Video Conferencing Etiquette

Material sourced and adapted from Video Conferencing Etiquette - Research & Education Advanced Network NZ Ltd

Introduction

The effectiveness of video conferencing can be influenced by many factors, one of which is the way participants interact with each other and the technology during collaboration. Certain behaviours during a video conference can be distracting to a speaker or other participants.  First time users are often unaware of this.

Attending  a video conferencing session can at first feel disconcerting and different from a face to face meeting. Attendees should generally just act naturally and behave in the same way as they would in a face to face group meeting. This tutorial aims to help new users understand some of the important behaviours that contribute to effective, comfortable video conferencing.

Preparation

Arrive Early

For larger meetings, to avoid potential technical interruptions or delays eating into the beginning of your meeting, plan to connect 10-15 minutes before a meeting. This allows all participants to sort out any issues they might have before a meeting is officially meant to commence.

Check your requirements can be met

If you need to share a presentation, use a document camera, or have some other special requirement for your meeting, check in advance with the technician or booking service that the room or desktop system you are using can support such requests. For Access Grid meetings, a technician will generally be present and will greatly appreciate receiving any presentation files in advance.

Speaking and Listening

Speaking Volume

When users first approach video conferencing, they feel they need to speak loudly to be heard, often because the microphones are further from them than they expect. Most video conferencing microphones are extremely sensitive to sounds, and are effective up to a distance of about 2 meters without a speaker needing to raise their voice above a normal conversational level. When speaking during a video conference, try to maintain an even volume and speak as if you were conversing with someone else in the room. Excessive volume can be unpleasant to participants at other sites and in some cases can sound distorted, making long meetings unpleasant to listeners, and potentially causing them to stop paying attention.

Eye contact

When speaking, remember that looking at the camera is the only way to convey eye contact with your audience.  Loking at their image on screen will make it appear as though you are looking elsewhere. This depends considerably on the layout of your room, and is less of an issue when cameras are optimally placed in close proximity to screens.

Do not think that you must remain fixed on the camera at all times, but simply looking at it occasionally helps convey a sense of inclusion to your audience, which helps them remain attentive.

Distracting Noises & Muting Microphones

When another party is speaking for an extended period of time, such as delivering a presentation, it is a good idea to mute your microphone, particularly in multipoint meetings. This will stop any noises such as fidgeting, shuffling papers, taking notes, typing on a keyboard. from being broadcast across the meeting. Remember that microphones are very sensitive.  Typing  orshuffling of papers near one can almost drown out a speaker for listeners at other locations.

As a speaker, be aware of these noises, as your microphone will have to remain on. Try to shuffle papers quietly and avoid speaking while you are doing this. Lastly, if you are using a laptop to aid your presentation, be aware that these devices also generate considerable noise if placed close to microphones.

Interjecting

Video conferencing generally involves a slight delay or latency in signals being sent and received, similar to the effect of a long distance telephone call. For this reason, interrupting a speaker to add something, or ask a question can often result in a disjointed break in the meeting, as they will not hear instantly. In a larger meeting, the best idea when needing to interrupt a speaker may be to raise your hand instead.

Visual Considerations

Some examples showing incorrect framing, as well as an ideal composition.Camera position

Ensure your camera is framing your endpoint well. For a room with several people in it, the camera needs to be sufficiently zoomed out to include all participants in the image. For a desktop system, try to ensure that you are framed with your head and shoulders in the shot.

Additionally, try to position cameras at a height as close to eye level as possible. This allows other sites a good view of your face, and avoids unflattering angles such as looking up at nostrils, or down on heads.

Cameras on desktop systems are often mounted on top of monitors, and can be unintentionally repositioned by bumping a desk or the monitor directly. For this reason, it pays to check the composition of your image before every video conference you have, even if you do not have this image visible to yourself for the rest of the meeting.

Lighting

If you are using a desktop system, the chances are you may be configuring it yourself, and have limited means to control the lighting and decor in your room. However, there are still measures you can take to ensure you make the most of your surroundings.

While modern cameras are very good at automatically exposing to present a clear, useful image, they are still not as sophisticated as the human eye. If you are sitting in front of a bright background, many cameras will underexpose to compensate for this, which can result in your face appearing very dark. One instance of this is when desktop users sit at a computer with windows in the background. If you have windows behind you, shut the curtains or blinds to block this excessive light.

In an ideal situation an endpoint will have lights facing both down and on an angle towards faces. The down lighting provides the general ambient light for the room, while the angled lighting removes shadows from eyes and other facial features caused by the down lighting.

If you can face windows, this is an ideal way of achieving this effect. The general rule to remember is that evenly lit faces provide the best transmitted image.

Remaining attentive

While video conferencing tries to emulate the experience of a real encounter, there are still shortcomings in the technology. In larger meetings or presentations that are primarily one way, people often seem less attentive than in a face to face meeting.

While it may be more difficult to stay attentive in a long video conference or presentation, it is important to remember that although it may feel as if you are watching a one way video stream, your image is being broadcast back to the speaker, and excessive fidgeting or gesturing can be very off-putting. With this in mind, try to refrain from being overly animated or talking excessively to people in your own room while a speaker is talking at another location. Even with muted microphones, this behaviour is difficult to ignore when you are the speaker. This kind of behaviour tends to occur more frequently in video conferencing than it would in a face to face meeting, with people often conversing with each other at a muted site.Try to remember to conduct yourself as you would if everybody at the other locations was in your room with you.

The content on this page has been reproduced and adapted, with permission, from REANNZ.

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