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You should be wearing headphones & more: Your guide to virtual meeting etiquette

June 7, 2020

Self-awareness in the time of virtual meetings and virtual interviews looks a little different. Below are the ways you can put your best professional foot forward and remove the barriers that make virtual meetings ineffective.

Headphones

First and foremost, you should be wearing headphones during your virtual meetings.

This applies to Zoom calls, Teams meetings, and any other video conferencing software, used for your work meetings, personal calls, and especially virtual interviews.

Why? The dreaded echo feedback.

Without headphones, the sound of your coworker’s voice is coming out of your computer speakers and if the microphone that you’re using can “hear” that sound, that voice is going right back into the ears of all the participants in the meeting. A visual: Wear headphones, and the mic will never be able to pick up the sound flowing through your earbuds.

Muting

Put yourself on mute if (1) you are not actively contributing to the meeting, (2) you notice that feedback is happening and you aren’t sure if it’s you, and (3) if there’s any ambient noise around you that will be disruptive to the sound quality of the meeting. Proactive muting is a form of self-awareness.

If there are others in your meeting who are not proactively muting themselves and you’re experiencing some of the above issues, you can use this language. I find it works best when someone is unable to be heard despite clearly talking.

“Hey, Suzie, wait a second, I can’t hear you. Sounds like there’s some feedback. Can everyone else go on mute?” Best case, everyone goes on mute and stays aware of the feedback issue, and then Suzie comes through loud and clear with the reliable, “How about now? Is that better?” Most of the time though, once there’s an echo in the meeting, it will happen again. That brings us to the next point.

“Participants” view

My personal favorite secret feature — although it is far from secret — is the “Participants” view, and I leave it open 98% of the time in every one of my meetings. I have personally tested this in Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google’s new Meet platform. All on them have an option to view the list of all the participants’ names (often in alphabetical order) and, most importantly, who has an active mic. Take this example: there are 5 people in a meeting. You see their names listed: your name, Cameron, Casey, Johnny, and Suzie. Suzie is speaking, sharing with the group her update. However, there’s a bad echo. On the participants list, I see Suzie’s name in bold with the microphone symbol, indicating that her mic is picking up sound to be shared with the group. However, Cameron’s name is also in bold showing that Cameron’s mic is also picking up and sharing sound with the group, despite Cameron not actively talking. Aha! We have found our echo culprit. Try this language when there’s a natural time to cut in (if it’s tolerable) or interrupt Suzie (similar to above) — “Hey, Cameron, it looks like your mic is creating an echo, could you go on mute?”

The caveat here is that this comes back to self-awareness. If Cameron is a repeat offender, there’s a good chance that this will be an issue in every meeting with them. My rule of thumb for each meeting is to start with the general “Hey, can everyone go on mute?”, then progress to “Cameron, can you mute?”. I will typically only interrupt another person once to make a specific callout to the offender, so if it continues, I will mute the offender myself via the Participants tab.

I know this is a feature that is readily available on Microsoft Teams but I believe it works on other platforms as well. Other participants can mute someone else. That person will get a notification that they’ve been muted. Clearly, this is the last resort, as it could come across as abrupt and impolite to that person, as if saying “We don’t want to hear you anymore.” That’s why I try to make it known with repeated statements about there being an audio issue before escalating to force-muting. However, it’s a great tool to have if the audio issues are becoming a major distraction and prohibiting the conversation from moving forward effectively.



Check your environment

As I’ve mentioned, audio is the most crucial part of an effective meeting. However, it is also highly recommended to use your video as well as that captures more non-verbal cues. When you turn on your video, there are a few other parts of your environment you should pay attention to.

What you’re wearing

From my experience, this completely varies based on what your company culture is and what the expectations are. If there aren’t strict rules, I fall back to the “Dress well, test well” approach: wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident. If your company has set a standard on dress code, learn more here.

Background

The area behind you that’s visible for your camera is important. The primary goal is that you don’t want it to be distracting, but especially now that a lot of people are working from home, it’s also a fun way to express yourself! To test the view before you start your day or jump into an important meeting, you can either turn on your built-in camera app or start a solo meeting on your video platform of choice and make sure you’re good with what’s visible behind you.

Virtual backgrounds are also a popular option. If your background is a little more cluttered, or if you’re working from somewhere different, virtual backgrounds are a great way to minimize distraction. I was in a meeting one time with a coworker who was using virtual background from inside a car! And you would’ve never known.

Lighting

Good lighting is key for a clean video. You want to make sure that you are giving a professional vibe, and that others can see your face well enough to read non-verbal cues. Ideally, opt for a spot to take your virtual meetings in a well-lit area or near a window. If near a window, be sure to face toward the light. If neither of those are reliable options (which is the case of my office spot), grab a lamp. If you’re really into it, consider investing in a cheap ring light (I have one that is USB powered, so I plug it into my laptop) and voila, great lighting.

Bonus Hacks

  • Screensharing:
    • Turn off all incoming notifications. For good measure, you should change the settings on all of your notifications all the time to never show the content of incoming messages, in the chance that you forget and a rogue one enters your screen while sharing.
    • Share only the window you intend to present unless you need to show your whole screen.
    • Hide your bookmarks in your browser (there’s an easy keyboard shortcut you can google), and close your other tabs. Seriously. As soon as someone shares their screen, I scan their visible bookmarks and open tabs. It’s a distraction, and if you have a Facebook tab visible… I’m judging you. Self-awareness, friends.
    • Start “presenting” the PowerPoint before sharing to avoid sharing the wrong view. When I know I am presenting in a meeting, I first “present” the PowerPoint and make sure that the full-screen view is on my big screen and the “presenter view” in on my laptop (I have an extra monitor connected to my laptop and HIGHLY recommend), then I join the meeting, and when it’s time to share, I select the PowerPoint window only. It’s not a huge detractor, but it’s a little extra polish because it skips the few extra seconds of sharing screen of PowerPoint, then presenting the PowerPoint, then losing the screenshare, and having to reshare OR sharing the PowerPoint and it shows the presenter view with your notes and such (tip: there’s a button on the top left that says “Switch Views” that will fix that for ya) — all of which I have done and learned from!
  • On Teams meetings, the Participants’ tab also shows you the list of who was invited but has not yet joined the meeting and their RSVP status. This greatly cuts down on the “So, do we have everyone?” conversation, and shifts it to “Okay, Johnny accepted the meeting but he’s not here yet, let’s give him another minute to join and then we’ll get started”.
  • If there are connection issues, try turning off your video & incoming video. Sending and receiving video takes a lot more effort for your internet, so turning that off should open up some bandwidth to just send and receive audio. It’s not ideal (video is always preferred!) but it’s so much better than dropping out of the meeting altogether. Google how to do this on your particular platform, and you’ll be fixed up shortly.

Whew! That’s a lot. Hope it’s helpful in becoming a virtual meeting master.

What are your other tips and tricks?

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  1. Andrew Williams says:

    2 big things that have helped me in remote meetings:
    1) External microphone (I have a Jabra conference call device)
    2) I hide the self-view window on all of my Zoom calls. Helps reduce my Zoom fatigue a lot more than I expected
    -Andrew

    • Jamie Hillman says:

      Thanks for this!! I have used Jabras a bunch with group calls (many people speaking into the same microphone) and it’s wonderful. I haven’t thought of using it just by myself, that’s a great suggestion. So interesting on hiding the self-view… I primarily use Microsoft teams and I’m not sure they have this feature, but I’ll have to check. That does mean that the video preview is that much more important though, because sometimes my hair is looking CRAZY haha.

  2. […] Wearing a headset for video conferencing and webinars offers a great solution to the problem of echo feedback, which can be caused from your computer microphone “hearing” the sound from your computer speakers of your video conference. When you wear a headset, the microphone will not pick up the sound of people speaking in your conference or meeting. The ability to mute yourself when you are not actively speaking in a meeting, and to prevent disruptive background noise, is another great reason to wear a headset for virtual meetings.  You don’t want to be the video conference attendee that is constantly disrupting the call with your barking dog! […]

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