Video Meetings: The Right Way

Lawyers know the importance of a first impression. That’s why so many of us spring for the expensive downtown offices, the giant wooden desks, and the fancy suits, right? All of those things signal something about the firm’s values and status. My office is full of armchairs, twinkly lights, and pops of color. I made that choice in part to welcome clients and visitors to our office space—but also because it immediately telegraphs my personality and that my professional approach is non-traditional.

No matter what impression you’re trying to give, lawyers generally care about this stuff. So, don’t shoot yourself in the foot now that we’re working from home. You’ve seen the clips online: folks snacking into their microphones, taking their Zoom call to the bathroom, etc. It’s distracting at best and unprofessional at worst. Now, you might not be the lawyer that infamously went to an online court hearing from bed, but, be honest, do you need to upgrade your virtual first impression? Read on for a simple how-to etiquette guide to professionalize your video conferencing, no matter what platform you use.

The Environment
This is intuitive, but it bears repeating: you cannot have a good video call without being in the right environment. Thankfully, it’s not difficult to set things up for a good call. Here’s what you need to consider:

Background: Set up your camera shot. Even if you’re working from your bedroom, we should not see the bed – no matter how pretty your pillow shams are. Turn your desk if you have to. You don’t need to have a fancy home-office or the stereotypical lawyer bookshelves in the background, but something static and unobtrusive is ideal. Sitting in front of a mostly blank wall will do the trick.

Lighting: You want enough light to illuminate your face, but not so much that it washes out your features or creates glare on your eyeglasses. Just like in a photo, we want to see you—not just a shadowy silhouette. Don’t have an uncovered window behind you which makes you a dark blob. It sounds obvious, but make sure you have light facing your face! A lamp will usually do the trick, but you could also look into a special light called a “light ring” which you can get for around $20 on Amazon. No matter what you use, take a moment before each meeting to turn on your lamp, draw the curtains, whatever you need to do to get the right lighting.

Activity: People walking in and out of the shot and background noise are major distractions for your meeting. If you have a quiet corner of your home to do meetings from, use that instead of sitting at your kitchen table where your kid is noisily eating cereal. If there’s an open door behind you, close it so we don’t see your family members walking through the hallway.

The Tools
Next up, do you have the tools to hold a solid video conference? The built-in webcam and mic on your laptop are usually not enough—sorry. If you’re going to be in a meeting most days, I encourage you to upgrade. Likewise, make sure you have high speed internet, and check that you’re getting what you pay for by running a test at www.speedtest.net.

Camera: Whether your computer has a built-in camera or not, consider buying an external webcam. There are many affordable high-resolution options out there—look for full HD 1080p cameras. I have the Logitech C920, and it’s been great. A decent camera paired with some good lighting will have you looking sharp.

Headset: Lawyers are wordsmiths, so make sure your clients and colleagues can focus on what you say. Buy a higher quality headset and ditch the ear buds with an inline mic. A decent headset will help filter out background noise, so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s loud chewing or a partner’s work call bleeding over into yours. I use the Sennheiser Presence Bluetooth headset, and it’s worth every penny!

The Features
No matter which video conference program you’re using, it will likely have some features that can make your video meeting go smoothly. Here’s a few to keep in mind:

Mute
: If you only take one thing out of this article, let it be this: in a group meeting, mute yourself whenever you aren’t talking. If you’re hosting the meeting, you can automatically mute all participants from the start of the meeting (and re-mute them as needed). This simple feature will take so much of the chaos out of your video meetings. Use it!

Chat: Pretty much all video conferencing platforms have a chat feature—and it’s more useful than you might think. In a larger meeting, the chat function can be a great place to manage who is speaking and allow people to raise questions or concerns without interrupting the meeting.

Screen Share: When we can’t all be in the same room to look at the same thing, screen sharing is here to help. You can share a formal presentation to a big group or use it to work together on reviewing changes to a document. Microsoft Teams is free with your 365 subscription. I also use Zoom. Be sure to select what you share—choose the active program—not your full screen. This helps the viewer see better and protects against sharing confidential information accidentally.

Virtual Background: A bonus one for Zoom users—Can’t get that perfect background shot you crave? Add a photo as your virtual background. Find a photo of the fancy office of your dreams and go for it!

Upgrading the Whole WFH Experience
As you can see, the little things add up and create a more professional online you. The good news is, it’s very easy to try these little fixes.

One last note: it’s okay to make mistakes. Most video etiquette faux pas happen because people don’t understand the tools or because they haven’t quite adjusted to their home-office as a professional environment. And hey, no matter how prepared you are, sometimes your five-year-old is going burst in when you least expect it—it’s OK. You’re creating a more human connection with clients and colleagues by using these video conference tools like a pro—and that’s a good thing.

Looking for more work from home tips? I put together an entire guide for you to download at birkenlaw.com/wfh