The world of meetings has changed forever. Due to Covid-19, we all rapidly adopted Zoom and Teams for virtual meetings and let’s face it, most of us didn’t have a clue in the beginning. No more turning up too early for meetings and trying to look confident in a company’s reception area as you await being summoned. No more coffee served in too small cups from dubious machines that require a Degree in Mechanical Engineering to operate. Instead, we are sent secret little encrypted links and invites. And stare at blank screens waiting for our host to let us in.
We’ve made up our own etiquette as we go along but for what it’s worth, here are my ten top tips for Zoom and Teams.
1. Turn that camera ON
It is incredibly disconcerting being in a meeting where one or more attendees have their cameras switched OFF. It’s a real statement of apathy (or maybe anarchy). Unless it is a webinar with 20+ delegates, turn that camera ON. In real life we react, engage and bounce off facial expressions and personality – it is no different online. If you are running a meeting, you can set this out in the meeting rules at the beginning. That should probably be a separate point but yes, set out the rules at the beginning – camera on, mic off etc.
2. Check the tech
If you are presenting or hosting a meeting, have a dummy run with some friendly colleagues. Make a checklist and ensure that guest speakers outside your company can access the meeting easily and that you know how to share a presentation or your screen. Turn any automated messages OFF. Much as it is intriguing when instant messages pop up on a presenter’s screen such as ‘Is your boring webinar over yet’, it isn’t always taken the right way.
3. Too much text is not cool
Has anyone else moved their face two inches from the monitor to try and read a text overload on a PowerPoint slide? It’s kind of pointless because we can’t read it. And whilst we are trying to read all the words, we are missing the nuances of what you are saying. Keep it visual and try and summarise briefly. And in-between slides, turn the ‘share screen’ off for a few minutes and engage your colleagues in conversation and discussion. It is too easy for us to zone out staring at slides.
Don’t forget you are on camera. We can see when you are bored, we can see you sending that text message. Keep engaged and look interested. When we meet in real life, people can see us from head to toe, in a Zoom or Teams meeting, they can only see our face. Project positivity and you’ll keep the meeting energised.
5. Don’t forget you are on camera
Check what your colleagues can see when you are online. Since the first lockdown I have spotted pants drying on a radiator, a whiteboard covered in confidential information and I’ve lip-read muted conversations between spouses/pets and kids – some of which has been highly entertaining. And yes, drink coffee, but don’t eat your breakfast or lunch or crisps on camera. It’s really distracting and a bit yuck.
6. Wear suitable clothes
Dress professionally or dress to your profession. Much as we shouldn’t judge people on how they dress, we do. If you are trying to create a professional impression, look the part. It’s about respect not conformity. You don’t need to wear a suit but look well presented. Personally, I feel more confident at work (even online) if I dress as I would for work (even if that is a Pat Butcher retro look). Quirky is great, baseball cap with a dressing gown is not so great.
7. Check your mic
Ever since my daughter stage whispered ‘is that the one you don’t like’ in a Zoom meeting, I now always check whether my mic is on or muted. There’s a different set of rules around the mic than the camera. In a meeting it is perfectly acceptable to mute yourself when others are talking, in fact it is encouraged. Background noises, car alarms, builders, dogs barking tend to distort what the speaker is saying. And a meeting wouldn’t be a meeting without the pantomime style shouting of “You’re on MUTE”.
8. Keep to the time limit
It’s difficult to stare at a screen for more than an hour and keep focused. Meetings should have an agenda (even an informal one) and be managed by someone who keeps it on track. It should never go on for longer than 90 minutes. If you do have a War and Peace type agenda, schedule a 20 minute break for attendees. I once endured a 3 hour Teams meeting and had to break my own rule and turn the camera off whilst I rested my forehead on the desk in sheer despair.
9. Go to the toilet
If you need a toilet break, go. I tend to turn off my camera and mute my mic and post a note in the chat saying ‘back in 2 mins’. If there’s no chance of you being called upon for a comment, just go. Or if you are familiar with the meeting attendees, just tell them. REMEMBER to mute your mic. Those AirPods you are wearing might be handy to listen to the meeting whilst you nip to the bathroom, but note that they can hear you too. And we’ve all heard those urban myth stories of hearing your colleague going to the toilet. There’s no coming back after that.
10. Be yourself
This goes for general presenting, not just virtually. If you are an overexcitable person, let that spill into how you present. I once watched a wonderfully lively lady present and she became so excited about her subject matter, she fell off the stage. Likewise, if you are a serious person, be serious. The best presentations are from people who just let themselves be. So long as you know and love (or pretend to love) the subject you are talking about, we will love you too. Even every ‘um’ and ‘ah’ and ‘know what I mean’.