4 Ways You're Making Video Calls Even More Awkward Than They Already Are
We’ve all heard the standard video conferencing advice: Choose a location where you won’t be interrupted, speak clearly, don’t multitask. These are all pillars of Video Conferencing Etiquette 101, and rightly so. But having the basics covered isn’t always enough—if you really want to make the best impression possible, it’s time to take the advanced course.
My company recently dug into how people feel about video conferencing and inadvertently uncovered some notable “worst practices.” As it turns out, a lot of them are so commonplace that you might not have even realized they’re problematic. But fortunately, with some increased self-awareness and practice, these bad habits can be easily nixed—making you all the more likely to come out of meetings looking like a pro. Check out a few of the most common pet peeves we came across, as well as some tips for fixing them below.
1. Flaunting Your Close-Up
You may be surprised to learn that most people would rather hear their colleagues chow down on their lunch or even clear their sinuses during a video call than have them sit too close to the camera. But it makes sense—the up-the-nose shot isn’t exactly the most flattering angle, and having a giant floating head dominate your field of vision can be fairly distracting. Even though you’re not present in person, if you lean into the camera too much, you can lead your colleagues to feel as though their personal space has been invaded.
It’s natural to lean in when you’re interested or, of course, trying to hear better. Because it doesn’t work as well over a video conference, temper your tendency to do so by adjusting your volume to an appropriate level before the meeting begins (if your audio is weak, you can always consider speakers) and placing your video-conferencing device about a foot away from you, placing your hands in your lap or by your side so you’re not tempted to pull it in closer.
2. Primping Instead of Prepping
Most of us are familiar with the last-minute scramble to get things done before a meeting. With an in-person meeting, that might mean crossing out a few quick to-dos, but for video conferencing, that often means a frantic dash to get camera-ready. Almost half of those surveyed worried more about what they looked like than what they’d actually bring to the (virtual) table, and a full third spent more time grooming than preparing for the meeting itself. But considering how frequently people complained about participants arriving unprepared, that’s probably not the best use of your time.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you turn into a full-on slob (please, don’t join the 11% of people who engage in a no-pants video call), but remember that your colleagues are more likely to take notice of your words and ideas than any under-eye bags or mussed up hair that you’re stressing about. Skip the mirror time, and instead review your agenda and notes.
3. Resting Bitch Face (Seriously)
One slight caveat to that whole “people don’t care how you look” thing: While your physical traits don’t matter much, your expression does. 32% percent of respondents cited overall facial expression as the thing they notice the most about their colleagues when on a call. And if you’re one of the 26% of video conference-goers who suffer from RBF, that’s worth keeping in mind.
Your natural expression is another one of those things you can’t easily change—and besides, plastering a smile on your face 24/7 would just be creepy—but there are a lot of ways you can assure video-call participants that you’re not disinterested or judgmental. Nodding along to what somebody says, giving positive feedback when warranted and yes, smiling occasionally, can go a long way toward coming across as more congenial than your RBF suggests.
4. Making Eye Contact…With Yourself
If you haven’t guessed it by now, self-consciousness and vanity factor a lot into video conferencing. So, maybe it’s not too much of a surprise that 30% of those surveyed admitted to spending more than half of their time on a video call looking at their own face. Sure, a few folks did this simply to check out how good they looked, but largely, this was driven by a fear of looking bad on camera. And it goes without saying that when you spend most of your meeting gazing deeply into your own eyes, you can’t stay fully present and engaged.
If you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes fixed on your guests, try slapping a post-it over your face on the screen. You may still wonder how you look, but it’ll be on your mind a lot less than if you were gawking at yourself the whole time.
It’s funny that something as (seemingly) basic as interacting with your colleagues in a meeting can be so nuanced. And when you find yourself guilty of faux pas like these, it can be easy to beat yourself up for silly mistakes or feel inadequate. But if there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned, it’s that we’re much harsher on ourselves than others are of us. Ultimately, your colleagues will forgive the occasional video conferencing blunder. But while you’re at it, you might as well strive to improve. No matter how advanced you are in your career, communication isn’t a checkmark you can just tick off your to-do list—it’s a lifelong skill you continually build upon.
Photo of conference call courtesy of John Fedele/Getty Images.
Nisha Ahluwalia is the Chief Marketing Officer at Highfive. She has startup, tech, and software-as-a-service experience across several marketing areas, including demand generation, product marketing, PR, content marketing, and branding. She's experienced in building marketing organizations and launching and growing products. Her previous roles include positions at companies such as Cisco WebEx, RingCentral, and PagerDuty.More from this Author