As concerns related to COVID-19 intensify, so are efforts to encourage “social distancing.” This, in turn, is fueling interest in video conferencing, which allows users in different locations to see and talk with each other in real time.
In the past, I wasn’t a big fan of video conferencing, in part because the web camera perched on top of my computer screen never seemed to stay put. Now, computers and phones come equipped with built-in cameras and microphones, making the conferencing process much more streamlined.
Most video conferencing software is fairly easy to use, even for those of us who are not tech people. If you are new to this form of communication, here are a few tips to help you get started.
Take advantage of free options. Many video conferencing choices exist for those who want to host meetings regularly. Some platforms offer a free trial, or a free meeting plan for personal use. The no-fee option usually limits the number of participants and/or the length of meetings – but may be just fine for your purposes. Here’s one article that compares some of the video conferencing platforms out there.
Practice in advance. Schedule a test session with a friend or family member. This will teach you how to set up a meeting and notify participants in addition to giving you the opportunity to try different features.
Log on 5-10 minutes early. Give yourself a few minutes in advance to test the A/V and adjust your settings, if necessary. An early arrival also increases the odds of the meeting starting on time.
Use the mute button. A siren from an emergency vehicle, a barking dog, a cough or a sneeze – these and other sounds can pop up and cause distractions. It’s usually best to put yourself on mute whenever you aren’t talking.
Opt for natural lighting, when possible. Position your light sources in front of you, so your face is clearly visible.
Be aware of your surroundings. If your work space has clutter and/or messy stacks of papers, put them out of sight (or neaten them up a bit). A neutral, light-colored wall behind you usually works well.
Make eye contact. I was reminded why this matters after watching a recording of myself during a video meeting. As I took notes, my downcast eyes were on a notepad that wasn’t visible to others – which made me look like I was sleeping. The same effect can result from looking down to read text messages or browse social media on a phone (another reason to put it away during a meeting).
One more thought: Camera-shy people may be tempted to use the audio-only option to participate in an online meeting. If that sounds like you, here’s something to consider: video is what lets us feel like we’re sitting in the same room with our coworkers, customers, friends and other people we care about. This visual connection can lift our spirits and help us stay positive during a difficult time.