Video chat comes with its own set of rules and etiquette that parallel public speaking rules in some ways, and are completely unique in other ways. Here are a couple of tips to help you make the most of your next video chat.
1. Look at the camera, not the screen.
This one is really hard, because we want to look into the face of the person we're speaking with. But if you look at your computer screen, you're not actually looking into the person's eyes. You are looking somewhere below them (assuming your camera is placed or embedded above your monitor). Looking into the camera ensures you are making eye contact, even though it doesn't feel like it on your end!
A client's solution is to put a little sticker or a picture of a face next to the camera so she remembers to look there.
2. Dress appropriately.
We've all seen the videos online of people who were dressed appropriately from the waist up and had to suddenly get up from the call, revealing undergarments or pajamas from the waist down. This video is particularly funny, although I'm pretty sure it's a PSA and not a real event.
Comb your hair, brush your teeth, dress yourself from top to bottom, and once you sit down in front of the camera, be ready to go and assume you're being watched. If you have food in your teeth from lunch, use your toothpick before you get in front of the camera.
3. Test your equipment beforehand.
Don't make the other people in your meeting wait while you fiddle with the camera settings, adjust your microphone and test your lighting. If you're not familiar with your equipment or software like Skype, learn about it before the call.
4. Remove distractions.
Turn off the ringers on your cellphone and landline and turn off your printer (mine chooses inopportune times to loudly recalibrate itself). If you work from a home office, make sure the cat or dog is in another room, your child has someone or something to occupy her, and the TV or radio are turned off (or down if someone is using them).
It's not always possible to avoid or control distractions. In my last house, I had no options for removing our chatty cat from my workspace, and she always wanted to talk, especially when I was on the phone. I would briefly excuse myself from the call, move her to another place in the room and give her a couple of back scratches, and that was usually enough to get through the rest of the call in quiet. Do your best, and be respectful of the other people on the call.
5. Remember: People can see you.
Sometimes we feel almost invisible on a video call. Because you may be sitting alone in a room, it seems like you're really alone. But others are watching you and noticing your facial expressions, whether you're typing on your phone, whether you're slouching in your chair or if you have your feet on the desk. Behave the same way you would if you were in the same room as the others in the meeting, like a professional.
These are just a few things to apply to your next video chat. If you want to learn now to be really great on camera, check out Ruth Sherman's offerings, like her upcoming Video Charisma course.