The most annoying people on a video call (and how to avoid being one of them)

I attended a video call the other day, and I wasn’t aware that everyone else would have their webcams on. Often, we just use the virtual meeting software for its voice-only conferencing.

Not this time. And that presented the dilemma. Do I risk it, and switch on the camera, not sure how it would look, or do I remain the one mystery participant whose image is an icon, rather than a live video?

I left the camera off. Every other attendant looked professional, sitting at well-lit desks, with cameras strategically placed. Working from home, I hadn’t shaved in four or five days, was in a t-shirt, and I was in my dim basement, as my wife and son were playing a loud game upstairs adjacent to the room that I normally work from.

Lesson learned. When joining a video conference, prepare in advance. Find a suitable place in the house, turn on the webcam ahead of time, and see how the angle and lighting work, so you know how you are presenting yourself to the other attendees. If it turns out to be a voice-only meeting, you can simply shut the camera off.

Since more and more meetings are going to be virtual ones over the coming weeks or months, it’s better to have a setup that you know works for you and avoid the more common mistakes.

Some common video conferencing blunders to avoid

The Anonymous Attendee

Okay, that was me. I was the one person in a group meeting who was a default image rather than a video. What is that guy hiding? Are they even there? It raises questions.

The Attendee Who Should be Anonymous

Of course, the opposite is also true. If you’ve got a bad case of bedhead and you’re still wearing your coffee-stained undershirt, it’s probably better to leave the camera off. Better to give the impression that you might be unprofessional than to turn it on and remove all doubt.

The Attendee Who Didn’t Tell Their Family

Let your family know when you are on a video call. I can’t stress this enough. The web has been buzzing with stories this week of spouses walking past the camera in their underwear (and less) because they didn’t know there was a camera on.

More often the issue is people coming into the room talking loudly, asking questions, and generally interrupting the whole meeting while their family member shushes them.

The Furry Attendee

You know that coworker with all the stories and photos of their cat or dog? Well, when you’re on a video call with them, Fluffy and Fido are physical with them. They’re going to show you. Whether it’s taking a meeting with the cat on your lap, or pointing the camera at the oh-so-cute face of your dog, it’s not okay.

It might be hard to believe, but other people don’t care about your pets as much as you do. Keep the camera on yourself, and put your furry coworkers in another room until the meeting is over.

The Multi-Tasking Maven

I was on a call last week – talking content strategy – with a partner who I swear was baking a loaf of bread while we were talking. She was kneading and rolling dough on the counter during the call. When asked to share a file with the group, she said she would do it afterwards, because her hands were all floury. She held up the flour-covered hands.

Virtual meetings are still professional meetings. At the very least, pretend that you are on the job and focused on the subject at hand. No bread making.

The same goes for typing guy. You know, whoever it is is rapidly typing up a storm while other people speak. The microphone carries that sound quite clearly to all of the conference attendees, so it’s clear you’re furiously working on something – or chatting with someone – rather than paying attention to the meeting.

Okay, so, to sum up. Shave, comb your hair, and put a (clean) shirt on before a virtual meeting. Set up the camera, background, and lighting in advance. Tell your family when you are going to be on a conference call, and put your pets aside. Then focus on the meeting for the duration of the call. We can all come through this looking like professionals.

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