For most design firms prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic, video conferencing was a seldom used and glitchy tool that typically consisted of groups huddled together around conferences table at both ends of the connection. With the new norms of “social distancing” and limitations on travel, video conferencing has quickly become part of our daily business process. For a short while, peeking into each other’s homes, seeing our kids, pets and clutter, and accommodating interruptions was a bonding experience that we all shared. As business has shifted to accommodate the new normal however, clients are becoming less tolerant of distractions and the casual appearance that is often portrayed when working remotely.
The following list of best practices for virtual meetings require minimal time and expense and will ensure that you and your team appear consistently professional in all client engagements. Best of all, the are very easy to adopt and still allow your firm to express its unique personality.
Preparing for the meeting:
- Send an agenda ahead of the meeting – be sure to include the meeting log-in information.
- Send a calendar invitation for the meeting – don’t rely on your customers to remember to call in. I also suggest including the meeting log-in information in the invitation so that it is handy when their reminder pops up.
- Log in early – Being late to your own meeting is both unprofessional and embarrassing. Technology isn’t perfect and we have all experienced issues when connecting to virtual meetings. Log in at least 5 minutes ahead of your scheduled meeting time and mute the camera and microphone. You will be ready to engage the moment your client joins and can continue working productively until then.
- Turn off distractions – mute your cell phone and minimize or better yet close your email and anything else that can be a visual and/or audio distraction during the meeting and take your focus off of your client. Demonstrate you value their time by ensuring they have your undivided attention at all times. Remember too that the client can usually hear every ding, whistle, chime and buzz that your other open programs are making. You want them focused on you and your message, not wondering what all the background noise is about.
Be aware of how you appear on the screen to others:
- Dress Professionally – You likely don’t need to wear a suit and tie but you do want to look “office professional”. I personally keep a couple of company logo button down shirts on hangers in my home office that I can put on over my home casual attire ahead of scheduled client meetings.
- Face the camera – I often attend meeting where individuals with multiple screens or detached cameras are looking to the side at their video conferencing screen. The other meeting participants see only their profile and there is no sense of eye contact. This makes you appear distracted and disinterested even if you are fully engaged.
- Center yourself on the screen – look straight on at the camera with your eyes approximately 2/3 of the height above the bottom edge of the image. There should be some space above your head, but you should predominantly fill the screen.
- Set up a professional background image – Seeing meeting participants in their attics, garages or cluttered home offices with pets and family passing in the background has lost its novelty. Your goal should be to portray a consistently professional image with every client engagement. Consider creating your own custom background with your company logo and color scheme but keep it subtle and non-distracting. If you want to add variety and let your team express their personality, provide 3 to 5 background options for your staff to chose from to complement their style and meeting attire.
Conclude the meeting with style:
- Allow your client to log off first – In person meetings usually conclude with a handshake, a wish for safe travel and maybe an offer to use the restroom or grab a bottle of water before they hit the road. Most virtual meeting end rather abruptly and the last image we see is everyone else searching for the right button to turn it off. Consider pausing with your focus on the camera while your client logs off. The last image they will see of you is one of poise and confidence. Save the appearance of confusion and searching for after they have left.
- Send a summary email – thank your client for engaging and summarize the key takeaways from the meeting. This is your ideal opportunity to demonstrate that you understand their needs and are prepared to address them. It also serves as an excellent reference for both you and your client as you work through the design spiral.
Each of the recommendations above is based on our observation during countless video conferences with clients across the United States. We believe these to be best practices for all professional service firms regardless of your industry, size or location.