundaries and avoid these common ‘casual’ties:

Opting for loungewear
Look in a mirror. Is this the impression you’d want to make when meeting your team or client in the office? If not, it’s not the right look for a video meeting either. Style and dress reflect your personal brand in both the physical and virtual workplaces. Whatever the usual expectations are for business attire at your company, stick to that as close as possible from your remote location as well. This shows you are just as focused, prepared and engaged as you would be in person.

Leaving your mic on when others speak
Microphones not only carry your voice, they pick up environmental noises too. Aside from the obvious ones (barking dogs, crying children, alarms etc.), things like keyboard typing, phone notifications and throat clearing can get amplified and distract others. Use mute when not speaking so that background noises don’t end up in the foreground.

Ongoing background blunders
While you already have an optimal home setup for video meetings, you may need to relocate from time to time. Before any video meeting, quickly check what's visible behind you (use video preview to see what’s in the frame) and remove anything distracting, ambiguous or otherwise unsuitable for work. People should focus on what you're saying, not what’s behind you. If you use a digital backdrop, keep it professional (like a solid color or branded company background).

Key Takeaways

Your virtual image IS your image when working remotely and small details can have a large impact. When you (or team members) regularly display bad habits during video meetings, they can create negative impressions that damage your reputation and credibility over time.

Aim to build good habits that convey the same professional image during video meetings that you convey face-to-face. This will ensure you put forth the best version of yourself -- and best represent your company -- when working virtually.

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