Video Conferencing Etiquette
The effectiveness of video conferencing can be influenced by many factors, one of which is the way participants interact with each other and the technology during collaboration. Certain behaviors during a video conference can be distracting to a speaker or other participants, and often first time users are unaware of this.
Attending a video conferencing session can at first feel disconcerting and different to a face to face meeting. You should generally just act naturally and behave in the same way you would if you were face to face with the group in the same situation. This tutorial aims to help new users understand some of the important behaviors that contribute to effective, comfortable video conferencing.
For larger meetings, to avoid potential technical interruptions or delays consuming the beginning of your meeting, arrive early and plan to connect 10-15 minutes before a meeting. This allows everyone to sort out any trouble they may have before a meeting is officially meant to commence.
Check your requirements can be met
If you need to share a presentation, use a document camera, or have some other special requirement for your meeting, check in advance with the technician or booking service that the room or desktop system you are using can support such requests. For Access Grid meetings, a technician will generally be present and will greatly appreciate receiving any presentation files in advance.
Often when users first approach video conferencing, they feel they need to speak loudly to be heard, often because the microphones are further from them than they would expect. Most video conferencing microphones are extremely sensitive to sounds and are effective up to about 7 feet without a speaker needing to raise their voice above a normal conversation level. When speaking during a video conference, try to maintain an even volume and speak as if you were conversing with someone else in the room. Excessive volume can be unpleasant to participants at other sites and in some cases can sound distorted, making long meetings unpleasant to listeners, and potentially causing them to lose attention.
When speaking, remember that looking at the camera is the only way to convey eye contact with your audience, and looking at their image on screen will make it appear as though you are looking elsewhere. This depends considerably on the layout of your room, and is less of an issue when cameras are optimally placed in close proximity to screens.
Do not think that you must remain fixed on the camera at all times, but simply looking at it occasionally helps convey inclusion to your audience, which can help them remain attentive.
Distracting Noises & Muting Microphones
When another party is speaking for an extended period of time, such as delivering a presentation, it is a very good idea to mute your microphone, particularly in multipoint meetings. This will stop any noises created from fidgeting, shuffling papers, taking notes etc. from being broadcast across the meeting. Remember the microphones are very sensitive and shuffling of papers near one can almost drown out a speaker for listeners at other locations.
As a speaker these noises are most important to remain aware of, as your microphone will have to remain on. Try to shuffle papers quietly and avoid speaking while you are doing this. Lastly, if you are using a laptop to aid your presenting, be aware that these devices also generate considerable noise if placed close to microphones.
Video conferencing generally involves a slight delay or latency in signals being sent and received, similar to the effect of a long distance telephone call. For this reason, interrupting a speaker to add something, or ask a question can often result in a disjointed break in the meeting, as they will not hear instantly. In a larger meeting, the best idea when needing to interrupt a speaker may be to raise your hand instead.
Ensure your camera is framing your endpoint well. This means for a room with several people that it is zoomed out enough to include all participants in the image. For a desktop system, try to ensure that you are framed with your head and shoulders in the shot.
Additionally, try to position cameras at a height as close to eye level as possible. This allows other sites a good view of your face, and avoids unflattering angles such as looking up at nostrils, or down on heads.
Cameras on desktop systems are often mounted on top of monitors, and can be unintentionally repositioned by bumping a desk or the monitor directly. For this reason, it pays to check the composition of your image before every video conference you have, even if you do not have this image visible to yourself for the rest of the meeting.
If you are using a desktop system, the chances are you may be configuring it yourself, and have limited means to control the lighting and decor in your room. However, there are still measures you can take to ensure you make the most of your surroundings.
While modern cameras are very good at automatically exposing to present a clear, useful image, they are still not as sophisticated as the human eye. If you are sitting in front of a bright background, many cameras will underexpose to compensate for this, which can result in your face looking very dark. An example which is often seen is desktop users sitting at a computer with windows in the background. If you have windows behind you in your office, shut the curtains to prevent this excessive light.
In an ideal situation an endpoint will have lights facing both down and on an angle towards faces. The down lighting provides the general ambient light for the room, while the angled lighting removes shadows from eyes and other facial features caused by the down lighting.
In your office if you can face windows this is an ideal way of achieving this effect. The general rule to remember is that evenly lit faces provide the best image.
While video conferencing tries to emulate the experience of a real encounter, there are still shortcomings in the technology. In larger meetings or primarily one way presentations, people are often observed as less attentive than they may be in a face to face encounter.
While it may be more difficult to stay attentive in a long video conference or presentation, it is important to remember that although it may feel as if you are watching a one way video stream, your image is being broadcast back to the speaker, and excessive fidgeting or gesturing can be very off putting. With this in mind, try to refrain from being overly animated or talking excessively to people in your own room while a speaker is talking at another location. Even with muted microphones this behavior is very difficult to ignore when you are the speaker. This behavior tends to occur more frequently in video conferencing than it would in a face to face meeting, with people often conversing with each other at a muted site. It is important to remember to conduct yourself as you would if everybody at the other locations was in your room with you.
The content on this page has been reproduced, with permission, from the AVCC website, which has since been decommissioned.