Just like everybody else these days, we are being thrust into virtual conferences. We had them before the virus, but now they are mandatory. Unfortunately, this situation was thrust upon us so fast that we didn’t have time to develop and agree upon a set of virtual conference manners!
There are problems with the media itself and the use of the media that we would like to address. It’s bad enough that you can’t be there, but if you’re a speaker, others want your time for free (like YouTube), and then there is the feedback problem: There’s no laughing or clapping in real time from the audience. It’s all very sterile and detached.
So why do folks further isolate themselves from the conference by trying to watch it on their phones? If someone makes a virtual conference date with you, don’t they deserve a bigger monitor than 2” X 3”? Don’t they deserve to appear on a screen that is closer to life size? And don’t they deserve your attention uninterrupted by constant mobile phone connectivity issues?
When we used to meet in person, we gave them, and they gave us, their undivided attention. It was considered polite. How much attention can you give someone on tiny screen? And what about the attendees, they are in even smaller boxes?
We remember how our audience would listen attentively, remaining silent while we spoke. We miss the spontaneous real-time feedback, and hearing them laughing and clapping. That’s how we knew we were communicating and had their attention. Now, image how it would be if we just turned off our mic and maybe send emotes. No, not good enough!
No more undivided attention and no more sincere and spontaneous feedback, and certainly, no more paid stage performances.
Needless to say we’ve lost a lot on both ends of the conversation. Sincerity and authenticity are the biggest casualties! But that doesn’t have to be the case. We can improve. Here are some suggestions that we believe will make video conferencing more sincere, believable, and respectful to and from both sides:
- Schedule video conferences when you can be in a stationary room (not a vehicle) with a computer and a large monitor. The closer to life size, the better.
- Don’t do texting or emailing during a conference, it’s rude! It’s better to drop off or reschedule than to be seen ignoring the speaker.
- If you don’t have noise issues, leave your mic on so the speaker can hear your reactions. This is preferable unless it is a larger audience, in which case that causes confusion. This is a challenge for the tech folks: There must be some way to reduce noise feedback so the speaker can hear clapping and laughing without disrupting the primary speaker(s).
- Sit up or stand up straight and wear at least business casual clothes. Pants, although not seen, may help you establish a more professional attitude.
- Take notes and confirm any action items with corresponding calendar dates as soon as possible.
- Make sure your background says something positive, orderly, peaceful, and professional.
There are more best practices for virtual conference etiquette, but these will certainly be a great start. At least lose the phone and embrace the big screen!