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What not to do during a Skype meeting

Video chat programs (Skype, G-chat, Google Hangout) are wonderful technological inventions that allow us to simultaneously talk and be seen during the call. Let’s put the accent on the “be seen” part right up front.

Video chats are not your old-fashioned phone call. You need to be mindful of at least three things:

  • What you look like.
  • What you’re doing during the call.
  • What’s behind you.

Let me be specific; especially about business calls where multiple people are involved and you may be less aware that people can see exactly what you’re doing. This came to mind a few weeks ago when I was on a Skype call with a colleague who lives in Boston.

Because I’m in marketing, if this person had been a client I would have said something immediately about what was happening during our call. She was clearly oblivious.

This was a business call. By definition that means you want to look like you’re at work. That includes combing your hair, washing your face, putting on fairly decent clothes. As I write this you’re probably thinking: how basic can you get. Who doesn’t know that?

Most of us should know it, but apparently it’s easy to forget because I have more than one memorable video call stories. This is just one – and it’s a cautionary tale.

The colleague I was speaking to last week is a professional, in business for many years, working from her home office that day. I’m pretty sure she was in her nightgown.

How do I know that? Because during the call she got up several times to retrieve papers. And I can tell you I would not be wearing her outfit to work, including the baby blue terry cloth slippers.

An additional entertainment feature of this call involved her robe which she (fortunately) pulled around her to cover her nightgown every time she got up from her desk.

What was she thinking, you might ask?

I thought it was pretty amusing but I’m a woman so maybe was less startled. But I can tell you this experience has affected the way I think about her professionally - and not in a good way.

It’s also interesting to note that I remember the visual peculiarities of this call more than the serious substance we discussed. That’s not good, especially if you’re trying to sell me something.

Another entertainment feature of this call included my colleague’s hair which was in an interesting formation. I’ll call it pillow perm - an apt description of most of our hair-dos when we roll out of bed.

And she looked like she just rolled out of bed.

Moving on, here’s another Skype-world caution: before your call, look at the camera light and then notice what’s behind you. How’s that artwork on your wall? Are people constantly walking behind you creating a distraction? Are your dogs wrestling in the background or doing something unseemly?

Another video call oddity: when you change chair positions we often lean forward toward the computer…and therefore, the camera. This movement can look like your head and face are going to crash through the viewer’s computer screen.

Additionally, the close-up distorts your features, sort of like a fun house mirror. Maybe not your best look. Keep this in mind and stop fidgeting – or at least back up in your chair so you avoid these fast close-ups.

A final point: Don’t pull down the lid of your laptop while the video call is running. Depending on where you’re seated that little camera light at the top of your screen will land with a full frontal view of your lap. Perhaps not the feature you’d like to showcase during a business call. But it will keep people entertained.

With the sudden lap shot I had to bite my lip to stop laughing. My colleague, meanwhile, was oblivious about what was going on.

So what are the take-aways from my experience besides a few laughs at this person’s expense?

We have probably all done something weird during video chats and not known it. Try to remember that little camera light, where it’s pointed, and what it’s seeing.

Dress like you’re going to work. This is a virtual business meeting.

Don’t forget this is a video chat – everyone can see you. And if you’re doing something interesting, that will be the focus – watching you, not paying attention to what’s being said.

This means no scratching, nose-picking or adjusting clothes. Things get magnified in video chats. Again, think fun house mirrors.

Video chats are powerful, efficient ways to communicate but you’re on camera. Some consequences I’ve seen from inappropriate video chat behavior include: firing, being taken off the project, not getting the contract, or (at best) a diminished reputation.

Those consequences are not so funny.

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Gale Dunlap

Gale Dunlap is President of Standout Strategies, a company that helps business owners and job seekers market themselves and their businesses more effectively. Her career has included management consulting and operating management. in marketing strategy and management training for companies such as Amoco, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Kauffman Foundation, and many start-ups and nonprofits. For more detail visit www.standout-strategies.com, call 303-250-8039 and connect with Gale on LinkedIn

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