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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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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