The Etiquette of Virtual Meetings

hiding behind your screen affects the Participants as well as the Host – as I recently learned

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I ran a two-hour virtual training programme a couple of weeks ago.  The programme had attendees from several different companies.

At the start of the programme, I asked them if they wouldn’t mind turning on their cameras.  However, I didn’t say it with any great authority or conviction and several people ignored my request.

When I say several, I can’t remember exactly but I’d say around 8-10 people out of a total of about 24/25.

I was more concerned about coming across as too teacher-like, so I didn’t push it.  My mistake.  I now realize I should have pushed it. 

The company for whom I was running the training received some feedback after the course.  In it, one of the participants very politely and eloquently expressed their disappointment that not only did people not have their cameras on during the main part of the course, but when they went into breakout rooms, someone didn’t turn on their camera and didn’t utter a single word during the exercise they had been given.

I was more than a little surprised to hear this.  I felt bad that I had not considered the issue from the perspective of the participants.  It’s not just the trainer/host of the meeting who can be left disconcerted by people hiding behind their screens.  It’s the participants too.

I was unaware this had occurred in the breakout room.  I felt they could be left in peace for the short exercises in the breakout rooms.  However had I popped in, I might have noticed this person’s lack of engagement.

Fortunately, the course is not over, so this will be remedied during the next session.

The experience got me thinking about the etiquette surrounding online meetings and training programmes.   As a trainer, I make sure to have the proper equipment.  I have a good headset and microphone.  I try to dress suitably and I ensure all my settings are working beforehand.  But of course, every trainer knows to do that.  It’s the participants who seem to have forgotten that they represent not just themselves, but the companies for whom they work.

It doesn’t take much.  Would you go out looking like that?  Well, then why show up to a virtual event looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards? Why do you hide behind your ‘black screen’ with your camera off?  What are you afraid of?  Or, are you doing other work/things/dear knows what……?

I do sometimes wonder what people are doing when their cameras are off.  Are they playing solitaire?  Are they working on a report while half listening to the meeting?  Are they scrolling social media?

Who knows?!  What I do know is that if you have taken the time to attend a virtual course on Emotional Intelligence, a first step to developing your self-awareness might be to start asking yourself what impression you think you are giving by hiding behind your screen.

Here are my thoughts on what I think the etiquette of virtual meetings should include:

  • Cameras are on at all times, with the light at a 45-degree angle and not directly behind you to ensure we don’t see you as just a silhouette.
  • Test your settings before the meeting starts.  Are you using the correct speaker and microphone for your computer?  You can test them beforehand.
  • Ensure you  have the right software and your broadband/internet connection is working properly
  • If you are using your own background, spend 5 mins getting rid of any obvious clutter.
  • Find out where the mute button is located!
  • When talking look towards the camera and ensure you are neither too far away nor too close to the camera.

I could add plenty more to that list, but for me, those are a good starting point.   And please, if not for yourself – then for your fellow participants and host, turn on your camera!

It’s polite, it’s respectful and it shows you are engaged.  An easy way to make a good first impression.

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