The Dos and Don'ts of Video Conferencing

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration of a man sitting on a desk, in front of a laptop in his home office

Modern professionals prefer to have more flexibility in their job, including alternate scheduling and the opportunity to work from home at least part of the time. The increasing number of remote workers continues to change the way we do business, and video conferencing has become an essential part of that change.

Video conferencing helps people from anywhere in the world communicate virtually. While there are many benefits to using video conferencing, there are some important guidelines for getting the most out of this tool. From etiquette rules to making a good first impression and avoiding potential technical snafus, this checklist will make you an expert.

So, before you log in your next meeting, read on for all the dos and don'ts of video conferencing!

The Dos

1. Dress the Part

cool benefit of working from home is getting to lounge on the couch in your pyjamas while tapping away on your laptop. When it comes to video conferencing, however, you should dress as you would for an in-person meeting. If you usually wear a suit and tie to pitch to a new client, give them that same good first impression on a video call.

Even if you work in a more casual industry, you should put on clean, unwrinkled, work-appropriate clothing. Stick with solid pastel or bright colours. Busy patterns can strobe or be distracting and white or black can reflect or absorb too much light and interfere with your camera's auto-focus features.

Don't skimp on your personal grooming, either. While corporate cubicle dwellers might get away with rushed morning routines and bedhead, stubble or crooked eyeliner, your webcam sees all. If you're not a make-up expert but still want to look good on camera, some video conferencing apps offer flattering filters to smoothen your appearance.

2. Carry Out an AV Check

The best defence against irritating audio, video and software issues is to test your entire system ahead of time. Is the audio clear? Is your software updated? Is your camera working?

Processing and bandwidth overload can cause transmission issues like excess buffering, lagging, freezing and even crashing. Close other programmes before a call and ask your household members to refrain from streaming video games or transferring large files. If you're conferencing from a hotel, skip the dodgy wi-fi and use a wired ethernet jack. If your laptop doesn't have an ethernet port, you could use a USB adaptor.

While they all perform similar functions, video conferencing tools have different options and set-up procedures. Learn the system beforehand so you're not frantically searching the FAQ page when something inevitably goes wrong mid-meeting. Many apps offer a test feature so you can check audio and video on a trial run. If there's no built-in test, arrange a short practice conference with a colleague.

3. Get Comfortable

You should be prepared to be in one spot for however long the video conference takes, whether it's a quick catch-up or an hour-long presentation. Eat something ahead of time, choose a comfortable chair and adjust the thermostat to a comfortable temperature.

Make sure you have everything you need within easy reach, including your notes and any materials you might need for reference. Keep a glass of water nearby in case your throat gets dry from extensive speaking. Consider all reasonable contingencies, like tissues or cough drops if you're a bit under the weather. You can stash them in a desk drawer next to you to keep them out of camera view.

4. Control the Noise

Close the door to your home office or head to the quietest corner of the house. Ask your family members to use their inside voices and keep the TV low while you're on a call. Turn off all phone ringers as well as app and browser notifications.

For noises you can't avoid, like your neighbour mowing the lawn, a good headset and microphone are work-from-home essentials. Even inexpensive versions help cut down on distractions from ambient sounds, as well as echo and feedback issues.

You should also mute your mic when not speaking, particularly in a conference with several members. Always mute if you need to step away. The mic can pick up a lot, and your colleagues don't need to hear you arguing with your spouse, pouring cat food into a bowl or using the restroom.

5. Get Organised

Just as creating and prioritising to-do lists helps you be more productive at work, putting together an agenda will make your video conferences more effective. Whether you're leading a meeting, attending someone else's event or just checking in with your superiors, preparing talking points and questions ahead of time will help you guide the discussion.

If you need to share documents with conference participants, try to send them in advance to avoid causing delays. It's also easier for everyone to prepare useful questions or concerns if they've had time to review the material.

You'll also be more productive if you organise how the conference will run. Establish an order for participants to speak or agree on cues such as raising a hand to be called on or sending questions through online chat. Don't forget to set up an alternative meeting place, like a Slack channel, in case there's a major technical problem with the video conference.

The Don'ts

1. Lose Focus

Some non-work-related chat will inevitably occur when you log in to a video conference. When this happens, try to steer the conversation back to the topics at hand so everyone can get back to their other work.

If you find yourself in one of those unproductive meetings, resist the urge to multitask. It's one of the major rules of video conferencing etiquette, as participants can see that you're checking your email, looking at your phone messages or doing other work. 

One of the important aspects of being a successful freelancer is effective communication with clients and colleagues. You risk disrespecting them and ruining your business relationship if you're so visibly inattentive to their ideas and concerns.

2. Leave a Messy Background

If you have ever watched a home renovation show on TV, then you know that the ordinary clutter of our daily lives can look outrageously bad on screen. It will be hard to convince your clients of your attention to detail if there's a half-dead plant, a stack of dirty laundry and an overfilled garbage can in the frame behind you.

Clean and organise all areas within camera view, including your desk or tabletop. Also, remove any wall art or pictures that are distracting or inappropriate. If you don't have time to clean up, some video conferencing apps have an option to blur your surroundings or create a virtual background.

3. Ignore Security

Video conferencing can have its own privacy and data security risks. Invest the time in perusing your conferencing tool's security options to protect yourself and those you connect with.

The Federal Trade Commission in the US has published guidelines for video conferencing privacy. They recommend adjusting an app's settings to limit attendees through password-protected logins, unique ID numbers for one-time use, or locking the meeting once all invited participants have joined.

The FTC also suggests extra consideration for sensitive topics, like in the health care industry: 'Evaluate whether an enterprise service would provide greater security for your company and clients, rather than free services available to the general public.'

4. Overshare

While you should avoid oversharing personal stories on business calls, you should also be careful about the inadvertent overshare that can happen while screen-sharing in a video conference. Scrutinise your browser and desktop before the meeting, removing any tabs, visible bookmarks, or background images that are unprofessional or reveal personal information.

Also, avoid sharing live webpages, as targeted ads may let your viewers know way more about your recent searches and online shopping habits than you want them to. Use a safe or edited screenshot of the site instead, which will also avoid any issues with slow page loading.

5. Forget about Angles

Professional filmmakers learned long ago that camera placement and lighting have a huge effect on a person's appearance on screen. For video conferencing, your goal is to have natural light in front of you and your camera at eye level. Don't forget to turn down the brightness on your monitor to avoid an intense glow on your face.

A common mistake is sitting behind a bright sunny window as the extreme backlight will transform you into a darkened silhouette on camera. If you can't move your set-up, invest in room-darkening curtains to create a better backdrop.

Another typical video conferencing faux pas is staring down at your phone or laptop camera as it distorts your features. Place your device on a higher surface or try a laptop or tablet stand to raise the level of the webcam.

We hope this guide has helped you better prepare for your next video conference. What has your experience with video communication been like? Do you have any of your own dos and don'ts to share? Share your advice in the comments section below!