With everyone pushing to convert traditional offices to remote offices with a distributed workforce, video conferencing is becoming the standard for presentations, interviews and meetings.
Although most video conference tools are quite easy to use, unfamiliarity with this mode of communication can add a layer of anxiety to any high-pressure situation. Minor tech or connectivity issues can delay start times or cause problems in pulling up visual materials. And a job candidate, a agency that’s pitching for business, or anyone else on the “hot seat” tends to bear the brunt of awkwardness.
Don’t focus on the awkward. Instead, appreciate that this new medium can connect you to far-off opportunities. Also, put in the prep work to make sure you maximize those opportunities.
Best practices for video conferencing with potential clients or hires
1. More logistical information in advance equals a better shot for you.
The most important question that clients or candidates forget to ask is simply: How will we connect for this appointment? It seems overly anxious, or maybe silly to ask. Of course, those details must be forthcoming. But many interview coordinators actually wait to share the conference details till the last minute, and leave out some of the information when they do send. Instead:
- Make sure you share or get the conference link-up details (a link or a handle, plus app download info).
- Try to log on ahead of time if possible, to make sure you’re familiar with the process.
- Ask if there’s a coordinator contact (preferably you want their mobile number) in case you need assistance during the connection process. In corporate culture of the recent past, it was not appropriate to ask for anyone’s mobile, but in this situation, there’s usually a designated coordinator whose job is to help facilitate the logistics.
- Don’t just ask for the login details, though. Try to get as much intel as possible. See if questions or discussion topics are available.
- If you’re giving a pitch, try to find out what the prospect is interested in seeing. In any setting, ask if there are materials you can send over ahead of time.
- Finally, find out whether any portion of this video conference will be recorded. If so, you’ll want to rehearse those discussion points even more.
2. Run through a tech rehearsal.
Even if the video conference tool is something that’s been around a while and you’ve used before, there could still be surprise hitches, some to do with the tech, and some caused by simple human error. Maybe Skype suddenly needs to know the Microsoft password that you haven’t had to input in 10 years. Maybe Google doesn’t recognize the professional email you set up just for work correspondence. Or, maybe you’ve been sent a wrong link. Do a “tech rehearsal” before the meeting time and troubleshoot all of it.
Finally, check that the audio input and output are set properly, which is particularly important if you’re using headphones or an external mic. Typically, audio input and output can be controlled in System Preferences or through the in-app control panel. Take a few minutes to check your headphones, if you are using them. Apple is particularly confounding, since laptops use a standard headphone jack while phone earbuds have the “lightning cable” connector.
A note on video conference tools for pitchers…
If you are setting up a pitch with a prospective client, every invitee’s attendance is not guaranteed, and sending them an invite to an unfamiliar virtual space might lose them. Even with a tool like join.me (which is incredibly user-friendly, as it runs off Flash and requires no downloads from a laptop in order to attend a meeting), you’re still assuming all invitees will be at their computer.
Maybe they’re on the road. Or maybe they just don’t like being forced onto a new app. You might spend the first 10 minutes getting the main prospect logged onto the share-screen. Or worse yet, they’ll opt out because they feel they’re losing valuable time.
Ask before sending if they’re ok using your video conference tool, and create a plan B that includes a dial-in and a deck you can send via email.
3. Test how fast and steady your internet connection will be.
A pitching session is not an occasion to live out your “I’m a digital nomad, I work from a hammock” fantasies. It’s one thing to FaceTime with your cousin from a beach bar, and an entirely different thing to have your connection drop mid-way through a new business face-to-face because you tried to use a beach bar’s free Wi-Fi.
Find yourself a Wi-Fi connection that you don’t have to share. For the steadiest connection, some career experts recommend connecting directly via Ethernet. Because this isn’t feasible for those of us whose office is our laptop, the next best thing is to get as close as possible to the router.
The website Speedtest.com will test download and upload speed of the main source of internet (cable or Wi-Fi) for your device. If you’re on Wi-Fi, test from different areas of your building to figure out where the connection is the fastest.
Note: It’s equally important to close out of extra windows and apps that may be sharing the connection. Double-check that Spotify, Google Drive and other programs you may have continuously running in the background are shut down just for this occasion, as they suck your bandwidth.
4. Eliminate distractions, not just for your benefit but for parties on the other end.
We’ve nixed the beach bar and the cool neighborhood café as suitable places to log in from, but even your own home or shared workspace may not be conducive to totally focusing and nailing this presentation.
Look carefully for the space with the least ambient noise. Stop and notice the daily neighborhood sounds that you’re used to, but which may be extremely distracting in a high-pressure virtual meeting. Examples: city busses going by, construction on the premises, leaf blowers or lawn mowers. Decide if you can minimize with headphones, or if unexpected noise may throw you off your game. (Note to newbie work-from-home folks: A passing ambulance siren can be ignored. A jackhammer, not so much.) If there is a high probability of ambient noise, find another spot.
Also, make sure no people are going in and out, ringing the doorbell, or calling for you. This includes your roommates, delivery folks, shared office-mates, and, oh yes, family: Don’t just tell people you need privacy. Actually shut the door, and maybe even lock it and put up a “do not disturb” sign.
Ensure before logging on that no laundry buzzer, oven timers, or similar alarm-style noise is set to go off and startle you. Silence all phones, including the Google Voice inbound call ring on your computer. Turn off Alexa or other smart home devices that may choose an inopportune moment to join the conversation.
5. Share the visual materials in advance.
When you’re giving a sales pitch, it’s definitely advisable to send a deck and/or video over to the folks who will be receiving your pitch. They don’t typically need these materials way ahead of time. Many people send just before the appointment as a way to remind everyone that it’s on, and give a visual cue to what will be discussed.
If you’ve received confirmation that everyone will go through the presentation slides during the video conference, make sure they’re cued up properly at the very beginning of the appointment, but don’t dive into the presentation until everyone who wants to can see it.
If you’re interviewing for a job, it isn’t so certain that people will expect to see slides during the interview, but requests often do come up at some point in the process. If you’re in content marketing, you might be asked about content calendars, campaigns you’ve executed in the past, or your process for developing elements of larger initiatives. When curiosity sparks the moment, it helps to have samples on hand that you can talk people through casually.
6. Speak for the camera, not the phone.
Even for people who actually enjoy pitching, doing it in a video conference is a little scary. Everybody starts off with a little quiver in their voice, or a moment of self-consciousness at the way their face looks onscreen. Here are methods to contain the fear and shine in the moment.
It’s all about delivery, your delivery.
We’ve talked about visual elements — sending them, having them cued up —b ut here’s the thing to keep in mind: They’re for the other parties to refer to. The main benefit of video is that people can get more of a sense of your personality. So, don’t rely on text-heavy or complicated presentation elements that will require you to tab between screens, read through large portions of text, or otherwise flatten your delivery.
Check you have their attention.
The highest-ranking person in the group (the person you most want to impress) is probably the most in-demand, and therefore the least likely to be laser-focused on your pitch. Just because you see their avatar, don’t assume their eyes are on the presentation. Politely double-check you have their attention:
“SVP Scott, are you able to view the screen with my title page loaded? Oh, you’re not viewing, you’re calling in from the car on the way to the airport? No problem, I’ll walk you through everything.”
Adjust your speech and tone accordingly.
If you’re a fast talker naturally, focus on speaking a bit slower than you would in person. Also, pause at appropriate moments and ask if anyone has questions or wants more details on what you just said. The very high-energy delivery that gets people hyped in a room may come across as “firehose” effect in a remote video setting. A best-case scenario is not necessarily fast-talking your way through a presentation, but instead, getting your prospective client so interested in one part of your presentation that they engage in conversation, maybe not ever getting to the final slides.
Do-overs are OK.
If you’re being recorded and you didn’t nail an answer, it’s usually fine to ask for a do-over. The person running the interview might say no (or more politely, “That was fine,”) but if there’s time to spare and you say, “I think I could have worded that a little better,” a lot of people will let you.
We’re lucky to live in times where technology that we saw on ‘Star Trek’ is now fully arrived and ready to help connect us with new opportunities. Yes, it can be a little weird at first, but if you approach with confidence and check your control panels before takeoff, it should be it should be light speed forward into a better career future.
Check out this ClearVoice article on positioning your freelance portfolio to bring in more prospective opportunities.