My Public Service Announcement on Video Conferencing

While preparing for a Connecticut Bar Association webinar this week on privacy and security basics for video conferencing, I found myself making a list of video conferencing pet peeves.  During the webinar on Friday, I promise to focus on important legal considerations.  But in this blog post, I’d like to address several common issues that annoy the heck out of me and negatively impact the quality of the meeting. 

Here’s a summary of the issues:  no one wants to look up your nose or at the side of your head; find the mute button and learn how to use it; everyone can read your pop-up messages when you are sharing your screen; and despite what you think, you are not good at multi-tasking.  Let’s break this down.

Camera Position.  Looking up your nose or at the top of your head will most certainly overshadow anything you have to say (see “Message Delivery” below).  If you are using a laptop and are looking down on the camera, we will be looking up your nose.  Elevate your computer if you cannot reposition the camera.  Most platforms allow you to see what you look like on video before joining the call.  Do everyone a favor and use this feature.

Message Delivery.  It is possible to communicate effectively via video, but certain audio or visual distractions will upstage any message.  To illustrate, imagine that during an in-person meeting, you turn your chair sideways forcing others to look at your profile, and then you deliver your message.  Confounded by your odd position, no one is listening to a word you are saying, regardless of your eloquence or brilliance.  (See “Camera Position” above).  Now, imagine that during the in-person meeting, you speak only every third word out loud.  With either of these audio or visual challenges, the content of your message does not matter one bit.  Like with video, most platforms allow you to test the audio before joining.  Use this feature and be aware of the microphone’s position on your computer.    

Mute Shaming.  If only I had a dime for every time someone said, “can whoever is typing go on mute?” during a video call.  This “mute shaming” is similar to the passenger scolding that occurs on Amtrak’s “quiet car.”  You talk at your own risk on the quiet car.  On a video call, you type at your own risk (consider whether you should be typing at all, see “Be Present” below).  Find the mute button and use it.   

Email and IM Pop-ups.  While sharing her screen during a meeting, Mary was trying to explain a concept to Joe.  Then, an instant message pops-up on the screen saying, “is he dumb, why doesn’t he get this?”  If you are going to share your screen, turn off IM and email pop-up notifications.  Do not count on your colleagues to realize that they shouldn’t send IMs while you are sharing your screen.

Be Present.  We may be living in this environment for a while.  All of us need to learn how to give 100% of our attention to the meeting, presentation or proceeding as if we were present in the flesh.  Not only will others notice that you are engaged fully, but your participation will be more valuable.   

Things that Don’t Bother Me.  Under the current circumstances, we all need to be a little more flexible.  For that reason, I am OK with crying children, barking dogs, dropped internet connections and even the occasional and brief cameo appearance by a 3-year-old.  I consider these things to be outside the user’s reasonable control, especially now.  In fact, I very much enjoy the well-timed cameo appearance of children or pets.  It lightens the mood.

So, when it comes to video conferencing, please, check yourself before you wreck yourself[1] (e.g., video and audio testing, muting, screen sharing, and being present).  These are all things within our control.


[1]              I believe that the lyrics from the Ice Cube song “Check Yourself” are actually “check yo self before you wreck yo self.”

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