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10 considerations for an effective video conference, as COVID-19 makes travel and contact meetings taboo

 

1. Make sure you have a fast and stable internet connection

 

Having a stable and fast internet connection is the foundation for an effective video conference. A slow connection can result in visual disruption, inconsistent audio, and potential lag between audio and video images. Consider whether you should be using an ethernet or similar cable connection rather than wi-fi, to mitigate connection dropout and speed issues.

 

 

2. Select best-of-breed video conferencing software

 

As COVID-19 sweeps the world, and travel is not even an option, investing in best-of-breed video conferencing applications is a necessity. Research the limitations of free versions of your favoured video conference app; install the latest version of your software of choice, and make sure it is compatible with your operating system.

 

 

3. Prepare and professionalise your space

 

Be sure the area within the video frame is clear of clutter, distracting items, and confidential content. What’s in the background or on your wall? Is it work-appropriate and does it send the ‘right message’? Are your surroundings clean, and does the space look professional? If video conferencing from home, is the environment isolated from intrusive sounds and interruptions – whether it be a barking dog, a vocal parrot, or a demanding child?

From a lighting perspective, check the illumination in your space to ensure you’ll be clearly visible, with no glares or dramatic shadows. Avoid backlighting from windows or lamps, which can effectively leave you in the dark for other video conference participants).

 

 

4. Test the connection and your equipment ahead of the scheduled start

 

Try and test your video conference connection with a friendly colleague before the meeting start time. Alternatively, do a ‘solo test run’.  For example, if using the Zoom application, go to the Zoom site ahead of time to test both the audio and video connections.

Consider using discreet headphones (large, on- or over-ear headphones can be visually distracting to other participants) during the video conference, for confidentiality of other participants’ audio inputs, and for technical reasons e.g. headphones can help mitigate distracting audio feedback and echo in a video conference. If you use headphones, cable-connected devices are preferable to Bluetooth devices, to avoid dropped/disrupted connections during the video conference.

Practice your voice projection with a colleague on the other end of the conference – get a sense of what level of voice projection sounds natural (rather than shouting) and is audible for other participants. And then replicate this voice ‘set up’ on future video conferences.

 

 

5. Check the angles!

 

Don’t position your camera field of view too low, too high or at an awkward angle. Sub-optimal camera angles can be very distracting – and unflattering – during video conference calls. Make sure your camera is at eye level and on the same screen you will use for the conference.

When you’re talking, look into the camera instead of looking at yourself talking on the screen. It will help others on the call feel like you’re fully engaged and present in the conference.

 

 

6. Dress appropriately

 

Dress as if you were meeting face-to-face with the other participants in the video conference. From a technical perspective, follow the same guidance as for television interviews e.g. favour solid, pastel colour shirts, and avoid narrow-striped shirts, small check blouses, multiple coloured outfits, and big, bling wrist watches! And remember, even though the video conference frame might only show your face and torso, you never know if you’re going to have to get up suddenly – so ensure your entire outfit is appropriate for a formal business meeting!

 

 

7. Avoid any potentially disruptive or embarrassing intrusions and distractions

 

Ensure your mobile phone – and any wearable devices – are in silent mode during the conference. Mute or disable notifications on your computer – including calendar reminders, incoming e-mails, and software updates – ahead of the video conference. Ensure there are no software updates scheduled to run on your computer just before or during the video conference. Clean up your desktop.

 

 

8. Ensure there is a de facto facilitator/leader of the video conference

 

 

Typical roles of the facilitator/conference leader include:

 

  • Sending an agenda together with/shortly after the invitation to the video conference
  • Confirming that all participants can see and hear all other participants in the session
  • Acknowledging any visual or verbal cues, such as raising a hand, to indicate when someone wants to actively contribute verbally to the session
  • Discouraging distracting “side conversations” and multi-tasking by participants
  • Familiarising all participants – who may not be equally aware of all the features of the video conference software being used – with the location of key video conference tools on the dashboard
  • Making sure all participants have access to the content, documents
  • Encouraging participants to mute their microphones when they are not speaking and/or if their location has excessive background noise
  • Reminding participants not to speak at the same time, as this inhibits effective communication
  • Ensuring there are no ‘lurkers’ and that all participants share their video and audio rather than being faceless observers to the video conference!

 

 

9. Treat the video conference like a face-to-face meeting

 

 

When you’re communicating via video, apply many of the same communication techniques you’d use in a face-to-face engagement. Make eye contact with other participants in the video conference, use appropriate non-verbal behaviour, and listen actively to both verbal and non-verbal feedback. Avoid verbal signs of agreement or active listening that one typically uses in one-on-one conversations, such as ‘yes’, ‘absolutely’, ‘couldn’t agree more’ and the like, while one of the participants is speaking. Avoid mobile device and other distractions.

 

 

10. Everything is on the record – until you have left the room!

 

 

In essence, would you be happy with everything you say and do in your room while on a conference call, being broadcast to everyone participating in the conference call?

 

 

…and one more thing: What’s your back up plan?

 

 

Aim to have some form of back-up plan in case the video conference link goes down (think load shedding in South Africa, and loss of electricity supply and your wi-fi connection if you don’t have a back-up source of energy). Check that you have the contact details of the facilitator/a few other participants in the conference call so that you can phone them if the video link goes down.

 

 

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