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Mute your mic, comb your hair, and other video meeting tips

Sitting in virtual meetings almost every week since March as been quite an experience. I think I’ve learned a few things – a few do’s and don’ts about how to best interact with your colleagues and boss. 

You would think everyone would have learned these same things by now, but some of the behaviors I’ve seen tell me that isn’t the case. So I think I should share a few ideas. 

Businesses and non-profits have gravitated to a few platforms for virtual meetings. Whether you use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Go To Meeting or some other platform, the look and feel of the meetings is pretty similar. 

You can see yourself and the other participants all at the same time, like the old game show Hollywood Squares or the Brady Bunch. When documents are shared, you see fewer of your colleagues stacked next to the documents, but you can quickly scroll through the stack and see what everyone is doing. 

I think that when I meet with people on Zoom, they are all more visible to me (and I to them) than would be case if we were sitting around a conference table. When we sit at a table, I can only direct my attention to a couple of people at once, but on Zoom everyone is front and center, including me. 

Despite the fact that we are so visible, I think it is very easy to forget that everyone in the meeting can see everything within camera range, and everything that you do all the time. 

I won’t waste time on personal grooming and clothing. You’ve probably seen it all. You know what I mean. Definitely an improvement opportunity for some. 

Something else on constant view is whatever is behind you. I’ve observed a number of areas in people’s homes that could definitely use some tidying. That kind of thing is fine for a casual meeting of friends, but not a good look in a professional setting. You can eliminate that concern by positioning yourself in a more professional looking area or by using a virtual background, but again, think about the optics of the background you pick. The rebel base on the Hoth Ice Planet from Star Wars is not a professional look unless you’re trying out for a part in a nerdy sitcom. 

Failing to mute your microphone appropriately is another bad move. Exposing your colleagues to barking dogs or noisy children is funny the first time but gets more annoying to the group with each repetition. If you don’t need to speak, mute the mic. 

Letting everyone hear your loud ringtone is bad enough but answering a phone call and exposing everyone to your end of it is another party foul. And yes, I’ve seen that more than once and others have reported similar experiences. Silence the phone, mute your mic, and don’t answer calls. 

Because we are physically alone, I think we become oblivious to our own behavior and not just noise. If you have a compelling need to do something that shouldn’t be on display to everyone, turn the video off for a minute. Whatever you need to pick or dig, by all means get it done. Just don’t make your colleagues watch. 

Last but not least, learn to have a poker face. I saw myself rolling my eyes one day and realized that I was forgetting how visible my expressions were to everyone. No matter how much nonsense is coming out of a colleague’s mouth, you really have to watch your body language and expressions. 

It’s never too late to upgrade your virtual meeting performance.

Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at [email protected]

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