Multimedia Reporter

The world is on lockdown. But while stay-at-home directives are in place, work must continue, bringing rise to the necessity of conference calls. Overnight, video calling went from infrequent, emergency measure, to the daily driver of corporate communications.

Successful video conferencing is a combination of etiquette, discipline, and good will. Here are tips on how you can transition smoothly from face-to-face to virtual calls:

Choose a software

The most popular video conferencing solution today is Zoom, but there are a lot of other mainstream choices as well: like Cisco Webex, Skype, and Google Hangouts. Each has their pros and cons, with a combination of free and premium options. So download the apps or desktop clients and find the one that fits your firm’s needs best.

Test the software

Check if your equipment is working. Get a feel of the software even before your meeting. Don’t be the person who disrupts a presentation because your dog starts barking and you don’t know how to mute your microphone. Utilize Zoom’s test feature. WebEx has a Personal Room that can also be used for testing. In Skype, click your profile picture and then select Settings > Audio & Video Settings. There should be a camera preview under the Video section. You can also look for Sound Test Service in your Skype contacts to test audio quality.

Minimize bandwidth use of others

Poor bandwidth equals pixelated screens and choppy audio. If you’re expecting a video call, make sure the smart devices in your home aren’t hogging the connection. If you have a family member bingeing on Netflix, you might want to invite them to take a break.

Mind your surroundings

Avoid harsh, direct light and make sure that the light source is in front of and not behind you to avoid plunging your face into a shadow.

PCMag’s lead camera analyst Jim Fisher stresses that “Soft fill on your face is all that matters.” Choose a neutral backdrop or at least avoid one that is too distracting.

Ensure your face is zoomed in close enough so everyone can read your facial expressions. Keep the web camera within your line of sight.

If you’re the organizer, be clear from the start that videos will be on during the meeting so participants have ample time to prepare.

Avoid audio feedback

Close the door if you’re near a noisy street. Inform your family about your scheduled calls so they know when to turn the volume of the TV down. Use equipment such as a bluetooth headset or gaming headphones if available. And avoid rooms with high ceilings or other features that create too much echo.

Inform everyone of the agenda

Video conferences with at least a loose agenda and schedule are better because they keep things more efficient. People come in prepared with their insights, questions, and suggestions. Plus, it allows for more regimented turn-taking and thus reduces the possibility of people talking over each other.

Engage your audience

If you’re set to make a presentation during the call, create audience engagement by changing the pace and tone of your voice. Emphasize key words and use pauses for effect, advises Adrian Dearnell, a contributor and former business and finance TV anchorman.

He also advises using simple and easy-to-read visuals, as well as showing your face as often as possible and your PowerPoint as little as needed. Keep an eye out too on the live chat feed and answer relevant questions.

Focus on the conversation

It’s obvious when someone mentally checks out of the conversation to check their email – even if they try to be subtle about it, so don’t do it. Besides, studies show that trying to do multiple things at once cuts into performance. Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers. Close any tabs that might distract you and stay present.

Mute your microphone

As much as possible, mute your microphone when you’re not the one speaking. This is important because most tools for group video conferencing prioritize the visual feed of the person speaking. When using platforms that automatically switch videos to whomever’s talking, your face will be popping up every time you make a noise, even if it’s just you munching down on your afternoon snack.

Break up a large group

Moderators will struggle in video calls with more than five active participants. Virtual conferences are challenging enough as it is, and things can get unmanageable when people start interrupting each other, especially if there’s a lag in the connection. Consider breaking up a large group by assigning participants into smaller breakout rooms for a portion of the meeting. This promotes more creativity, engagement, and inclusion. Zoom and Webex both have this feature.

Have a backup plan

No matter what program you use, have a backup plan in case something goes awry. You and your team can choose to use an alternative app, for instance, or just switch to an audio-only call. Remember too that not each and every collaboration requires a video conference.

Even beyond COVID-19, it seems that video calls are here to stay. Make it work for you and your team by mastering the basics of virtual meetings.