On Screen, All Business: the Etiquette of Videoconferencing

One thing early science fiction writers got right was that we would someday exchange video images along with audio when we communicated. But so far, it hasn’t become as widespread as they thought it would. Most people don’t want or need to see the people they talk to on the phone, and until the last decade or so, TV screens remained bulky, heavy, and hard to integrate into a decent-sized piece of technology—so videophones didn’t become the wave of the future. That’s changed with flat screens, smartphones, and Skype, but it took a lot longer than expected.

One place where video calls took hold early on, however, was in the business world. By the mid-1990s, it was just another communications option for large businesses with multiple locations scattered across the nation or the world. Companies like AT&T and Apple held company meetings in auditoriums with movie screens, where the doings of people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were broadcast around the world to employees, the press, and investors alike.

Most videoconferences, however, took place in boardrooms and conference rooms on a much smaller scale, involving a few dozen people at most. They were carefully prepared events, often with professional camera operators, that otherwise proceeded like any other meeting. Nowadays, anyone with a latest-generation laptop can participate in a videoconference using WebEx, GoToMeeting, or Skype, and even those who work in the same building don’t have to congregate in one location. They don’t even have to leave their desks, or their comfy armchairs at Starbucks. This has forced the evolution of a new set of rules regarding the professionalism and productivity of such meetings.

Toward a New Videoconferencing Etiquette 

Unsurprisingly, videoconferencing shares a lot in common with regular teleconferences. In this informal age, you’re likely to have people eating, slurping coffee, having side conversations, typing constantly, not paying attention, and generally multitasking—but in this case, you get to not only see them but hear them as well. And if they do remember they have a mute button, their onscreen actions may give them away.

It should go without saying that any meeting requires a professional appearance and behavior, but not everyone got the memo, and some people just don’t care. Here are “rules of the road” to follow in your teleconferences:

  1. Prep your system early to make sure everything works right.
  2. Dress appropriately. Even if you’re in your home office, don’t wear sweats or your HAN SHOT FIRST T-shirt. Avoid clothing with stripes (they can cause a strobing effect on camera) and forego distracting jewelry. Conservative always works.
  3. Groom yourself as if meeting in person.
  4. Isolate yourself in a quiet place. It’s nice to be untethered because of technology, but the local park doesn’t present the most professional image, and there’s too much background noise at Starbucks.
  5. Straighten up the viewable area of your location. Don’t have laundry, boxes, dirty dishes, trash, animals, etc., where people can see them.
  6. Be punctual. Always login and be ready to go a few minutes before the start time. Be ready to start AT the start time, not login at the start time.
  7. If some on the call don’t know you, introduce yourself as necessary.
  8. Put your laptop or webcam on a table or desk, and center yourself in the frame. Avoid the temptation to sit in your easy chair and put the laptop on your lap. It can make your image unsteady, and seriously, no one wants to count your nose hairs.
  9. Use your mute button when not speaking.
  10. Don’t eat, unless it’s a lunch or dinner meeting and everyone’s doing it. Set your coffee cup away from your video pickup.
  11. Remain attentive at all times. Don’t pretend to be watching when you’re really doing email.
  12. When you speak, maintain eye contact by looking at the camera, not the screen.
  13. Speak clearly, in a normal tone. Don’t shout.
  14. Expect delays, especially when talking with people in other countries. Give them a few seconds to respond so you don’t talk over them or think they have nothing to say.
  15. Don’t yawn on screen; it’s as demoralizing as yawning in someone’s face.
  16. Don’t smoke or chew gum.
  17. Limit your body movements, even if you normally speak with your hands. Don’t twirl your hair or use other nervous gestures.
  18. Avoid side conversations.

The Zen of Videoconferencing 

Now that video calls are easy, teleconferencing has grown in importance as a business tool, and will doubtless continue to do so. How would you expand further on the above list of dos and don’ts? It basically boils down to everything required for a teleconference combined with face-to-face meeting protocols, with a few unique items added on. If you have any concerns about what you should or shouldn’t do in a video call and they don’t appear here, just remember: go conservative. It almost always works.

Laura Stack is a productivity and performance expert as well as a best selling author.

The content writers at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau are Experts on the Experts. They hold doctoral, masters, and bachelors’ degrees in business, writing, literature, and education. Their business thought pieces are published regularly in leading business publications. Working in close association with the top business, entrepreneur, and motivational speakers, BigSpeak content writers are at the forefront of industry trends and research.