The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
May 15, 2020

by Sarah Geraghty (originally published in thejournal.ie)

REMEMBER ALL THE way back early March when we were still outraged that anyone might ambush us with a FaceTime call? Part of that is our Skype baggage from the early-2000s when we were haunted by grainy, frozen-screen images of loved ones and our mothers were worried about how grey we looked.  

Well, look at us now.

Staring at ourselves and each other several times a day on video chat platforms – Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, House Party – apps that most of us hadn’t heard of a few weeks ago.

Video conferencing is our new socially-distanced life. It’s where we gather for hen parties, Friday drinks, quizzes and candlelit yoga.

We meet colleagues there for meetings and interview panels for jobs.  

All came so fast

In the past, transformations in the way we worked were fairly gradual. Tech innovations rolled out over time. 

For example, the first version of what would become known as email was invented in 1965. Yet Google’s Gmail wasn’t unveiled to the public until 2004.

This time, it was different. The change was rapid. Instant, even. And we were largely unprepared for it.

In March, as we commandeered corners of kitchen worktops for workspaces, downloads of videoconferencing apps hit record highs. None more so than Zoom – it continues to lead global download charts in Apple’s app store.

We’re cracking this new way of working and are rightly proud of ourselves. But we have a way to go.

All about the angles

Who among us has been imploring experts on the news every night to hold their phone down so we’re getting less forehead into the shot? Or up, so we’re seeing less chin?   

How come I can see so much of your ceiling? Now all I can focus on is the fact that you don’t have a shade for that naked lightbulb.

It’s a great leveller. Even presidential hopefuls haven’t sussed out their angles.  

Former Vice President Joe Biden gave an election night speech from his basement against a poorly-lit backdrop and the result was grainy footage that had some observers comparing it to a hostage video.

His first virtual town hall meeting was riddled with technical glitches, garbled audio, missed cues and the candidate twice asking his team if he was live.

Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau spoke for us all when during a remote press conference, he suggested with a now-familiar weariness:

Donda, you might be on mute.

Yes, even the best of us are still learning. Getting this right means taking a series of actions. First, familiarise yourself with your new tools and what you can do with them. Do trial runs with colleagues to make sure things work and to check that any wine bottles are out of shot.  

When it comes to meetings on video conferencing platforms, everything you do is magnified. Think of normal meeting etiquette – on steroids.

10 rules to Zoom by: 

  1. Know your role – Are you the host? Set an agenda to make sure it starts on time and the first 10 minutes isn’t spent waving at each other and talking about Normal People. Call people out by name to contribute. Otherwise, everyone will probably stay silent. As a participant, prepare your inputs beforehand and be clear on your objective.
  2. Work out your angle – No amount of make-up or ‘Touch Up My Appearance’ filters matter unless you get this one right first. Avoid an “up-angle” at all costs. Raise your laptop onto a pile of books to keep it at eye level. If you’re working off a phone or a tablet, a rolled towel is handy for tilting to the best angle. Take a selfie first to reality test exactly what will be transmitted to the group. 
  3. Find your light – Always make sure light is in front of you and not behind you. Otherwise, your colleagues will only see a silhouette – it’s a common mistake. Whether it’s a window or a lamp, face the light so you’re clearly visible.   
  4. Check your background – Your communion photos are cute. Your bed looks cosy. Your colleagues don’t need to see either. Make sure whatever is on a shelf beside you is work-appropriate. If you’re working out of your hot-press, Skype, Zoom and Teams have features that enable you to blur your background or switch to a virtual one (Outer Space? The Golden Gate Bridge?). Whatever you go with, make it as neutral as possible.   
  5. Keep Zoombombers out – Recently, a Dublin GAA club was the victim of Zoombombing when an online coaching session for children was hijacked and bombarded with inappropriate content. Make your meetings more secure by keeping your invite list small and your event private. Set a meeting password or use Zoom’s waiting room feature to monitor who gets in. Don’t share meeting links, IDs or passwords on social media. 
  6. Pretend you’re in the room – Sure, wear your pyjama bottoms. Just ask yourself how it will look if you stand up before the meeting ends. Would you scroll or tap in a real-life meeting? Probably not. Don’t answer the phone. It’s rude both in the physical and cyber world.
  7. Let us see you – Turn your video on (if your Broadband connection permits). It’s soul-destroying speaking to a black square with a name on it. If you’re using a separate camera, place it close to your screen so you’re facing the person you’re talking to. 
  8. Be careful – If you’re screen-sharing, clear your desktop and browser of anything private or potentially embarrassing. Be wary of Zoom’s chat function. If the host is recording a call, all chats – public and private exchanges – are saved. 
  9. Mute – When you’re not speaking, mute yourself – especially if there are more than two people on the call or you’re working from home with others. Your microphone can pick up a lot of background noise. Turn both audio and video off if you’re having an intimate conversation with someone at home.
  10. Send an agenda ahead of the meeting – Or you’ll spend 10 minutes of a meeting waving at each other and talking about Tiger King.    
  11. Lock the door – Only you find your kids and pets that cute.  Remember, the workplace is invading their lives, not the other way around. If you think they could interrupt, give the other participants a heads up at the beginning of the meeting that there’s likely to be a disruption.