One favorite line in the original "Wayne's World" Saturday Night Live sketches and their movies is, "Unnecessary Zoom!" Today, that phrase takes on a new meaning if you, like so many professionals, have had your life enhanced (and consumed) by video-conferences.
A couple weeks ago, I met Abe Smith, Head of International for Zoom. Introduced by my brother, I met Abe–how else?–on a Zoom call. He had the Golden Gate Bridge as his background (a Zoom feature), and I really enjoyed our first meeting. He shared his mission: "We're in the business of connecting businesses through video and delivering happiness."
I mentioned that I'm writing on a book to help distributed teams work better together, and I didn't have to tell Abe that a big part of that work is now being done through Zoom. Their sales, along with their stock price, are zooming! (Despite a recent dip, as of today, ZM is trading twice their November 2019 price.) When I mentioned that I'd be focusing on helping people use Zoom, though, I don't think I was clear enough with my intention. His answer, which anyone who's used Zoom will affirm was, "You don't really need extensive training to use Zoom." He added that it's super-intuitive; in fact, that's one of the reasons Zoom's founder, Eric Yuan, left Cisco/WebEx–he wanted an easier platform, and one that was as stable or better than FaceTime.
Abe's right. Zoom's easy to set up, easy (and even fun) to use, but... Yes, there's a "but" that follows, and it's not a pretty one. See, it's not about the technology, it's about the people communicating (or better said, miscommunicating) on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. Yes, Zoom is easy to use, but a lot of people aren't using it well.
I've received complaints (and training requests) due to the lack of skills people are "demonstrating" while on a video or tele-conference. These skill deficiencies include: lack of preparation; lack of understanding how, when, and why to use mute; sharing vs. hiding video; sharing screens; rushing through poorly presented slides; and a whole host of other issues that all can be summed up under the umbrella of "lack of professional communication skills." We touched last time on the importance of "clarity," why being crystal clear with your communication goals is crucial, and there are several more considerations. We'll hit a few today.
First, there's culture. I just read a non-Japanese share her Japanese colleague's post from a video conference: "I'm Japanese so I'm shy to show my face." True, shyness is considered a virtue in Japanese society, but being the one (or one of very few) people on a video conference to hide your face is probably going to look bad to your global peers.
If you're only joining a meeting to receive information, or if you've agreed to reduce bandwidth by shutting off video, that's one thing; but if you are going to be speaking to the group, and the meeting is called a "video conference," then it's probably best to turn on your camera. And position it to show not your nostrils, or the top of your head, or a ceiling fan, but your upper body. Set up proper lighting. Cut down on echo by using a headset if you're in a large room. As for your shyness, you wouldn't stand outside a meeting room because you're shy, would you? And your company is not paying you to attend the meeting "because you're shy." They want you to "show" up!
Here are some other common complaints I'll share so that no one will be complaining about you doing them: Lack of building rapport and just going straight into the content; delivering a presentation (say PowerPoint®) and failing to put it into Presentation Mode (therefore the slides are too small to see); failure to ask questions; speakers rarely, if ever, looking into their camera; and one that particularly bothers some: the frantic head-nodding and double-hand waving at the end of the call, as if participants are sending loved ones off on a cruise. It's gonna be a long time before the next cruise.
Video-conferencing etiquette is, for many, still in its early stages. We have yet to see many formal norms across industries, companies, or departments. Still, you can go a long way toward better performance by keeping your audience in mind: Speak clearly, and briefly; ask questions; paraphrase; summarize. Ask someone to take notes during the meeting. If you can finish in less time than the meeting has been planned for, end it! And use a survey tool to ask for feedback in order to improve the next meeting. Oh, and by the way, don't look or sound like you just woke up.
A lot of the missteps people are making are the same ones we've always seen and heard when it comes to presenting yourself at any kind of meeting. Issues with slides, with clarity, with engagement. It gets a lot harder for most of us to keep paying attention while sitting in front of a screen than it does when we're all seated around the same table. So it's time to ramp up our professional communication skills and apply them (as well as some new skills) to video-conferences.
If we do, then in addition to the necessary Zooms, we'll be able to shout with Garth and Wayne: "Party on! Excellent!"