Have you ever been in a conference call or virtual meeting with someone who forgot to mute their microphone? Maybe they were chewing loudly, making sarcastic comments to a co-worker, or shouting at their dog to stop barking. Don’t be that person at your next meeting!

Virtual meetings became the “new normal” for businesses across the U.S. in 2020 as they looked for ways to protect their employees from the COVID-19 virus by having them work from home. Some of us were used to working remotely, but for others, it was a whole new experience: the commute from the bedroom to the den, family pets as co-workers, dress codes that don’t involve shoes.

Newcomers to remote working may not realize that virtual video meetings have their own system of etiquette. Reviewing these tips before your next meeting can help you be more productive and also help avoid potential embarrassment.

1. Check your tech

It’s frustrating for yourself and everyone else at the meeting if you have trouble logging in, you can’t make your microphone work, etc. So, get familiar beforehand with the web-based conferencing software you’ll be using. Go through a test run to try out the microphone, the camera and any other feature you will be using, such as screen sharing, file transferring, recording, etc.

  • If you discover that a video call slows your computer, or you don’t have enough bandwidth for fast connectivity, try calling in from your phone instead. Most video conferencing tools include phone numbers to dial as a backup.
  • Make sure any documents or slides you are going to present are easily accessible.
  • Get some reliable headphones and test them beforehand by calling a co-worker or family member.

2. Set yourself up for success

Yes, you’re sitting in front of a screen, but that doesn’t mean you can dress and act like you’re watching TV.

  • Have something to eat beforehand so you won’t be tempted to eat during the meeting. The other participants don’t want to see you stuffing your face, and they certainly don’t want to hear you chewing. Remember, the microphone is designed to pick up sounds coming from your mouth. Added bonus: you don’t have to worry about crumbs dropping onto your keyboard. 
  • Consider dressing as if you’re in the office. You’ll not only look more professional, but it may help put you in a business frame of mind.
  • Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Silence your cell phone if you’re not using it to connect to the meeting. Put the pets in another room. If you have small children at home, arrange for someone to watch them during the meeting.
  • Consider the background. Will people seeing your face also see a pile of laundry, an inappropriate poster, or an unmade bed? What’s reflected in the mirrors? Make sure you’re projecting an image that won’t embarrass you.

3. Put your best face forward

Now that you’re ready for the meeting, log in a few minutes early to make sure you can connect and that your tech is working the way it should.

  • When you join the meeting, introduce yourself briefly so the others will know you’re there. Then, place your microphone on mute until it’s time for you to speak. You may think you’re in a quiet place, but background noise is always present, and Murphy’s Law says that your dog will start barking or the doorbell will ring at the most inappropriate time. And, if you ignored the previous rule about eating, you certainly don’t want others to hear you chewing and swallowing.  
  • Stay alert and focused. It’s easy to get distracted by your surroundings, but make a conscious effort to give your full attention to the meeting. Resist the temptation to check your email or carry on a side conversation. You may think no one will notice, but it can be embarrassing if you’re caught daydreaming when your boss asks for your input.
  • Maintain eye contact by looking into the camera as much as possible. If you were speaking face-to-face with someone, it would be rude to let your eyes wander around the room. Use the same guidelines in an online situation.
  • Even if you are not speaking, act as though the camera is on you. Facial expressions are one of the most important ways people communicate their feelings, so if you’re rolling your eyes at someone’s comment, that can speak volumes about your opinion, even if your words express agreement.

Following these tips can help ensure that you have good virtual meetings, and learning the rules of etiquette should prove helpful in the future. Now that businesses have seen the convenience and cost savings of online meetings, they will continue to be a useful business tool in the post-COVID world.