The Rules of Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is rife with potential manners pitfalls - distraction, snacking, bad hair. Don't make these mistakes! Follow Modern Manners Guy's tips on the rules of polite video conferencing.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #291

Nowadays people are using the internet to communicate in all sorts of rapid ways. From email, to tweets, to Facebook, to video calls, if you want to get a hold of someone a thousand miles away, you can do so in a split second. Many businesses have turned to video conferencing platforms like Skype or Google+ to bring clients, coworkers, and customers who are not in close proximity into the same virtual room..

However, the casual ease that comes with being able to be face-to-face with people around the world, from the comfort of your home, has allowed some of us to let down our professional guard. It seems that some forget that a video call means you're being watched (and judged) in real time. And you can’t hide.

So before you spend your next video conference call dozing off, surfing the web, or show up with your hair unkempt, check out my top 3 quick and dirty tips for proper video conferencing etiquette:

Tip #1: The Eyes Don’t Lie

Being able to multitask is an incredible talent. However, it’s the kind of talent that some self-described multitaskers tend to take for granted.  So when you’re video chatting with a multitasker, you may notice they are doing a variety of things, potentially unrelated to you and your current conversation. Don’t believe me? OK then, here’s a test: Next time you are on a video conference with someone who spends their day juggling five different projects at once, watch their eyes as you talk with them. Chances are their eyes will not be focused on you. Instead their eyes will be shifting to their computer or smartphone where they’re surfing the web, checking email, or working on another document. They’ll try to hide it of course – or think they’re hiding it - but in the end, the eyes don’t lie.

When you’re on a video conference call, you can't get away with the slick moves you pull in a standard conference telephone call. And don’t act like you don't know what I'm talking about. We're all guilty of checking email while someone else is talking or even enjoying a nice snack – while on mute, of course. But when you are on a video conference call, you have to up the professionalism and be much more engaged in the conversation. Remember - they can see you!

It’s rude to look distracted while someone else is talking. Even if you’re responding the right way, and answering when addressed, the person(s) on the other line will still find it annoying that you would rather check your Twitter feed than talk to them. That's why I recommend treating a video conference call as if it was a real life, one-on-one in-person meeting. Pretend that you're in the confines of someone’s office where you wouldn’t dare check your phone or see what your friend just posted on Facebook.

Tips #2: You Are What You Eat

I’ve covered the topic of Office Snacking Etiquette and I’ve also covered the topic of Conference Call Etiquette, however the video conference call tends to marry the two together in an unmannerly romance.  For whatever reason, the video conference call makes people feel a level of comfort similar to that of relaxing by the pool. Just because you’re at home, or in your office, with the door shut does not mean business is still not being done. 

So why would you let the people on the other end of the video call see you taking swigs of a drink, eating a sloppy sandwich, or loudly crunching chips?  If anything, shouldn’t your manners be even more on point because you’re being watched in real time? I don’t see why some people find it necessary to bring a buffet to the table of a video conference call. But it happens all the time.