Dr. Johannes Ripken
5 Videocall No-Go’s – and how to make it better in 2022
In the last two years I have experienced technical and human abysses of audio-visual communication in videoconferences. Ok, that sounds very harsh, but after countless videoconferences one could expect that each person has reflected and optimised their own behaviour in videoconferences.
Actually, videoconferencing is a quantum leap forward for networking compared to normal telephony - and a passable substitute for unrealisable face-to-face meetings in times of pandemic. Thus, video calls are an excellent possibility for business relationship management and therefore also a fixed component of my workshops and lectures.
In this article, I will give you a short, crisp overview:
No-Go # 1: Camera perspective
Most cameras are built into laptops. Many people use one or more additional, larger screens. Of course, it is more comfortable for you to view the video image on a large, slightly higher positioned screen. For the person you are talking to, it is unattractive and disastrous for maintaining a relationship if your gaze is always directed somewhere else.
How to do it better?
In any case, hold the video conversation where the camera is. Ideally, reduce the size of the video image and place the window centrally at the top so that the interlocutor's gaze is directed straight ahead and not looking down.
No-Go # 2: Bad picture, bad sound, bad light, bad connection
There are several disruptive factors, such as those mentioned above, that affect the video call. This can be content-related, of course, especially with the sound, but even more so it damages the impression, the relationship and the relationship-building. After all, people don't like to make video calls with people who are hard to understand or see.
How to do it better?
Upgrade to an HD camera - either an external one or look at the quality of the camera when buying a new laptop. When using an external camera, definitely make sure that the camera perspective is good (see No Go # 1).
Headset instead of laptop mic if it is not good. The headset has the further advantage that the keyboard noise cannot be heard when you are taking notes during the conversation.
Light as naturally as possible. Avoid strong light from the front or back, for example from windows. (Here I have to reflect to my study that there are moments in the day that the sun shines directly on me. At this window in the attic, I have already taken precautions to block the sunlight, but there are still a few gaps that I have to accept).
A poor connection leads to dropouts in the video conference, which is of course very annoying, especially when you are in direct dialogue with a person. If I find that the WLAN or LAN connection is temporarily not good enough, I switch to the tethering connection of my mobile phone. LTE/4G or even 5G are definitely fast enough for video conferencing. When we all have fibre in a few years, this problem will be a relic of old times.
No-Go # 3: Focus
We've all experienced it in video conferences and done it ourselves: being distracted because you're briefly checking an email or doing something else on the side. The temptation is only a window change away. The larger the group, the more often you lose focus, especially if you are less actively involved. But I've even experienced it in one-on-one conversations. There, it is immediately noticeable and is as valuable for cultivating the relationship as messing around on your mobile phone at a real meeting.
How does it work better?
Actually, it's simple: During the conversation, focus fully on the conversation. Deactivate possible distractions such as desktop notifications.
No-Go # 4: Virtual or blurred backgrounds
Virtual and blurred backgrounds are a technical solution to a human problem: disorder, chaos. These altered backgrounds solve the problem, but with consequences for maintaining a relationship with the interlocutor. The video image looks artificial and the subtle impression is created that the person wants to hide something - and that is harmful for building or maintaining a trusting relationship. Of course, this has no connection with the content of the work, but the impression remains.
A blurred background is certainly better than an extremely messy room, but the variable of order can be changed by tidying up and paying attention to it. At a hybrid event, I would have preferred a blurred background when the keynote speaker in the background was not only in absolute chaos but even had three champagne bottles on her desk. I immediately switched off inside and lost focus and confidence.
How do you do it better?
I have to admit, my desk and study are also often chaotic, but for video conferences I have a perspective that only shows the white walls of my attic. So a neutral background that is not distracting.
No-Go # 5: Food and drink
Would you eat pizza or drink from a litre bottle in a face-to-face meeting? Absolutely not. But that's exactly what I experience quite often in video conferences. The litre bottle much more often, of course, but eating solid food is also a regular occurrence - whether it's pizza, cake, bread or crisps.
How do I do it better?
Don't eat at all. You can eat before or after, but not in a conversation. You should simply drink from glasses. That's all that needs to be said.
These tips and no-go's are generally valid for video conferences. Especially in 1-to-1 conversations, it is obligatory to be clear about how you come across to the person you are talking to and what effect this will have on building the relationship. The solutions are not difficult, but the awareness of them must be there.
I hope I have been able to sharpen the perception with this post.