Business advice
    13 November 2020

    James Francis

    How to improve your virtual engagements

    Video chats don't have to be intimidating or annoying. Here are a few tricks to make your online meetings feel smart and professional

    I know, I know - we all feel a bit over video conferencing. But even if there is a COVID vaccine, we are not going to all rush back to physical meetings. Why? They are boring, they take forever to get started as people file in, and there is always someone who talks too much! Nevermind that online meetings save us from travelling an hour to go spend 10 minutes talking to someone.

    So video conferences and meetings are not going anywhere, nor should we want them to disappear. Yet they can be annoying or intimidating. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make them more comfortable, have you look more professional, and overall save you from sitting in yet another meeting room where ten people argue over 20 things.

    I spend quite a bit of time in video meetings, and I have noticed that there are a few things you can do to make these moments work for you.

    Set limits

    The big problem with video meetings is that they are so easy to arrange, and thus a bit too easy to commit to. Companies are still figuring out the right balance, so, for now, it's up to you to draw a line somewhere. If you find yourself in back-to-back video meetings, start putting down your foot. Block out spaces in your calendar where you don't want to have meetings. Don't be afraid to say you are not available or to suggest a new time. There are moments when you can't do this, but if you feel swamped, speak up. The problem is that others cannot see how busy or stressed you are, so you have to communicate with them and set some limits.

    Video is important

    I get it. Video meetings make you uncomfortable. You don't like people seeing you on a screen. So we sometimes fib, say our connection is poor, and then not turn on the video. But this is the wrong decision for several reasons. First, when people hear a voice but see no face to go with it, you don't make nearly as big an impact on them. Out of sight, out of mind. People also tend to think you're still in your pyjamas. If you want to come across as professional and also connect better with others, put your video on - especially if there are more than two people on the call.

    Don't forget: they can see you.

    Resist the urge to yawn without covering your mouth, or dig in your nose, or any of the other silly things you might get up to if you're alone. Video calls are about being present.


    It's very tempting to try and 'multitask' during a meeting, but in truth, most of us suck at that. Pay attention - imagine you're sitting in a physical meeting. Would you start playing on your phone or look at websites? Would you try to complete work while others expect your attention? No, you wouldn't, because that looks bad. People notice if you do these things during a video call. If the calls are a bit long and crowded, bring that up with the organisers. But don't stop paying attention. It will harm your reputation more than you think.

    Plan ahead

    This is where a lot of people make their big mistake: because it is so easy to jump onto a video call, they don't think about preparing. They try to wing it. But trust me, it's always apparent when someone isn't prepared for a meeting, and doubly so with the uncomfortable silences that can happen so easily with online meetings. If you need to read certain emails or prepare some notes, do so beforehand. Nobody likes waiting for you while they sit online. It's awkward.

    Don't be late

    Yes, yes, a video meeting is just a click away. So all of us fall into the trap of trying to arrive right as it starts, which usually means we arrive late into a meeting where people are already talking. That diminishes your relevance. Again, look at physical meetings - it's not good to be late for those. The fact is, we know it's not good to be late for online meetings, either. But we push our luck. Don't do that. Show up a few minutes early and log into the lobby. You can then do other things - but at least people can see you were there on time.


    Radio DJs wear headphones for a specific reason: so they can hear themselves. Unfortunately, online video meetings don't have this option yet. So if there are background noises from your side, you won't necessarily notice them. But the other attendees will - and it's annoying on a crowded call if someone's background noise keeps creeping in. If you are not talking, mute your microphone. And never eat, drink or cough over a live microphone. It's rude and very distracting.

    Check your room and clothing.

    The smaller a camera is, the more it will be affected by contrast - meaning the difference between the lightest and darkest points in the image. Web and phone cameras are very susceptible to this. You've noticed this before when trying to take a photo outdoors where some parts become very dark against the bright sky. When you have a video meeting, keep that in mind. You want more light on you than behind you. Ideally, you want to wear lighter shades on your clothes than the room's walls. Doing all this will make it easier for people to focus on you.

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    James Francis