Web conferencing and meetings – The new norm

Rohan Brown

The Covid-19 period has created massive shifts in the way we all live. One such area that this has seen significant change as social beings is the way we communicate and interact with each other. Gone are the simple face to face meetings across the desk and now usage of online meeting applications are the new norm. Zoom, Teams (some of us still call is Skype) and FaceTime are now just part of our social consciousness whether we use the applications or not.

With this fast-tracked take-up there are several issues attendants and organisers need to be aware of. Just as over the years we considered email etiquette such as use of capitals, inference of our wording etc, we must equally be aware of web-based meeting etiquette. Many of the issues of email and written communication etiquette can be solved with Web meetings, but there are now new behaviours to be aware of and we all have been guilty at times of not be conscious of them.

Below are a few Web Meeting etiquette items:

  1. Mute your microphone when you are not talking

There is nothing more frustrating hearing attendees echo between each other in open offices, hearing them eating or tapping away on their keyboards. Simply mute yourself when not talking and when required to speak un-mute yourself. Some applications have the ability to press the space bar or alike to open the mic and close again once released.

  1. Be aware others can see you

When using a web camera, remember those on the other end can see you! Unlike a phone call, they can see when you are checking your phone, looking at emails, getting up and moving around as well as generally not paying attention. Just as a face to face meeting they can read body language ques, such as rolling your eyes and shaking your head etc. This is especially the case in small groups sessions.

Be aware of your surroundings, what is in view of the camera, who may be in the camera field of view are and actions on camera such as eating or drinking on camera. If you need to take a drink, blow your nose etc, you are better to excuse yourself and move out of view (with the mic muted) and attend to your matter quickly and efficiently.

Alternatives are to not have your camera on at all or if the background is an issue use a virtual background. Just be aware some backgrounds appear to cut off your limbs and ears off at times. But that is way better than seeing the unmade bed in the background.

When in a meeting be aware of what you are wearing, how you sit and the location of your meeting. You don’t want to see your advisers lounging back on the couch in their tracksuit or gym gear with washing in the background for a professional meeting. There is a time and place for certain styles of meeting so pick your time, place and audience.

  1. Position your camera properly

Ensure the camera is stable and eye height. We don’t want to see up your nose or the top of your head. Equally look forward on as much as possible. The camera should be positioned to see you sitting up right, straight and natural, with the camera fixed, not being handheld. It does not matter what the weird contraption you have your camera on, especially when using a phone provided the camera is stable and gets a good view.

Sometimes in a meeting a straight on view of the camera cannot be helped if you are dealing with information on paper in front of you or other screens to the side. In that case excuse yourself with the attendees so they know why you are looking away, they will understand, but as much as possible look at the (the camera), particularly when they are talking to you specifically.

A good habit is to keep the camera lens and the attendants preview near each other. That way you tend to look at the camera even if looking at the person on the screen. When talking try looking directly at the camera lens, that way it the attendees feel you are looking directly at them eye to eye.

Also be aware of lighting. Limit bright light from behind you and try to increase lighting in front of you. Excessive lighting from behind will cause the camera to darken what is in front of the camera. You want the focus on you, not the window to the side and behind you.

  1. Test your camera and sound before you start

Try and ensure before admitting others to your meeting or attending that you know your camera is working, lens cover off and you know how to enable the camera/start video (and ensure the camera is positioned correctly).

Ensure that the sound is coming from the correct microphone and speaker. For instance, if using a headset, are you getting sound from the microphone on the headset or your webcam? Often the one on the headset will sound clearer and with less background noise.

If broadcasting through your speakers, you may end up with an echo for attendees or hear a delayed sound of yourself which can be unnerving. Ideally invest in quality discrete earphone or headphones. Ideally not the big over ear style you listen to music on.

  1. Understand if you are hosting or attending a Meeting vs Webinar

If attending a meeting there is an expectation of genuine interaction between attendees. You may need to be able to speak and be seen by other attendees.

Whereas if a Webinar and you are simply an attendant, there is generally no need for a camera and possibly a microphone. As a presenter you may wish to mute all other attendees, limit screen sharing to just co-presenters and you may also need a moderator to view on the side chat and questions.

If attending a Webinar, ensure you are in a suitable location and away from other distractions. As a presenter, sessions should be short and to the point to assist in this. If you are taking the time to attend a webinar treat it as any other face to face style conference. Stay focused and attentive, don’t try multi-tasking and limit interaction with others. Treat the presenter and other attendees with the same respect you would have in a live session.

These are just a few helpful hints and tips when being involved in online web meetings. Don’t let the concern of the meeting detract from getting out there, being involved and overall socialising. Ask others around you for help and be patient of others in the session still coming to grips with the applications.