Under the penname of Miss Manners, Judith Martin has fearlessly guided us through the years with recommendations and rules on personal and professional etiquette. Although she does not offer any Video Conferencing-specific advice, we can be sure that she would agree with our compilation of Video Etiquette advice.
Be Ready for Guests!
Would you invite your clients to your home without a little housekeeping? Definitely not! The same concept applies to Video Conferencing. What does your backdrop really convey? Open your webcam before the call and see what the far-end users see. Is it cluttered and unclean? Even if your mom does live there, you probably do not want your Fortune 500 client to know. Remember that it is not just your pretty face on the camera – the call participants can see plenty of your surroundings with the large Field of View offered with Video Conferencing cameras. Oh, and be sure to close the door to avoid random walk-bys from coworkers, kids, and pets.
Display Your Interests!
You have a unique opportunity with Video Conferencing to offer a first impression like none other. Express yourself! This is your chance to show your colleagues and clients all the small talk-bullet points they could ever need in one eye scan. Finding a common ground is easy when there are a myriad of topics to discuss. We suggest you bring in plants for texture, use multiple lighting sources to fill-in shadows, and do not fear color.
Dress to Impress!
You do not have to don a three-piece-suit to make a good impression on a Video Conference. You should keep it simple, clean, and not distracting. Leave the Tommy Bahama in the closet and choose instead something classic and professional. Consider keeping an extra shirt in your office in case you have a coffee mishap – a food stain in HD might as well be a helipad. One more thing - even if you are using a desktop application, such as the LifeSize Connections Client, the Polycom m100, or Cisco CallWay, please remember that you may come into full view if you stand, so please avoid only half-preparing your outfit.
Be on Time!
You know how distracting it is when you come into the conference room late. Just like in your school days, everyone turns to see who it is that has violated the “No Closed-Door Entry” rule. Besides embarrassing, it is terrible for productivity! Imagine how disruptive you will be when your late entry comes not as a quiet sneaking-in, but as an incoming ring on the Video Conference -your picture proudly displayed as the owner of this huge distraction. Avoid the mortification and be on time!
A tip to Video Conferencing hosts – before your Video Conference begins, set your codec to auto-answer to avoid latecomer interruptions.
Do Unto Others!
A true-to-life interaction is what you are trying to replicate anyway, right? People sometimes, unfortunately, fail to remember that everything that they do is seen (and heard) on camera. Oh yeah, your boss caught that snicker when he said something that reminded you of last year’s Holiday Party debacle; and the lady in accounting definitely saw you roll your eyes when she asked you again to include all of your receipts with your expense reports. Thanks to the incredible high definition audio and video available with Video Conferencing, you cannot hide whispers and winks from the camera!
Video Conferencing is unlike a traditional voice-only conference call. Gone are the days of multi-tasking during your conference call. Farewell to the heavily-abused mute button, bid adieu to FaceBook-ing your high school friends, and say sayonara to catching-up on emails. With Video Conferencing, you are a captive audience – this is a great step to productivity. You can almost guarantee that your great ideas will be heard when you are face-to-face with all the important players.
Your Display is Not a Mirror!
One of the sins of video conferencing is adjusting yourself during a video call. It can be very distracting to the other participants if you are preoccupied with that out-of-place hair or worse – if they think that you chose to adjust your tie five times instead of listening to the new budget proposal. If you cannot avoid primping and preening, turn-off the near-end camera on your desktop or your room-based system to eliminate the urge to self-beautify.
Room to Breathe!
Just as omni-directional microphones have relieved you of the need to hover-over your conference room speakerphone, the high definition audio and video in modern Video Conferencing have alleviated your need to hunch-over your display. Besides guaranteeing a backache, hunching on a Video Conference is awkward for every participant. Your Video Conferencing equipment is designed to encourage natural resting and movement. When you hunch, you offer peculiar images to the camera – a disproportionately large head, a view of your um, maturing hairline, and ladies – you know what happens when you lean over - you may share more than you intended. Give your camera room to breathe – act as if the display were your physical call participants.
Give Me a Break!
We all know that the thirty-second rule should really be more like two-seconds. You should graciously apply this two-second rule in a Video Conference after a given speaker has completed a thought, in order to avoid speaking over each other. Don’t get me wrong – the full-duplex audio will accommodate a full-fledged word-battle, and the high definition video will capture every moment of your dramatic exit if the time ever comes! In the normal course of the Video Conference, you should take this short pause recommendation into consideration to avoid overlapping conversation.
Be a Good Host!
When you are hosting a Video Conference, you should prepare just as you were giving a presentation to a physical audience. Queue your presentation in advance, have your files arranged in a convenient location for quick access, and have your notes organized and ready so that you are not searching for them after the Video Conference has already begun - rustling papers in HD sound like the Niagara falls.
The biggest piece of advice I can offer when hosting a Conference call is to clear any sensitive information from your near-end field of view. Are the competitive notes still displayed in fuchsia on the whiteboard? Did you remember to water the plant? Is your computer desktop still a billboard for your frat days? Did you remember to close your personal websites? Remember, whether sharing a desktop or a conference room, the participants can see everything!