While the majority of the economy is reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, Zoom Video’s numbers are surging. The number of daily active Zoom Video app users has QUINTUPLED compared with a year ago.
Obviously, with tens of millions of workers forced to work from home, this is no surprise. We are not only using Zoom (and other video calling services) to conduct business, but also to stay in touch with friends and loved ones (I’ve had several virtual happy-hours with friends and, while it’s nowhere near the same as sharing a beverage in person, it sure beats drinking alone).
This technology is instrumental in ensuring social distancing does not equate to social isolation.
But with the ubiquitous use of this technology for both business and personal goals, it has become clear that many people are still struggling with how to use it best. A bad Zoom call is just as bad, if not worse, than a bad in-person meeting. It frustrates. It wastes time. It lowers morale. It creates stress.
And, it is all avoidable.
With that in mind, here are the 7 most common mistakes you (or someone you know) is most likely making with regards to video calls along with tips on how to avoid them.
Mistake #1 – Over-using.
Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Sure, video calls are a great way to bring back a lot of the good of face-to-face meetings that we sorely miss. But they aren’t the answer to EVERYTHING!
Remember a few weeks ago, when we were actually working in offices? Did you do EVERY meeting in-person or as a video call? Probably not. There are lots of meetings that can be just as effective (maybe more) by just getting on the phone. Or even just sending an email.
People are going through a lot these days. The stresses are too numerous to mention. Realize that making someone do a video call is, oftentimes, way more stressful than just hopping on a phone call.
On a phone call, it is enough to be smart, informed, and engaged. On a video call, you have to also LOOK smart, informed, and engaged! That is WAY harder.
Before scheduling a video call over a phone call, make sure you ask yourself WHY. What positive purpose will be served by seeing people versus just talking to them? If the answer lies somewhere in the area of you wanting to make sure they are actually working from home, that they are actually getting out of their PJ’s, then you may want to rethink things.
Mistake #2 – Over-sharing.
Again, think back to how you participate in phone conference calls. Much of the time, you are sitting in to listen – and don’t have much to share. In those cases, what did you do? You probably muted yourself. And then, if, and only if, you had something to add or you were asked a specific question, you un-muted yourself in order to participate.
Somehow, people have lost the ability to transfer that skill to video calls. I was on one the other day that had 2 presenters and over 40 participants. The call was set up to be informational – not requiring (or really desiring) input from most of the participants.
And, yet, the vast majority of them left their video on. So we all got to see a whole load of people (in various states of dress and in backgrounds that included messy bedrooms) staring blankly at us.
Some left their microphones on – so every time they cleared their throat or sneezed, Zoom picked up on it and thought they were taking the stage. The moderators were able to mute those who refused to – but somehow those folks would un-mute themselves. One even chimed in with a horrifying toilet flush.
There is nothing wrong with turning your video and microphone off if you are just there to observe. It is also ok to turn them on when you have something to add. As a host of video calls, make sure you set the ground rules upfront and let people know they have the permission to do so.
Mistake #3 – Over-scheduling.
This mistake is a two-parter. The first part is just the fact of scheduling too many video calls. We kind of touched on that in Mistake #1. The problem is that Zoom, like many of these services, are unlimited use. So people default to scheduling way too many of them.
Always ask yourself if there is a truly positive reason to schedule the meeting you are scheduling. Are there other ways the information can be shared or the meeting can be done? If so, consider going that route.
The second part of over-scheduling, though, is just making these meetings WAY TOO LONG. You would certainly question holding a 2-3 hour in-person meeting that didn’t have any scheduled breaks. Yet, somehow, it seems ok in the virtual world.
Just because Zoom allows you to set up really long meetings, doesn’t mean you should. Focus on the absolute minimum time it will take you to accomplish your goals – and then schedule for that amount of time. And stick to it. Just because Zoom doesn’t penalize you for going over your scheduled time doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.
Mistake #4 – Over-inviting.
Zoom lets you invite virtually as many people as you want to your meeting. It’s tempting to invite anybody who could possibly have interest or add any level of value. There’s no extra cost, so why not, right?
Wrong. There is extra cost. The more people you add, the more complexity you add. Once your call screen has exceeded the boxes in the opening of The Brady Bunch, you almost certainly experience issues that distract from the purpose of the call.
There is a finite number of people who can actually add value at any given time on a video call. That number is 1. By the sheer reality of the technology, the service has to give priority to whomever it deems is the primary speaker at the time. When you have multiple people trying to talk at the same time, confusion is almost guaranteed to ensue.
So, if everybody can’t add value, why are they all there? Consider recording the call and distributing it to all the people you would have invited purely so they could be informed. Also, make sure meeting notes are made available (discussed below).
If they are not being invited because they are expected to actively participate and add value, then consider not inviting them. They will likely be thankful as opposed to feeling left out!
Mistake #5 – Under-structuring.
If you are using best-practices in your in-person meetings, you are likely requiring an agenda to be created and shared prior to the meeting. You are also assigning someone to be in charge of keeping the meeting on time. Someone else for recording and distributing minutes.
Why does that all go out the window when things move virtual? To keep your virtual meetings productive, keep them structured. Require an agenda that is realistic within the given timeframe.
Assign someone (not the host) to make sure the meeting stays on agenda and time. Give them the power to steer the conversation back to the agenda and to table off-agenda tangents for another time.
As for the recording – you might point out that (as I mentioned above) the meetings can easily be recorded for people to watch later. True. But remember – if the meeting took an hour, that means someone has to watch it for an hour!
Having a recording does not eliminate the need for someone to take minutes. The person can then distribute the minutes so that everyone can see a quick synopsis of what was discussed, who was present, and what decisions were made.
Keep your video meeting structured to keep them productive.
Mistake #6 – Under-produced.
A little attention to detail and pre-planning can go a long way towards making your side of your video call sound and look as good as possible.
The major things you need to consider are internet connectivity, lighting, audio, camera placement, and background.
Obviously, your internet connection is pretty important when you are doing an internet video call. If possible, the best solution is going to be a hard ethernet line. If you do need to use WiFi, make sure it is good enough to provide high quality output. If you need to rely on external WiFi (like at a coffee shop or something), make sure you have already signed up if you need to and you have tested it out (do a test call with a friend). The time to figure out your connectivity sucks is NOT when you are about to get on the important call.
There are tons of videos you can watch that will instruct you on how you can cheaply and easily light yourself so that you can look your very best. If you can’t do any of those, at least try to have yourself positioned so you are facing a window that generates natural light. DO NOT put the light behind you! This will make you look dark.
Audio is also an easily solved issue. Try to make sure you are using some sort of external microphone as opposed to the internal mic of your computer. That can range from the microphone on your wired headphones, to your Apple AirPods to a USB external microphone to some solutions that are way more expensive. Also, think about where you are setting yourself up. Try to avoid areas that are going to generate a lot of echo or a lot of background sound.
For camera placement, do some pre-testing as to the best position in which to place your computer and your chair. Do you want the camera facing up at you? Down at you? Straight on? Make sure you figure out what you like best before your call, so you are not messing with it once the call starts.
For the background, remember that clean and neat wins the race. Choose the best room, but whichever one it is…tidy it up! If it’s got to be the bedroom, make the bed! The idea is not to impress people with your living space – it is to remove potential distractions.
One last thing on backgrounds. Yes, the virtual backgrounds are fun – but they also can be very distracting. Virtual backgrounds are best used if you have a green screen behind you. Otherwise, they can blur in and out (and you can even disappear). Fun for kids on a family call – not so much on a business call.
Mistake #7 – Under-focused.
We are all used to being on phone conference calls and being able to multi-task – clear emails, open the mail, clean your fingernails. This is not a luxury you have while on a video call.
People know right away when you are not looking at the camera. The problem is, on most computers, the camera is above the screen. So you have to get good at training yourself to look at the camera and not at the screen.
A trick is, the farther you sit from the computer (made possible by using an external microphone) the more your eyes will appear to look at the camera even though you are looking below the camera.
Beware of having other windows open to read emails or work on other things while you are on the video call. If you do have to have another window, make sure you position it just below the camera in the middle of the screen so it still appears like you are looking at the camera.
If it truly is a meeting in which you have no interest and you have other things you need to be doing, though, then it is probably time to question why you should be in attendance in the first place!
So there you have it, 7 mistakes you can easily avoid to ensure your online meetings are more productive, more engaging, more useful, and more bearable.
I’m sure you have stories of how the meetings in which you have been involved have gone astray. Without naming names, I’d love to hear them! Please share!
Also, I am sure there are many more mistakes you have seen. Please share those as well!
And, as always, please stay healthy and safe. I hope we all have the chance to see each other in person very soon!
All the best,
Founder & CEO