Posted: Thu 3rd Dec 2015
Video conferencing is an effective and low cost way to stay in touch with employees and customers, but there are some pitfalls to avoid. Microsoft, a supporter of our Go and Grow Online campaign, explains more.
No matter what industry you're in, you've probably experienced at least a few video conference calls. While these calls require slightly more equipment than audio conferencing, they fill a need for face-to-face time that can't quite be met without in-person gatherings. In fact, the popularity of video conferencing has exploded in recent years and that is for a number of reasons.
First, video conferencing saves time and money. According to a study by PGi, companies that regularly use video conferencing find a 30% dip in the cost of travel overall, which includes hotel, airfare, fuel, taxi, car rentals and food stipends. In addition, video conferencing can lead to higher efficiency and productivity. It holds attention longer than a regular call (35 minutes compared with 23 minutes, according to PGi). Another perk of video conferencing is that it brings a sense of oneness among scattered employees who telecommute or work in different cities. Sometimes, you just need a face-to-face meeting.
But video conferencing comes with its challenges too. Have you ever participated in a call that was so poorly organised, or had so many technology flubs, that it felt like a waste of time? Most people probably have. That's why it's important to do all you can to avoid the following video conferencing nightmares, whether you're the host or a participant.
Background noise. A great benefit of video conferencing is that it allows you to work from anywhere, even your home. But remember, your goal is still to be as professional as possible. That means you should eliminate any extraneous noises, including dog barks and child cries. Close yourself in a quiet room with no distractions. If you know you'll have an important call, send the kids to grandma's and shut the dogs in another room.
Unmuted distractions. Don't be 'that person' who forgets to mute himself or herself when talking to others in the room, answering another phone call or, gulp, ordering a cup of coffee. If you need to step away from the call, mute yourself no matter the reason.
Muted conversations. On the other hand, don't forget to unmute yourself when it's your turn to speak. Who knows how many countless minutes and hours have been lost in our lives thanks to accidental muting!
Spotty connection. There's nothing more annoying than being kicked off a video call. Not only do you miss parts of the meeting, but you waste time and energy trying to get back on. Be sure to have a solid internet connection from wherever you're working, and know how to restart it should it go out. Also, have a backup source for connecting if possible; for example, if there's an app for your video conferencing program, install it on your smart phone and know how to use it if need be.
Static or interference. It's not cool when someone misses every other word you say (or vice versa). Sometimes technology is just a beast and there's no way to prevent it. But one way to lessen the likelihood of static or interference is for all participants to mute their phones unless they're speaking.
Unknown speaker. When there are multiple people on the line, it can be difficult to remember who is who. Even if the program you are using identifies you, state your name and department before saying anything important. This will help those you don't know well get oriented before you say a word.
Echo central. Sometimes there's an unexplainable echo on a video call. If this occurs, try to narrow it down to a specific person or ask everyone to redial in. If that does not solve the issue, be prepared with another bridge or line for people to join.
In addition to these video conferencing nightmares, here are a few tips for best practices when preparing for a video call:
If you're organising a meeting, be sure it's actually necessary. Almost all of us have hung up from a call and thought, "well, that could have been accomplished with an email!" Help participants stay on task with a clear and detailed agenda. Be sure to leave time at the end for questions.
Be comfortable with the video conferencing technology before the meeting begins. Don't wait until five minutes before a call starts to try signing in for the first time. If you're the meeting host, run a test beforehand. Ask an employee to join your practice meeting so you can get the hang of granting screen sharing access, muting and unmuting participants, and more.
Use plenty of lighting. It doesn't matter where you are during the meeting, the office, your home, etc, be sure there's adequate lighting so others can see your face. Don't allow yourself to be backlit or your face could appear dark. Instead, be sure the light is coming from in front of you or from the side.
Make sure the background is not distracting. It's not very professional to have a pile of laundry or your childrens' toys scattered behind you. Instead, go for simple and plain.
Dress appropriately. You're still a professional, so unless it's an audio conference, pay attention to your hair, make-up and clothing. Specifically, wear muted, neutral or pastel colours; no stripes, polka dots, plaids or anything else that could be distracting on screen.
Keep your webcam at eye level or a bit higher. Weird angles are also distracting.
Consider purchasing a good microphone, especially if you make a lot of video calls. An external USB microphone is a great pick.
Stay focused on the call. Remember, people can see you so don't try to multi-task during your video conference.
Look into the camera. Too many people stare at their own image on the screen instead, but that makes it appear (to everyone else) as if you're looking downward. You won't come across as professional and forthright as you want to be.
Remember, video conferencing is just like any technology in that there are many benefits as well as challenges. Fortunately, many of these challenges can be avoided with a little knowledge, troubleshooting and patience. So get ready and dive in to your next online video conference with ease.
Lights, camera, action!
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