On-Line Meeting Etiquette

By Rich Loeber

I occasionally like to take this space to write about something other than IBM i security concerns and this is just such a time.  With the shelter-at-home orders in place for several weeks now, I have been having lots of meetings on-line using video conferencing tools.  My tool of choice has been Zoom, but I’m sure this can apply to any such service.

This blog entry is the result of observations of behavior during on-line meetings from people who are mostly new to the genre.  I hope that these “etiquette” tips are helpful for my readers as they get used to new ways of meeting and socializing on-line.

Lighting

Keep in mind that this is not only an audio conference call, but a video (ie: visual) conference call.  As such, your lighting is important.  A major benefit of video meetings is that you can better “read” others in the meeting because you can see them.  If the lighting for your image in the meeting is such that your face is in shadow, then the benefits are lost.  I have poor lighting in my office with a big window on one side and glaring florescent lights in the ceiling.  After some experimentation, I bought a bright LED desk lamp which I now use while turning the overhead lights off.  It produces a much better image.

One thing I’ve noticed that frequently happens is that someone sets up their camera (or laptop) so that there is a window behind them.  This invariably results with their face in shadow.  I was in a meeting of local relief organizations recently where one participant, who had a lot to say, was just a shadow on the screen for the entire meeting.  It was very frustrating.

Eating

I know you’re working from home and it is convenient to try and multi-task by having your lunch during the meeting, but I point out again that this is a visual medium.  If you were at an in-person meeting in a conference room, would you want to be the only participant having lunch while all the others sat there and watched you eat?  I doubt it.  The same is true of your virtual meeting.  For me, I think this even extends to chewing gum during the meeting.  During another meeting last month, someone actually spent part of the meeting in the kitchen cooking themselves lunch which they then proceeded to eat on camera.

Sound

Another good practice is to keep your microphone on mute when you are not talking or being called on to talk.  My office is located on a state highway.  I get big trucks rumbling by and the occasional emergency vehicle screaming past, so I stay on mute as much as possible.  If you’re working from home, it is not uncommon for a barking dog, a ringing telephone or any one of a myriad to audible interruptions to intrude that will detract from the meeting.

Attention

During the meeting, stay engaged.  If you are trying to process email or do other things during the meeting, it will show in your level of attention and participation.  Another behavior that I’ve observed is someone who spends an entire meeting propping up their head with their arm.  During that meeting, I wrote them off as bored to death and not interested in what was going on.  That may not have been true, but do you want to send that message to the others in attendance?

Rehearse

I have also been in several meetings where one or more participants had no idea what they were doing and how to control their conference session.  If you’re a host, take the time before any meetings to understand the tool that you will be using.  I can commend Zoom for the plethora of aids that they have available, including on-line orientation sessions for hosts and even meeting guests.  My solution is to have a dry run with a friend.  Take the time to understand how to turn your mic off and on.  Learn how to share content and then un-share it.  Learn the various display modes that you can use.  Get comfortable with the tool.  I was in yet another meeting recently when someone in the meeting accidentally shared their screen and then no amount of coaching them during the meeting could get the shared screen turned off.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me directly by email: rich at kisco.com.

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