Top 10 Video Conferencing Tips

Over my 20-plus years of business/military service, I've conducted thousands of Video Tele-Conference (VTC) meetings (aka video conferences). Some of my first meetings started in 2002 and were conducted in both the CONUS (Continental United States) and OCONUS (Outside Continental United States). In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic where businesses, organizations, schools, etc., are required to function remotely (e.g., employees working from home), video conferencing is now a major success factor for sustained day-to-day operations.

I have compiled below, what I feel are the top 10 video conferencing tips, based on my knowledge and experience. If referenced as a checklist (of the sort), you should be able to conduct an effective video conference, whether you are hosting the conference or taking part as an attendee.

1. PREPARATION-SETUP: The first thing that should be considered during preparation-setup is the timing of the video conference, including the time zone. I have attended many video conferences where the host merely emailed a start-time, instead of using a calendar scheduling application like MS Outlook, Calendly, Zoom, etc. Of course, all attendees logged-on separately during their regional standard times (e.g., Pacific Standard Time (PST), Eastern Standard Time (EST), etc.). Scheduling applications account for this and lets invitees know exactly when the video conference is to start and end and in which time zone.

Attendees should also be informed of the video conference's agenda. To this extent, the invitees know what is to be covered, as well as what may be expected of their participation. There should also be "pre-reads" attached or report/dashboard links inserted within the invite. These enable the attendees to show up prepared, which has been proven to minimize time-consuming action-items (read my article titled "BI Dashboard: Reduce Your Meetings" which accentuates upon this).

2. VIDEO CONFERENCING TECHNOLOGY: Whether you're using applications such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, Google Meet, etc., you should become quite familiar with the application's features and functionalities. Conduct "dry runs" (i.e., practice conferences) with someone before hosting a conference or even attending one. This includes being intimate with both desktop and mobile applications.

3. CAMERA/MICROPHONE: Most cameras on the market today come standard with microphones and are of HD (High-Definition) quality, as do most laptops and tablets. You'll want to verify the camera/microphone settings menu to ensure they are set at the optimal setting. Also, use headphones to eliminate echoing from external speakers. Echoing or reverberations during a videoconference are most distracting.

4. INTERNET CONNECTION: Most people use a wireless internet connection versus a hard-wired connection these days. If that fits you, then you'll want to validate your signal strength and maximize your bandwidth by ceasing the streaming of other video and uploading/downloading in the background on your machine. Video conferencing uses a sizable amount of bandwidth and it can reduce your video quality (even become delayed or interrupted), so you want to get the most strength possible. It's also an excellent practice to establish a "one is none and two is one" mentality meaning if your primary connection fails, you'll have a secondary connection from which you can reconnect (such as a mobile phone hotspot).

5. ROOM LIGHTING: As with any professional newsroom set or film studio, lighting plays a critical factor in the video's quality. You should first turn your camera on and verify that you don't have a bright backdrop, which overpowers your camera, thus causing your face to be shadowed. Additionally, you should ensure you have sufficient lighting, which doesn't cause the excessive shine to your face. Using a soft-white light bulb or even natural light through see-through curtains tends to provide the best lighting. You can even use photography light reflectors for a more professional lighting environment. These are found cheaply on Amazon ranging from $10 to $100. You can even use the silver backside of a windshield sun reflector.

6. AMBIENT NOISE: Pay close attention to your ambient noise (aka background noise), whether it be barking dogs, kids shouting, babies crying, music, television, vehicle traffic, etc. They can interrupt your conference and can be perceived as unprofessional. You should either find a quiet place to conduct your video conference or establish some type of protocol for quiet times.

7. ATTIRE: What you wear still matters when conducting a video conference. Since most video shots are positioned upon the upper torso, many folks feel they don't need to wear pants or can remain in their pajama bottoms. This is risky because unless you know for a fact that you will not be leaving your chair for whatever reason, such as restroom break, you could have that inopportune instance of embarrassment. As a fail-safe measure, if you are wearing a coat and tie you might as well wear some slacks or trousers. Remember, perception can become reality and if there are people on the video conference that you are just being introduced, you'll want to set that right impression and it starts with your physical appearance.

As it pertains to your face being the focus for your camera: ensure you have proper grooming standards. Trim nose hairs, shave, brush your teeth, and always... always... check your nostrils for "nose goblins' (i.e., boogers). You may have great ideas and suggestions, during your video conference, but if you have a booger flapping about as you breathe in/out, that's the only thing your attendees are going to remember.
8. VIDEO BACKGROUND: Your background or backdrop tells a lot about yourself. Confirm you have a clean background meaning, no trash or clothes lying about, and no indecent photos or posters on your wall. Since most people conduct their video conferences from their home and don't have a professional studio, showing a backdrop of a certain part of their home is what is shown. Why not take this opportunity to showcase a little about yourself? For example, you could have diplomas or certificates behind you, certain decorations, etc. I've even seen people use a green screen or blue screen, which uses a technology called "Chroma-key." It allows for different digital background scenes, such as a view of an island beach or mountain lake view. Unless done professionally, however, a strange shadow outline can be seen flickering in/out upon a person's silhouette. My advice is to abstain from using these types of backdrops as they seem unprofessional and can be distracting.

9. RESTROOM BREAKS: Restroom brakes are one segment of a video conference that often gets overlooked. I've been a part of several remote meetings where breaks weren't factored in as part of the agenda/schedule and two hours into the meeting someone had to query the host to say if we can take a break, thus impacting the meeting’s cadence. If you're hosting a video conference and plan to conduct it over 30-minutes, add-in at least five-minute break intervals every 30 or 45-minutes. And let's hope people are wearing their pants as they get up to take their break!

10. CONFERENCE ENDING PROTOCOL: Lastly, end your video conference effectively meaning, ensure you leave the conference by logging-off before you mumble to yourself, or happen to exhibit body language that could be misconstrued as annoying or undermining. I can't count how many times I've heard sidebar conversations go on after a remote meeting has ended because people started chatting away before they closed out of a meeting (most of which involved attendees within the same room). If there are more in-depth discussions that need a continuation, take them offline. The last thing you want is for your boss to hear your frustration or opinion in the wrong setting. It's good practice to place a note on your computer or near your mobile/smartphone that reminds you to keep your mouth shut, until you log-off from the video conference.
That's pretty much it. Remember, a video conference or remote meeting isn't different from an in-person meeting, except for the fact that it's conducted digitally/virtually. Leverage technology that bridges physical gaps and enables you to continue your operations towards achieving your milestones and goals!