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Get your video conferencing etiquette right

Instead of sitting where you typically type, move back to frame your face, neck and shoulders.

Hemera Technologies/

A few years ago, when Matt Ferguson wanted to talk to his company's engineer, he fired up his computer and used Skype. Mr. Ferguson, president and chief executive of Progressive Health Innovations Inc., was in Port Moody on the B.C. mainland. Meanwhile, the engineer was on Vancouver Island.

"It sure as heck saved having to spend a couple of hundred bucks and the better part of the day taking the ferry over to Victoria and coming back," he says.

Although not as ideal as having a face-to-face conversation, video conferencing still makes a lot of sense for Progressive Health, a company that invented and now sells a device that helps strengthen foot muscles and tendons.

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Today, Mr. Ferguson uses Skype a couple of times a week to demonstrate his product for new clients.

Mr. Ferguson is far from the only one who opts to swap business travel for virtual meetings. Teleconferencing and video conferencing are more popular than ever, according to some surveys. Recently, Ovum, a research firm in London, U.K., stated that 26 per cent of all conferences will be held by video by 2012.

This means less time on the road, fewer carbon emissions and the ability to have a meeting from virtually anywhere. But as with any new technological advances, the rise in video conferencing and teleconferencing means a whole new host of possible missteps when it comes to good manners.

Sometimes that means taking a conference call in the bathroom – and forgetting to use the mute button. It could also mean conducting a 3 a.m. (your time) teleconference with bed-head.

According to a 2011 survey by the specialized staffing firm Robert Half International, a full 76 per cent of human resources professionals say breaching technology etiquette can have a negative impact on job prospects. Yet staying on top of the world of iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Google+ means knowing the most respectful ways to use the technology. That's not always easy, says David King, Canadian district president of Robert Half Management, in Toronto.

"It's hard for people to keep up with all these tools that are coming at us. Because of that, it's almost equally as hard to keep up with proper etiquette," he says.

A few tips can make the world of difference when it comes to avoiding gaffes.

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Teleconferencing tips

  • Say no to multitasking: As tempting as it is to check e-mail or have side conversations during long or boring conference calls, it pays to stay focused on the call. If you have to constantly ask people to repeat their points or ask for clarification, it soon becomes apparent you’re not listening. Besides, you could miss important information, says Mr. King. “It doesn’t matter how good you are at multitasking; it’s very difficult to respond to an e-mail and really hear the message that’s being presented,” he says.
  • Don’t interrupt: One of the best ways to kill a conversation via teleconferencing? Have people talking over other people. Instead, pause before speaking then announce yourself. For example, say “This is Rob…” That’s enough to let everyone know who you are, and give them the cue that it’s your turn to speak.
  • Mute it: The mute button is there for a reason. Use it. No one wants to hear you munching through lunch, walking the dog, talking to your kids or, well, breathing. If you don’t know how to turn the mute button on (or off), ask the call’s moderator via e-mail before the call begins. Alternatively, a good host will explain how to use mute at the beginning of the meeting.

Video conferencing tips

  • Move away from the camera: That is, unless you want your face to fill the entire screen. And who can resist a massive nose that comes courtesy of the computer’s fisheye lens? Instead of sitting where you typically type, move back about a half-metre to frame your face, neck and shoulders. Using your laptop to make the call? Again, sit back and use a few books to bring the computer up higher on the table. “Otherwise, I get a great view – straight up your nose,” says Mr. Ferguson.
  • Think studio: It’s hard to present a professional image if your background is cluttered and messy. So clean up. Even if you only have five minutes to straighten the area directly behind you, that’s usually fine, says Mr. Ferguson. Good lighting and sound are also important. An inexpensive IKEA lamp located behind your computer is perfect for lighting you up. Meanwhile, a headset gives superior sound quality.
  • But don’t get too fancy: Just ask Edward Mana, a technologist for Technology On Demand, Inc., in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. About 18 months ago, he was sitting in on a video conference with a group of people including the host, who seemed to be in a computer data centre. That is, until the camera moved only to reveal a wooden door in the corner. When Mr. Mana mentioned it, the man became flustered. “Apparently the ‘data centre’ was really a backdrop he’d purchased. He was actually in the spare bedroom of his house!” Mr. Mana explains.
  • Take a practice run: New to Skype, Nefsis, iVisit or any of the other video conferencing technologies out there? Before the meeting, jump online and check out their websites. Most have how-to videos and information that are easy to follow. Even if you know the technology inside out, always do a quick trial run about 30 minutes before the meeting start-time to be sure everything is in order.

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