What’s the single most important message you can send when you’re in a meeting?
This meeting is important to me.
Yet, even after a year when so many people attended meetings online, many still don’t display good meeting skills. The reason? They don’t think virtual meeting etiquette is of equal importance with in-person meeting etiquette. But even from a computer screen, you still need to make sure you’re focused on the people on the other end of the call, just as you would if you were meeting in person for coffee.
Arden Clise of Clise Etiquette agrees. She’s a coach and speaker, as well as the author of Spinach in Your Boss’s Teeth: Essential Etiquette for Professional Success. “People have this very relaxed mindset in virtual calls where they act and dress more casually.” They eat on camera, slouch on a couch—or a bed—or turn off their video altogether and start multi-tasking. “You need to dress appropriately and conduct yourself appropriately, just like if you were meeting in person,” Clise says.
In this article, we provide tips on how to manage lights, cameras, and other aspects of your meeting setting to encourage focus and promote high-quality, respectful interaction.
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Virtual Meeting Etiquette: 11 Best Practices
A big part of virtual meeting etiquette is making others feel at ease. These are some specific things you can do to create an environment that enables a superior web call:
- Mute your microphone. Unless you’re talking, stay muted because background noise can interrupt the speaker. Clise suggests that you ask people in advance to mute themselves.
- Create meeting ground rules. “Set guidelines around how people should participate and ask questions,” advises Clise. “Do they need to raise a real hand or virtual hand to speak? If it’s a small group, can they jump into the conversation and interrupt?” To support virtual meeting etiquette for Zoom and other platforms, explain when they can use the chat box and configure the settings to limit with whom they can chat.
- Turn on your video. “When the video is off, I want to check out because no one sees me,” says Clise. When you require video on, it encourages greater virtual meeting engagement.
- Be aware of what you look like when you’re not talking. When we’re not actively engaged, our face can appear bored or, more typically, angry—the so-called “resting mean-face.” To avoid this, glance at yourself on screen occasionally while others talk and adjust your expression if necessary.
- Don’t do all the talking. Ask questions to draw people out. In groups, call on reserved attendees to give their opinions.
- Turn off devices and notifications. The cute animal picture someone just posted is too tempting. Put away your phone and turn off notifications on your computer before your eyes and attention wander.
- Pause after speaking. Online audio lags. When we stop talking but don’t get a response right away, we often rush to fill the silence. But in web calls, when people speak at the same time, it mashes the audio and creates confusion. When you say something, leave a slight pause at the end. If you’re someone who tends to give verbal affirmations, like “Yes” or “Cool,” consider giving visual cues such as nodding or smiling.
- Provide clean sound. Use earbuds to avoid feedback and consider using a microphone if your room creates echoes. Avoid big earphones and podcast mics as they look unnatural. However, for one-to-many content, such as a webcast, big accessories lend an air of authority.
- Ensure your lighting is as natural as possible. “It’s hard to connect with just a shadow,” says Clise. Face a window or illuminate yourself with a desktop lamp. If you often meet online, invest in a couple of simple webcam lights. And don’t aim them at your face—aim them at the nearest wall or the ceiling to produce a soft light that spreads out over a wider area.
- Adjust your camera. Good eye-contact is another tactic for encouraging virtual meeting engagement. Often, we put the laptop on the desk at arm level and then tilt the camera up to an unnatural angle (not to mention an unflattering one) for conversations. Put the laptop on a stand, even if you must improvise. The webcam should be at eye level, so you look straight into the camera.
- Manage your background. Your setting contributes to the tone and focus of meetings. Such control is critical for high-stakes meetings such as sales calls or sensitive interactions with doctors, nurses, lawyers, or business coaches. Adjust your camera so it reveals as little background as possible, or buy a narrow-angle webcam like the Logitech Brio and Logitech 920. Simplify your background to eliminate distractions. For example, Anyvoo branded backdrops help create a very focused conversation.
At the start of the pandemic, it was acceptable to overlook virtual meeting etiquette standards. But there are likely to be higher expectations as online meetings become the norm. Practicing good virtual etiquette now will give you the advantage going into the future.