Don't let interruptions and distractions get in the way of your virtual meeting.

From closed schools to closed businesses, COVID-19 has drastically changed our lives. As we collectively work to flatten the curve, social distancing has become paramount. For many, that means moving to a new work environment: home.

Gone are the times of sitting in a conference room with your colleagues, mapping out ideas on a white board and passing around papers — at least for now. Instead, conference rooms have gone virtual. Whether you use Zoom, BlueJeans, Google Hangouts, or something else, video conferencing platforms are professionals' new favorite tools.

While technology has made it possible for teams to continue working together, it's not as simple as sitting at your screen and turning on your camera. Virtual meetings come with a unique set of difficulties, and as a result, call for specific strategies for success. To make your video conferences as smooth as possible, consider these tricks.

Find good lighting

If your colleagues can't see you, it's going to be difficult to communicate. The fix isn't buying a new webcam, though — it's finding a well-lit space for your virtual meetings. There's a reason video content creators consider lighting to be more important than camera quality.

Good lighting isn't just about finding a bright spot — it's about where the light hits you. For instance, sunlight is great, but sitting with a window directly behind you will backlight you;  you will appear as a mere shadow on camera. And a window next to you will mean that one side of your face is lit while the other is left completely dark.

Find an area where you can be lit primarily from in front of you. If you can't do this with natural light or the setup of your overhead lighting, don't worry. Take a desk lamp and place it in front of your computer, about 45 degrees off-center from you. This is direct enough that you will be well-lit, but not so direct that you'll feel blinded.

Eliminate unwanted noise

Speakers and microphones can be fickle, and everyone's setups and work environments are different. It's important that you do your part to keep the meeting free from disruption, which means preventing unwanted sound from finding its way into the call.

Sometimes you need headphones, and sometimes you don't. However, no group wants to spend minutes on Zoom trying to figure out where that echo is coming from. Using headphones prevents feedback, so the audio you hear will not be picked up by your microphone and sent back to the other participants. To stop any issues before they even begin, enter the virtual conference room with your headphones already in — or at least have them at the ready.

Other unwanted noise comes from what's happening around you, and unfortunately, that's not something headphones can help. Your barking dog, your home phone, the microwave as your partner heats up lunch — these are all sounds that can filter through your microphone and distract others in the meeting. To stop this, keep yourself muted when you are not actively speaking, and only unmute yourself when you have something to say; it's a simple courtesy to make sure others are heard.

Ensure your internet connection is strong

Just like noise, a poor internet connection can cause interruptions in your meeting. What if you are giving a presentation and your screen freezes? Or your boss is giving out instructions and the sound starts cutting out? Glitches may be normal, but many large disruptions can be avoided with a strong internet connection.

If you've been having issues, conduct a speed test to learn how strong or weak your connection is. A simple Google search for “internet speed test” will lead you to the appropriate tools to check. To improve your connection, the answer may be as simple as relocating to an area of your home where the Wi-Fi is best. For the most reliable results, invest in an ethernet cable to directly connect your computer to your router.

Be patient

When in a virtual meeting, colleagues talking over one another is bound to happen — you can no longer feel the usual natural rhythm of conversation. Remember that this is unintentional for everyone, so remain welcoming and understanding and try to give everyone room to speak. A simple, “No, you can go ahead” will keep the conversation going and prevent frustration.

Similarly, don't be concerned if people seem less responsive. If someone doesn't answer you right away, it's likely not because they're ignoring you or didn't hear you. Lags are a natural part of video conferencing, so give your colleagues more time to respond than you typically would in an in-person conversation before following up.

Practice self-discipline

In video conferences, it's all too easy to take advantage of the blind spot — that area hovering just above your keyboard where the camera can't see. It's perfect for grabbing your phone and sending off a quick text or taking a quick Instagram scroll.

However, this is still a meeting, and the conversations happening are likely important and could pertain to you. If you spent your meeting time playing Candy Crush, you may find yourself nodding in agreement with something you weren't even listening to.

The same goes for opening irrelevant windows or tabs. Your colleagues may not be able to see your screen, but being distracted by online shopping or your solitaire game will hurt you in the long run.

Summing up

At a time when we have to stay apart, we're lucky to have technology to keep us working together and interacting with each other. That said, successful participation in virtual meetings is a special skill, and it's more important than ever to learn the ropes. The better your virtual meetings are, the better off your team will be, so do your part to keep everything running smoothly.

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