Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 29, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Videoconferencing, Yes; Candid Camera, No

Just because your company has the hardware and software

to put together a videoconference does not mean you will be successful

at it. When you set up those cameras to beam faces and voices across

the miles, you need to be sure those faces and and voices are camera


In her book, "Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis

in the Workplace," (May 2002) Giovinella Gonthier, a former

ambassador to the United Nations and president of Civility Associates

in Chicago, warns about the mistakes that can ruin your videoconference.

Following are excerpts from her book (co-authored with Kevin Morrissey,

published by Dearborn Trade Publishing).

Problem: Failure to prepare for the medium

Solution: I advise organizations to stage a mock meeting when they

are about to videoconference for the first time. It is a good way

to familiarize yourselves with the medium, which is growing by leaps

and bounds thanks to the increasing complications and costs of air


However, first-time use of this meeting forum is fraught with peril,

particularly if you are videoconferencing with clients. You could

easily mouth something disparaging and get caught, for example. There

goes the account! Tell your participants that a videoconference is

not to be watched passively. They are not on a couch at home! They

should come professionally prepared to make contributions.

Problem: Inappropriate posture or behavior

Solution: This type of behavior shows that you are not paying attention.

Clean up your act; you’re on TV, after all. The camera has a roving

eye and will catch you scratching your nose while gazing at the ceiling

in utter boredom, making faces or vulgar gestures, doodling pornographically,

or talking to each other. Big mistake. Just because you are not sharing

the same physical space does not mean that you are at liberty to misbehave.

Even if you cannot see everyone else, assume they can all see you.

Dress for an on-camera appearance. Pay attention to posture and act

in command of yourself and your surroundings. Try to look relaxed

and smile occasionally. Be aware of body language and facial expressions.

If you yawn, cover your mouth. If you itch, scratch discreetly.

Bear in mind that there is a voice delay in a videoconference and

take care not to interrupt. Be patient and wait for a couple of seconds

after someone has finished speaking before taking your turn. This

is especially important when some participants are overseas.

Also, as with all technology, things can go wrong. This is not a magical

black box! Remain calm, if this happens. A professional technician

will have a sign saying, "We are experiencing technical difficulties"

come up on the screen. Keep your composure.

Problem: Eating and drinking during a videoconference.

Solution: Unwrapping, crunching, and other eating sounds are magnified

and even more unpleasant in virtual meetings. In videoconferences,

the noise may trigger a signal switch causing the camera to rotate

automatically, putting you on-screen with a mouthful of food. This

will make you look unsightly and cause the person who was originally

speaking to lose focus and become upset.

Problem: Uncivilized accoutrements on the meeting table

Solution: Having a sea of Styrofoam cups on the table beside you depicts

a lack of class, and writing with cheap throwaway pens on a bunch

of dog-eared pads projects a less-than-upscale image. Pay attention

to stage-managing the videoconference, especially if you are conducting

business overseas. It absolutely bewilders many people in other cultures

how we U.S. Americans, the richest people on earth, seem to surround

ourselves with so much junk.

This is an opportunity to use that expensive pen your aunt gave you

at graduation and that handsome leather portfolio you received for

doing some thankless job. Make a point of bringing along a real glass

to drink water from or a nice china cup and saucer for your coffee

or tea. And use real spoons, not those plastic stirrers!

Artwork and photos on walls, as well as plants, are recommended as

backdrops for this medium so that people will focus on you, the speaker,

and not on the blank walls or bare room. If this is an overseas account,

hang diverse art.

Use name tent cards with large lettering that is readable through

the monitor. If you are videoed in your own office, tidy up the desk

so that you look in control of your workload and your professional


Problem: No one directing the show

Solution: Proceedings will begin to flounder if there is no in-control

chair making introductions, advancing an agenda, and otherwise connecting

the dots to complete a successful meeting. If you sense that the meeting

is beginning to derail, ask a question designed to steer things back

on track when you have the opportunity.

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