How to prevent ‘unforced errors’​ in your online meetings

Whenever I think of online meetings, I go back to the viral video of Professor Robert Kelly’s interview with BBC in 2017 when his kids walked into the room while the interview was live. It was a hilarious scene with the two kids opening the door to his room, interrupting the live broadcast, soon followed by his wife, who zoomed into the room like a superhero to take the kids away.

If you have kids, you will understand that handling the unexpected gracefully, with empathy towards your kids, and with an apology to those who witnessed is the way to handle unexpected interruptions. But this article is not about what to do when you are interrupted by your kids; it is about how to prevent what they call, in tennis, unforced errors or mistakes that are totally preventable.

Invest in your own Zoom account

How embarrassing is it to have a meeting cut off abruptly, just as you get into an idea of substance at the 40-minute mark? It is a rookie mistake not to get a paid Zoom account. Some may say, why not use Google Meet? After all, It comes with your Google Subscription? The answer is simple, Google Meet sucks. The problems are twofold, first, when I present, I am unable to see myself, and second, it is browser-based, so oftentimes, I lose where the meeting is in my sea of tabs, and sometimes I accidentally close the tab the meeting is on and close out the meeting. BEWARE: In Google’s attempt to promote Google Meet, they make it difficult to make Zoom default and sometimes automatically include Meet in meeting invites when you use Gmail. Be aware of this and don’t send out meeting invites with the wrong details.

Invest in the right equipment

Ever since I got my $109 Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording & Streaming, no one has complained about audio on my meetings. And, my $40 1080P Webcam with Ring Light and Advanced Auto-Focus, Adjustable Brightness isn’t even a known brand name and makes me look like I am on the news. Also, don’t forget a Webcam Stand Camera Desk Stand with a Webcam Holder to ensure your camera is straight, steady, and stable even if you have to move the camera.

Dress to impress

Speaking of a steady and stable camera, recently, the CEO of AMC appeared to be pantsless during an interview with a YouTuber after his webcam fell off of his monitor. I get it. Why wear pants if you don’t have to? But if you aren’t wearing pants, you can use a webcam and holder to keep it above the waist. When you know that you will be attending a meeting, preparing yourself beforehand is an expected act of professionalism – locking the door to your room, dressing appropriately.

What’s behind that person?

Zoom and Google Meet allow their users to get creative with their video call backgrounds, but it doesn’t mean you necessarily need to be so! If you are the primary focus of a meeting, using a distracting background takes away your credibility. Excessively applying such filters could also lead the participants to wonder what you’re trying so hard to hide. Is it your messy room? Your creepy basement? One will never know!

Beds are not a place to conduct professional business – unless you are interested in another type of “business.” Even if your headboard is beautiful, it sends the wrong message to all sitting up and fully engaged participants. I see this with students most often. Also, once these students get a little older, they will realize how important an ergonomic chair is to help them maintain proper posture.

Direct attention towards yourself

The basic online meeting etiquette requires one to be present fully physically (virtually) and mentally. It is highly advisable to keep your camera on and listen attentively—both as an act of courtesy for the presenter/participants and a display of your credibility. It is always better to sit still while someone is talking/presenting instead of moving about needlessly. Make sure to eliminate as many distractions as possible when you are in meetings.

While it’s all right to attend a meeting while you’re in a car due to unavoidable circumstances, it’s best to be in a stable place and position to offer your complete attention. And do not place your camera opposite to a glaring source of light; apart from being distracting, it also makes everything look dark and dull—including yourself!

Close the meeting when it is over

Hopefully, there is no need to explain why this is important.

Make looking back convenient for yourself and others

To quickly revisit the meeting contents, I recommend using Perfect Recall (unless you share confidential/private information). It’s best to use such services to transcribe interviews to look back and draw meaningful information for various purposes. And make sure to let the participating individual(s) know that they’re being recorded and clearly state your intention behind doing so. 

The transformative adaptation to online meetings has been the biggest blessing to the world in the last year. Whether you use it to your advantage or consider it as a limitation is up to you. 

I have been able to connect collaborators and clients from across the world within just a few clicks. And if you’re doing something similar, make sure the person on the other side of the screen has their focus only on you

Happy Zooming!


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