Mental note to self: Learn how to conduct myself in a professional manner whilst on camera and close-up, during an on-line meeting – a blog by Helen Shakespeare.

The first view my meeting participants had of me on their laptops was actually a close-up of my son pressing buttons and slating me (plus profanities) for having the video camera off and the microphone on silent. Unable to download the app on my laptop, I was holding my phone. I hadn’t realised that by swiping I would have been able to see other contributors and so when only the meeting’s host came into view, commenting generously on my make-up, I proceeded to announce to her that I wasn’t fully dressed as I had no bra on. The multiple, formal introductions with others that followed, made me feel uncomfortable, unprofessional and underprepared, not to mention, underclad.

I’d given careful thought to what might be in the background to my shot, particularly since tidying has not made it onto my isolation things to do list. However, within milliseconds, I gave everyone a virtual tour of my house, taking the phone with me to find my charger because the battery was diminishing as I spoke. I could only find the short charger. So, whilst everyone was sitting calmly upright, I was angled unflatteringly and panicking about the aforementioned lack of attire. Another trip to the front room to find the extension lead before I had clearly not learnt to sit still and make minimal movements. Perhaps by then my anxiety had kicked in because I do know how to behave in meetings. For the first time ever, I (a) waved when I wanted to speak and (b) on interrupting someone else, mimicked the speak no evil monkey emoji in a manner that suggested I still hadn’t grasped how on show I was.

I’d like to point out that since then my meeting persona has drastically improved, but it did get me thinking. I’ve compiled a little Ten Top Tips which I have found useful and thought you might too. Please don’t read them and despair, we are all on a learning curve.

 

Dostill send out a clear and well-communicated agenda and follow up with minutes. More than ever in this disconnected time do we need people to feel they can come to a virtual meeting prepared. The follow-up notes avoid people missing details; allow people a window of opportunity to check for understanding and help people like me for whom the main take-aways are what people were wearing or the style of their décor.

Don’t – allow the more confident to dominate or the conversation to digress. Consider some kind of a turn-taking system. Be aware of people less confident and invite their response. Better still, if someone just won’t shut up you can mute them. It’s important we look for the advantages of our new isolation habits.

Do – figure out which button to push to mute yourself. And then remember to un-mute before you make your point. The key to success is to get everyone engaged. Hopefully the meeting leader will ask questions and invite comment.

Don’t – spring surprise documents on people mid-meeting. Send documents out before to allow people to react or think about how they might be able to comment professionally ready for the meeting. We are all used to swallowing expletives and hiding shocked expressions in face-to-face meetings but it’s hard for our ‘home-behaviour’ not to seep into the on-line forum.

Do – prepare your system in advance. Make sure you have tested the system and have the correct link or invite. Check the sound level and have chargers at the ready because charge drains quickly it seems, particularly if you are on a smart phone. And definitely check your cleavage before bending down to plug it in.

Don’t have anything distracting around or behind you. Then when you speak, the message can be heard and understood. Think about the image you want to portray which may include the shelves behind you. You can also find a way in settings to blur the background or drop a photo from your camera roll into the back drop. I was not aware however that the backdrop acts like a ‘green screen’, and appeared as a body-less head in the middle of a Van Gogh painting.

Do – tell people in your household that you will be in a meeting so that no-one joins you on screen. Most people do not find other people’s kids and dogs cute… well maybe the dogs 😉

Don’t – multitask during the meeting. Remain present and be aware of your ‘listening’ body language. Making the contributors feel valued is important, again particularly at this extremely disconnected time. My confidence drained when I saw no-one making eye-contact as I was speaking until I realised it’s only when we look into the web cam that it looks as though we are meeting people’s gaze.

Do – try and sit still – avoid exaggerated gestures. You will make a point more clearly if you minimise your own fidgeting or movements. I already know I have ADHD but I could have sent the meeting video to further confirm my diagnosis.

Don’t Forget – that people are feeling extra disconnected; extra ‘out of the loop’ and extra sensitive in these challenging lockdown times.

Be patient with people and their reactions.

Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Be understanding.

Be kind.

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