Most of the modern workforce’s dream is to move to a remote office setup — whether to spend more time with family, live in a more affordable area, or work for a great company without being physically in the same location. Yet transitioning to this setup requires gaining some new skills and familiarities. Video conferencing is a great convenience to the distributed workforce: virtual meetups can replace many in-person appointments, from job interviews to pitch meetings to recording sessions to team-building activities. But people who didn’t grow up Facetiming or using Snapchat to talk to friends and family do tend to feel awkward when they first start using Webex, Zoom or Google Hangouts to conduct business.
It’s true that to make a good showing in a video conference, some familiarity with the tool is required. However, non-techies please note, great video conference protocol is as much about logistics, communication and preparation as it is about tech skills. Get comfortable with the tools, lock down the logistics, take ownership of that virtual room — and use these tips to ensure your remote video sessions are productive.
Best practices for video conferencing: guidelines to avoid tech disaster
1. Know and share the who, why, when and where.
I suppose you wonder why I’ve gathered you here today… is a longstanding punch line when a group of random people wind up huddled together staring at each other like a family of prairie dogs.
When a bunch of people wind up on a video conference with only vague understandings why they’re there, it isn’t such a laugh. Yes, technically it’s the coordinator/manager’s responsibility to explain (preferably in an agenda beforehand — please see samples here). However, it’s also everyone invitee’s professional responsibility to make sure they understand. Specifically:
- Is there a conference link?
- Will there be a presentation? If so, will you be giving some portion of a presentation?
- Is your presence required, or is it optional?
- Will you be seen? Heard? Or just listening and taking notes?
2. Pick the right tool for the occasion.
We’re lucky to have lots of options for video conferencing, many of them free. Programs that may be standard for large companies (e.g., WebEx) have competition from apps like Zoom that run conferences “in the cloud.” Meanwhile, classic services like Skype are adding features: Skype version 8 offers a very easy-to-use built-in recording tool that stores files in the cloud for 30 days for basic users.
Different tools work better for different circumstances. If half the people are on the road, maybe it’s Google Hangouts Meet, which is even easier to use on a mobile device than a computer. If it’s a medium-to-large size group where optional attendees are audio-only, you could opt for join.me and let a moderator preview and relay the questions from the audience. While some people pick one thing and require everyone else to join them there, a lot of people pick their virtual room based on the situation.
3. Test the link and/or hardware ahead of time.
Not just the moderator, but every attendee with a speaking part should make sure that they can log on properly. Yes, even if you were just on a similar video conference last week. With all the issues that can go wrong, from poor connection to video files that refuse to load, if you don’t do a minute of quick prep beforehand, you’re risking having to fumble through that prep while eight other people twiddle their thumbs.
This is also true for hardware. Even basic earbuds can cause problems in a fast-moving meeting if the mic is handed off to you right when you’ve decided to switch audio from the computer speaker to the earphones.
4. Be in the right place at the appointed time.
Arriving on time is usually not a problem when you can just click a button — that’s one reason people quickly come to love video conferences. However, the concept of attending a virtual meeting is murkier than in real life. At least one person will attend any given video conference via audio only, and/or be multi-tasking on an entirely different project. You don’t just risk being caught not paying attention if you do this — you will almost definitely be.
If this video conference requires you to make a good showing, make sure you are seated and focused, taking notes of important points, and ready to speak when called upon. This is obviously most important if you’re giving a pitch, being interviewed or moderating, but it’s the smart practice even if you only contribute three sentences in an hour.
5. Nail your introduction.
“Go around the table, and everyone say who you are and a little bit about what you do.”
We’ve been following this same routine since summer camp, and yet there are professionals who meander their way through a long-winded, awkward soliloquy — every time. The more high-pressure the situation, the more likely that even practiced professionals might stutter a bit in their delivery.
Also, your introduction should vary depending on the attendees and context. So, if you’ll have 30 seconds to explain exactly what you bring to the room, make sure your intro is smooth, concise and compelling. Even if you have to read bullet point notes from a Post-It.
6. Decide who handles what.
It’s a normal scenario to take the lead on a call if you’ve scheduled it specifically to make a pitch. However, it’s rare that there’s a scenario where multiple people are pitching and one of those people is moderating. Usually in those situations, the buyer or a neutral party moderates the video conference.
It’s ok to be the designated interviewer and also run video recording. But don’t try to present and handle video recording — both those tasks require dedicated focus. For the same reason, if you’re videoing a presentation, you shouldn’t also be the person taking meeting notes.
7. Test the recording tool.
This only applies, obviously, if you’re recording. But it’s well worth mentioning, because so many people try out different third-party apps when they need to record a video chat session, and don’t really bother to learn too much about the app, or download the paid version. This leads to all sorts of issues with the recording, including:
- The footage comes out with a watermark across the subject’s face, sometimes obscuring them completely, but always distracting from the video content.
- The recorded session is split into very short segments, usually rendering the video clips impossible to understand when shared.
- The latest version of the recording tool doesn’t sync with the latest version of the video conference tool (this happened on a large scale when Skype introduced version 8).
Don’t wait till after the fact to check that your video worked. If you’re recording, run a test beforehand to make sure things aren’t recording with a giant watermark across the center. When you test, make sure that you know exactly where on your hard drive the video files are being saved (for example, Skype saves them to the cloud, but only for 30 days, so you have to individually save the videos you want to keep on your hard drive).
One last thing: If you’ll be recording audio, make sure everyone knows. All-party consent is a law in approximately a dozen states.
8. Try the QuickTime recording hack.
If you’re using a Mac and you want to easily get a full-screen recording of the session without learning or subscribing to a new tool, QuickTime is the easiest third-party app. It’s preloaded onto all Mac computers and it records the screen independently of the video conference tool. You can also select what part of the screen you want to capture.
To record using QuickTime:
Open QuickTime first, then open your video conference tool and connect.
When you want to begin recording, switch to Quicktime and click File > New Screen Recording
A pop-up control menu will appear. Click the arrow and enable built-in internal microphone.
Once you hit Record you will be given the following option.
Click and drag to crop the video recording how you want it.
When you are ready to end the recording, look for the small bullseye-looking Stop Recording icon at the top-left menu bar on the screen and click it.
9. Shhhhh! Use that mute button. People are working!
If you’re not talking, mute your audio. This seems self-evident, but every day someone seems to need the reminder. Your colleagues may love your dogs, worry that you’re driving in such bad weather, and empathize with your neighborhood leaf blower problems, but that doesn’t mean they want your background noise to drown out the whole program. Thanks.