Video Conferencing 101 in the New Normal

By the SMU Social Media Team

As working from home becomes a new normal and video conferencing a primary communication tool, how should we navigate the particular demands of this medium? Here’s a rundown of the key things to remember so you can show your professionalism in the best light when you switch that laptop camera on.


1. Do you really need to have a video conference?

Many issues do not require a meeting at all, as they can be more efficiently resolved through email, a phone call, or a workplace messaging system such as Slack. Video conferences are best reserved for longer conversations and training sessions, as well as discussions that require visual aids like slide decks and documents.

If you do call for one, make sure you have a clear and concise meeting agenda, involve the right people, and begin and end the video conference punctually. In short, do not activate this option unless it makes sense, because it can be very time-consuming to prepare for it. Read on to find out why.


2. Have a back-up plan

Once you have decided on your video conferencing platform, make sure you have it downloaded and ready to go on not just your primary device (like a desktop or laptop), but also your tablet and/or smartphone.

That’s the best way to ensure you can re-enter meetings quickly if you are disconnected due to wonky WiFi, and not keep the other meeting participants waiting. And remember, always use the latest version of any video conferencing software—this will reduce security vulnerabilities.


3. Curate your physical and virtual space

In an ideal world, you would have a dedicated workspace that looks professional and is insulated from any distracting household hubbub. But that’s not the case for many people.

Some who are working in a more messy or casual environment may choose to go with a virtual background. If you opt for this, remember that such backgrounds work best when you’re against a plain flat wall.

If you are showing your actual background, make sure it is neat. A happy medium may be activating the “background blur” option offered by some platforms, which places the focus on you rather than your environment.

If you are trying to minimise background noise, use headphones or earbuds, or consider a white noise machine. And if you are living with other people, remember to let them know about your meeting beforehand, so that they will not interrupt you.

If you plan to use the “share screen” function, another important virtual space to tidy up is your computer screen. Make sure you don’t have any distracting and/or sensitive tabs, programmes, and documents open.


4. Test your gear

Check your Internet speed—with more people working from home, the bandwidth may have slowed down in your neighbourhood, and that may lead to glitchy video conferencing experiences.

Also give your key equipment a trial run. This may include a USB microphone, which can be a good idea as the microphones built into laptops and desktops tend to deliver subpar sound quality. Allow yourself enough time to troubleshoot issues if necessary. Make sure your device is properly plugged in or fully charged.

Next, test your webcam and compose your mise-en-scène. Natural and/or side lighting is optimal, but overhead lighting is okay in a pinch. Just try to avoid backlighting, because the contrast can make it hard to see you clearly. Adjust the camera angle—eye level is best. Practise looking into the camera when you talk instead of looking at yourself on the computer screen, as that is how you will be able to “make eye contact” with your fellow meeting participants.


5. Dress appropriately

You may spend most of your work-from-home time in pyjamas, but for video conferences, stick to the office dress code. Yes, that includes whatever you’re wearing waist-down too—just in case you need to get up in the middle of your meeting.

Since you’re on-camera, also remember to avoid dressing in tight repetitive patterns such as pinstripes, houndstooth, and fine checks. These can create a strobing effect, which is highly distracting. Also stay away from multi-coloured prints, fussy accessories, and anything else that might detract attention.


6. Be early

Log in before the slated start time, especially if you’re hosting the meeting. If you’re unfamiliar with the platform, this will give you time to get your bearings. Many people tend to sign in a few minutes early, so you’ll probably seem late if you show up on the dot.


7. Be a good host

If you’re running the meeting, you are in charge of several key decisions. First, make sure all the participants can hear and see one another, perhaps by having everyone introduce themselves. This will also serve as an ice-breaker.

Next, decide whether you want to ask everyone to put themselves on mute, or tell them that you will be putting them on mute while you introduce the agenda. Either way, this will minimise distracting background noises.

You also decide who can use the “share screen” function, and whether cameras should be turned off once all the introductions have been completed (this can actually sometimes help participants focus better on the meeting).

Another plus to doing away with visuals: video takes up much more bandwidth, so audio-only conferencing is likely to be less glitchy. Alternatively, you can go into the settings of the platform and choose a non-HD option to reduce the video quality.

And finally, it is on you to adopt best practices when it comes to security and data privacy. Enable password protection for each session, and when it comes to meeting links, do not share these via social media and remind the meeting participants not to share the links.

Activate the “waiting room” feature, if available: this helps to ensure you are admitting only the invited participants to the meeting. Consider “locking” a meeting once all invited participants have joined the session. And finally, while the host is able to record a meeting, it is imperative that you first ask all the participants for permission to do so.


8. Be a good guest

If the host forgets, take the initiative to mute yourself, and unmute only when you want to speak.

If you’re in a no-video video conference, it can be helpful to introduce yourself before speaking, to help orient fellow participants in the absence of visual cues.

Stay focused. Do not multitask by toggling to your inbox or web browser. Remember: Zoom has a feature that notifies hosts if participants switch away from the app for more than 30 seconds.

If your camera is on, it can also be very obvious if your attention has wandered. Keep your own face visible on-screen, so that you can see what others are seeing. Remain engaged, do not fidget, and if you need to go somewhere else briefly during the meeting, excuse yourself, switch off your microphone and camera, and turn them on again only when you return.


9. Make full use of lulls and pauses

The chat function is a great way to maximise the time allotted to a video conference. Use it to leave questions and comments, which can then be addressed during any lulls in the meeting.

If you need to search for a supporting document in the midst of speaking, let everyone know what you’re doing so that they don’t think you’ve been disconnected. Afterall, Zoom fatigue is real. Make every second count, so you can get back to “in real life” mode as soon as possible.