12 tips to help you look & act like a pro in your next video call

Pre-pandemic, Zoom daily meeting participants were around 10 million. After the coronavirus pandemic began, they soared to 300 million. That’s a lot of people! And a lot of people who have probably never done a video conference call but who had to learn how to do one quickly. Now that we are nearing the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S. and the start of remote work, we thought we would reiterate some best practices for video conferencing.

Hopefully, by now, your team has aced this skill and you have standard processes in place. Maybe some teams are a little too comfortable with video conferencing and maybe their professionalism on the platform has slipped. Either way, reminders to shore up online presentation and behavior are always good reminders.

How to dress for a video call

It’s easy to feel safe when you are behind a camera, but presentation still matters on a video conference. Video camera quality has improved exponentially in recent years which makes it harder for people to hide that they didn’t get properly dressed.  Here are some best practices to follow when it comes to picking an outfit for your next video call.

  • Wear the right colors. A crisp white shirt is great in person, but bright whites can be blinding on video screens. The quality of the video camera and lighting can distort colors so they don’t appear as they do in person. We recommend sticking with neutrals like light or navy blue, cream, brown, gray, or deep purples or greens. You can add more personality with chic accessories.
  • Avoid patterns. Clothes with stripes or certain patterns can cause an effect called strobing on a screen that can distort the pattern on an item of clothing to make it appear less smooth. We recommend sticking to solid colors. If you are insistent on wearing a pattern, make sure it is larger and distinct or small enough that it translates well on camera.
  • Establish company guidelines. If you or your employees are regularly meeting with clients via video call, you should have established guidelines for how they should conduct themselves online. They should be dressed appropriately, so they present your company in the best possible way. If your internal company video meetings allow for more casual dress, you should include those guidelines as well.
  • Please, just wear pants or appropriate bottoms.

The “zoom shirt”

A LinkedIn poll says 42% of home workers own one – the shirt or blouse that’s kept on the back of your desk chair to quickly be presentable for video conferences.

Find the right light

How you appear on a video call is partly about the quality of your video camera but also about how you and your environment are lit. Some basic lighting rules of thumb are to avoid direct light shining in front, behind or above you. Direct light can cause unflattering shadows or wash out your face making you hard to see. The best move is to find a natural light source, and then supplement with artificial light where any shadows may appear. Side lighting is generally best.

Camera placement + positioning

Make sure you aren’t too close to the camera, or too far away. It’s best to have your camera eye-level, making sure your entire face and part of your torso are in view. It’s hard to train yourself to not look at the people you see on screen but looking into the camera instead makes it feel like you are looking at them and can improve engagement.

No matter where you are, consider what meeting attendees will be able to see behind you. Take down unprofessional posters or artwork and clean up your space so it is clean and presentable.

Keep the flow going

The goal of video conferencing is to facilitate work and help employees or participants feel engaged. Your goal with any guidelines you set for video conferencing is to make sure that the flow of a meeting is not interrupted. Some interruptions happen and can’t be avoided, but most can be prevented by following these tips.

Be on time

It’s easy to think that being late is not a big deal for a video meeting, but we argue that people are busier and more stressed than ever. Without a clear delineation between home life and work life, phone calls and video meetings are precious work time that should be respected. Be on time. Consider locking a conference room after a meeting starts. Don’t catch people up that are late regularly. Not to mention, it was easier in an office to go and grab someone to join a meeting, but at home, people can just be MIA and that could mean a lot of wasted time. If you plan to be late, cannot attend, or must leave early, let other participants or the meeting organizer know in advance.

Be mindful of sound

Everything is amplified over a video call, and it’s hard to tell how the sounds you make will sound to other attendees. The rule of thumb is, mute your microphone anytime you are not speaking. Other sounds you should be mindful of if muting your microphone isn’t an option:

  • Eating (If you must eat, put yourself on mute and consider turning off your camera.)
  • Shuffling papers or moving things around
  • Background music or TV
  • Typing
  • Excessive coughing
  • Crying or talking children
  • Loud pets
  • Construction or noisy neighbors
  • Heavy breathing
  • Ambient or white noise

All of that to say – consider your surroundings and be aware that even the smallest sounds can be disruptive on a conference call.

Avoid distractions

Fidgeting, eating or walking around can be distracting to watch on camera and can take away from a presentation. This includes drinking of alcoholic beverages – just don’t do it. People will be too busy watching you moving around to pay attention. It’s not just you that you have to think about, it’s your entire household if you are working from home.

Pets and kids are cute and wonderful, but they can be distracting. If you can close the door to your workspace for the meeting, we recommend doing so. Sometimes that’s not an option if there isn’t another caregiver in the home, so consider turning off your camera if things get too rowdy.

We like the idea of having a ‘show and tell’ at the beginning or end of a meeting where people can introduce their children or pets and give colleagues a glimpse into their personal lives. These can be meaningful team building and humanizing moments. It’s easy to forget the struggles of our coworkers when we are separated, so giving a little insight into each other’s lives can engender compassion, understanding and comraderies.

Only 3% of people can multitask effectively.

Don’t multitask

It’s obvious if you are responding to emails, chatting with coworkers, online shopping or texting during a video call. Out of respect for others, set a rule for meeting participants to close other web browsers and silence phones throughout the duration of the meeting. If you must multi-task, consider letting other participants know or turn off your video camera.

Have a moderator + an agenda

Video calls can make us feel like we are communicating in person. It replaces some of the cues you miss when you aren’t in person, like facial expressions and body language. However, speaking over each other is still a common conference call issue. It is difficult to tell when someone is going to finish speaking and when someone else is about to start. Interrupting someone can feel awkward or rude. We recommend instituting some rules that can ease some of the chaos when multiple people are trying to speak at the same time.

We know it’s awkward but making an obvious motion like raising your hand could signal that you would like to or are about to speak. This works in smaller meetings but can be hard to notice in larger meetings. Participants can digitally ‘raise a hand’ to let the meeting host know they have something to say.  But really, the best way to solve this problem, is by enlisting the help of a meeting moderator or facilitator that manages the conversation and ensures one person doesn’t monopolize the conversation. Just think of a political debate moderator. They keep participants on task and on topic and ensure the meeting’s agenda is met.

Speaking of agendas, every meeting should have one. Agendas help define a meeting’s purpose, key goals, and what topics will be covered. Meetings should have a plan, even if it is brief, or they can turn into a waste of time. An agenda makes it easier to moderate a discussion and helps you move on to different people and different topics without feeling like you are cutting people off.

Be prepared

This goes without saying, but make sure your meeting hosts and presenters are prepared. If they have a presentation that will be shown, is it finished and do the presenters know how to share their screens and use their materials? If attendees are expected to participate, send them a copy of the agenda prior to the meeting. The antidote to these potential issues is test, test, test! Test new software, lighting or sound prior to meetings so you can work out the kinks beforehand.

Consider recording meetings

Using technology to host meetings has its advantages, one of which is that you can record them. Recording meetings means you can easily create training materials for future hires or reference material for clients or employees. If you need a record of what was said in a meeting, you can record it and listen again later. Just be sure to let participants know in advance if possible, that you will be recording the meeting.

Meeting vs. webinar

Are you using the right meeting format for your purposes? If you are presenting information or plan to have a high number of participants, consider hosting a webinar. You can mute and unmute attendees as necessary and they can communicate via chat or by raising their hands. A meeting is better for smaller, more collaborative groups; they allow for people to better participate and connect.

Add guidelines to onboarding program

If remote work or video conferencing is a permanent part of your future, include video conferencing and software training in your onboarding programs. Once you have created guidelines for video conference conduct and appearance, include them in your employee handbooks so you and your employees can reference them in the future.