Video conferencing platforms have been active for a few years, but legal staff rarely needed to attend one nor know how to use them. Mid-March 2020, however, with the spread of COVID-19, work life as we knew it had changed. We quickly had to adapt to working remotely and interacting by video conference. By my fifth or sixth conference, I had seen enough to learn what not to do during video conferences. Here are five tips to help you be professional and presentable, and to show your best side during video conferencing:
- Hot Mic. Number one, and always number one—remember, even if you are on mute, consider yours a hot mic. Never say or do anything that would be construed as unprofessional lest you be heard or seen unintentionally. Politicians and news reporters learned this the hard way long ago—some losing their jobs, or worse, ruining their careers. At the time of this writing, (April 14, 2020), NASCAR, in fact, fired Kyle Larson for using a racial slur during a live streamed virtual race. Ironically, Larson’s mic malfunctioned temporarily and he used the slur when he responded to confirm that his mic was not working. Surprise! It works. You’re fired.
- Professional Appearance. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you should look as comfortable as you feel. If you are participating in a business meeting, especially if you’ll be an active participant looking for respect, and/or want to be taken seriously, then dress how you would if it were an in-person meeting, at least on top.
- Background. Now that I’ve attended several video conferences and seen participants with varying backgrounds, I’ve noticed that it’s easiest to focus on speakers whose backgrounds are simple and clean, and neat with no clutter. This is not to suggest that you should have an all-white background. If you find yourself in front of an all-white wall, add a simple plant or an art piece for a pop of color behind you. Some video conference platforms have built in backgrounds from which you can choose. Just be sure your background is appropriate for the type of meeting you’re attending.
- Show Your Best Side. When I first began participating in video conferences about five years ago, I was distracted by my self-perceived flaws so I would use the audio feature with the video off. But with the shelter-in-place mandate, video conferences became ‘the new normal,’ as did the expectation that one would show up on video. I assure you that no one is judging your appearance on video, (your background, maybe), but if you’re distracted by the way you look, you can do three things to improve how you appear on video: (a) Make sure you’re centered in the middle of the camera so that it’s pointing directly at your face rather than from below or above; (b) Have as much lighting on your face as possible, (natural or artificial); and (c) Maintain good posture throughout the conference.
- Avoid multi-tasking. Teachers have it worst, don’t they? Imagine looking out over your class to see all eyes down, students on their phones or paying attention to something else entirely. It’s insulting and distracting. When you’re on a video conference, show those in the meeting that you are present and attentive by maintaining eye contact with the camera. Avoid checking and responding to emails, text messages, and social media. Even if you’re muted and no one can hear you tap-tap-tapping at the keyboard, your eyes will tell it all. Finally, if you need to take notes, use pen and paper so you can continue to maintain good eye contact and reduce any noise distractions from typing.
Access the Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings 4/14/20 program at https://bit.ly/2A79q8L (Password: u2=n9489).
About the Author:
Erin Keller is a paralegal with Fink Family Law, a family law firm in Oakland, focused on strengthening families and resolving disputes.