Observations from a Video Chat Beginner
April 29, 2020
The conversation went like this:
Colleague 1: Wade, you should write an article on working from home and using video chat.
Me: Seriously? ME? We all know I can barely turn on my computer!
Colleague 2: That’s exactly why you’d be perfect! You have no experience, preconceived notions, or partial biases.
Me: Guys, seriously. I didn’t even know how to start my webcam at first. I still have a flip phone for crying out loud!
Colleague 1: Yes! Exactly! Just like many folks out there who are forced to WFH and use video chat for the first time.
Well, she got me there. I guess that’s what it’s like to be “volun-told.”
So, here I am writing a piece on something that, mere weeks ago, I knew absolutely nothing about. I am by no means an “expert” giving his wisdom from many years of experience. NOPE. This is a true rookie simply sharing his observations and mistakes in this new (at least to me) world of virtual communication.
New Tech Territory
At first, I was very nervous about the whole video thing because I tend to get self-conscious when stepping into unfamiliar territory. I wondered, “Man, is there spinach in my teeth from my salad at lunch?” or, “Am I too close to the camera?”
Despite my initial resistance, I must admit, conversations are much more personable and interactive when you can see other people face-to-face! Of all the different forms of technology available to us to communicate with others, I have found video chat/conferencing to be the best one and now prefer it over alternative options.
The “Camps”: Gauging Your Audience
After spending time in the world of video chat, I noticed that there are a few different “camps” people tend to fall into pertaining to their individual situations. These camps may change from day to day or hour to hour, depending on the schedules of those who inhabit the house. For example, if it is naptime for little Johnny, then the house will be much quieter than if he was running around playing Cops and Robbers.
- The Solo Camp. When there is only one individual involved. Take me for example. One person, no “significant other” – not even a pet for crying out loud! Due to my individual living status, getting prepared for a work video conference is much easier. Luckily, I don’t have many barriers in the way of hitting that “Start Video” button!
- The Duo Camp. This is when there are two people in a household that must work from home together. Space, rooms, noise levels, and schedules must be decided upon, but for the most part, the situation is manageable. Oh, and pet owners seem to also fall into this camp, as well!
- And finally – The CHAOS CAMP! One or both parents now must WFH with children who require childcare and/or are now ‘schooled from home’ – there might also be a pet or two! First of all, the fact you’ve even survived this far is an achievement! Seriously, I commend you folks for stepping up to this challenge, and I think it speaks to your character. Not to mention wearing the additional hats of chef, Molly Maid, teacher, landscaper, head custodian, referee and counselor just to name a few! In this situation, the fact that you can even make it on a video call (or even to your desk) is admirable!
As I observed these different states and realized which camps my participants hailed from, I noticed each group had different expectations and perhaps even different guidelines. It definitely helped me respect each individual’s circumstance and understand that we’re all doing the best we can in the current situation.
The type of call was also important to consider; it had a direct influence on how to prepare and behave. I had to learn to gauge my audience. The biggest differentiator was whether the meeting is internal or external. Meaning, is it with someone outside of my organization who I am not familiar with? Or is it with my colleagues who I have seen 5 days a week for the past 10 years? Needless to say, I think we’d all prepare a little differently for an initial sales presentation with a Forbes 500 company versus a Zoom happy hour with your own team.
The Humanness of Video
I am very close to my Northern-based family (I live in Raleigh), and we have frequent phone calls to stay connected over the thousands of miles of distance. Inspired by the new world of video chatting, I wanted to try something totally new. For a fun experiment, I decided to video chat for the next call with my sister. And you know what? The conversation was one of the best ones I had with her in a very long time. To be able to see her face, her smile, her laugh, her facial expressions, hand movements, posture, her engaged inward-lean, her head nodding up and down, her shoulders, arms and even the necklace our mother gave her, brought me so much closer to her than a regular phone call could. I felt more connected, closer to her, warmer, more engaged…dare I say more human?
From that moment forward, I try to video call instead of a phone call any time I can. This meaningful experience I had in a trusted environment helped me learn the unmistakable advantages of a video call.
Newfound Perspective: Calling with Confidence
As I returned to the business world with this newfound perspective on video calls, it dawned on me that much of what I learned back in my Communications and Public Speaking 101 classes still applies – especially when it comes to non-verbal communication. For me, this was the biggest game-changer.
Body Language Counts!
I realized, because we can still see the person face to face, and most of their torso, that much of what we deem as “non-verbal cues” remains very important with video calling. Here are a few that I’ve seen still apply at least to some degree:
- Don’t cross your arms or hands
- Use hand gestures
- Maintain good eye contact (look towards your webcam!)
- Be engaged (i.e. Avoid behaviors such as rocking back and forth, yawning, clicking your pen, and watching TV)
- Lean forward to demonstrate you are actively listening
- Show your facial expressions
- Don’t look down or off into space
- Have attentive, receptive posture
- Use appropriate tone and volume
- And simplest of all – smile!
My Rookie Mistakes
In addition to the above observations, here are some rookie mistakes I’d like to save you from:
- Make sure your background is parallel to the importance of the call and your audience. Apparently, not everyone enjoys my hunting trophy of the mounted Bambi head on my wall!
- I learned that when I dress as I would in the office, button-down shirt and clean shaven, I feel more comfortable, confident and “business-like”. So, dress with what makes you feel the most confident.
- Don’t be too close to the camera. No one wants to see nose hair!
- Try not to interrupt. I am still working on this one. Even with face-to-face technology, I find it hard to tell when it is a good time to speak.
- Be familiar with the mute or “video off” icons. Apparently coughing, belching or clearing your throat are unpleasant sounds to others!
- Make sure the call is ended when you THINK IT IS! Until it’s over, once you click that video icon, they can see EVERYTHING you do! Boy, that was an embarrassing lesson!
*End Video Meeting*
Well there you have it. Some simple observations and learning experiences from a novice video caller.
In this new WFH world, where the future of the business climate is so uncertain, it was in this rookie’s best interest to improve his video chat skills. Bambi or no Bambi, I think it is here to stay.
About the Author
Wade Tulk is one of the original TSG’rs and has been with the company for 12 years. Starting as a recruiter, Wade learned the industry from the ground up and has been in many different roles over his 12-year tenure. He thoroughly enjoys his current role as the Director of Consultant Experience and being a part of the Experience Team.