Back to the Future debuted the first of its three movies 35 years ago last month, and here’s a fun fact: the movie creators forecasted at least 10 future innovations, including the adoption of tablet computers, flat-screen TVs, facial recognition, smart glasses, and yes…videoconferencing (as shown in the clip above).
Although they were a few years off (that clip was set in 2015), the future of video meetings is now. And if you’re like me, there’s room for improvement in making virtual meetings more appealing to those we’re trying to engage.
I recently did a self-assessment in six areas to see if I had room to improve. Here are the areas I assessed.
Is your picture clear or grainy? Most built-in web cameras provide clear pictures, but it’s worth running a test meeting and asking for feedback on your picture quality. If it’s not clear, consider purchasing an inexpensive external web camera. My default camera appears to be adequate.
Is your camera positioned at eye level, or are you looking down on your meeting guests? The former is how you want your camera positioned; the latter is more often our reality because of how we traditionally position our laptops/screens. If you’re not eye level, place some books under your laptop or screen for an easy fix. That’s what I did.
This seems to be the most common area for improvement. The best lighting is natural lighting, positioned directly in front of you. If you’re in a space with a window, be sure you’re facing it and avoid having it positioned behind you. If you don’t have a window or can’t position your work area to face it, then place a light directly in front of you/behind your camera. Try to avoid light sources positioned behind, overhead, or to one side. The result will be a dark silhouette or shadows on your face that aren’t flattering. My workspace has very little natural light. I bought a ring light, and it made all the difference. Having light flood my face took some getting used to, but see for yourself the difference it makes.
The best background offers contrast and depth but is not too busy. Admittedly, mine may be a bit busy. Mostly, try to avoid too many knick-knacks or other things that will distract your meeting guests.
This is an element of video meetings that’s often overlooked. Most people can forgive or temporarily work through poor video. But not poor audio. In fact, one recent study found that audio quality influences whether people trust what they hear. The audio quality on most PCs and laptops are good enough, but they don’t do a great job of filtering out background noise. Where I work, I’m close to the outside air conditioner unit. And when it runs, it creates a humming sound in the background. Over time, that can be distracting and tiresome to meeting guests. So I decided to make another modest investment in my virtual meeting setup and purchased an external microphone. So far, so good! Hear the difference for yourself.
Finally, be sure you’ve dressed the part. This aspect of video meetings is improving, but early in the pandemic, it seemed too many viewed virtual meetings as a license to wear hoodies or other casual clothing. We’re still conducting business when we meet virtually, and we should continue to dress the part. Granted, what you choose to wear outside of the camera view is up to you. But in view, the rule of thumb should be the answer to this question: What would I normally wear to a business meeting? One potential adjustment: lean toward wearing solid colors. The camera isn’t kind to “busy” patterns. I’m shifting from shirts with patterns to shirts with solid colors.
Do you have room for improvement? In this new way of conducting Advancement work, anything we can do to improve our virtual meeting experience will leave a positive impression on our meeting guests and improve our chances of meeting virtually again with them in the future.