Video calls shouldn't be any more stressful than the average business meeting. After all, you can see and hear the other participants, right? It's just like being there.


But, most people find video conferences hard work. Why? The primary reason stems from the two-dimensional screen that you and your normally 3D fellow participants have been reduced to. Our brains like to know where we are and where everyone else is in space. It's a little-known sixth sense called proprioception. The brain can't figure out how two dimensions change things, and so they spin like a confused computer program wheel and get tired out.

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This makes it harder to pick up the normal cues that signal conversational handoffs. So there's a lot of interruption going on, and that's awkward and tiring too. It turns out that we need our full peripheral vision to make a conversation work, and the two-dimensional screen makes that vision much more difficult. Fortunately, by making several adaptations in our presenting styles on video, we can improve things substantially. Here are a few video call tips to make this difficult situation easier for all involved.

How to Make Conference Calls More Engaging

1. Use Hand Raising in Video Calls

The first rule of video calls is an old-fashioned one. You need to create a formal, but simple, mechanism for handing the conversation off to the next participant. The discipline required takes a little time to learn, but the results in terms of increased clarity are worth it.

Otherwise, it's hard for participants to know when to speak. It can feel rude to interrupt, and yet if you don't, you may, in essence, disappear because a two-dimensional picture is not the same to our brains as a real person. The other meeting attendees might forget remote participants are there unless they assert themselves from time to time. But, doing so can feel arbitrary, clumsy, or overly aggressive.

That's because turn-taking is a largely unconscious part of conversing. As we grow up, we learn a wide array of winks, blinks, eye rolls, nods, head tilts, and so on, that help regulate conversations. We gradually extend those to more formal settings in classrooms and workplaces, and by the time we're adults, most of us can take turns without having to think consciously about it very much.

But video confuses us all over again. And so setting explicit rules for turn-taking can help with the awkward interactions on video -- ensuring that everyone gets a chance to participate can help too. Research shows that team video meetings are more successful in the long run if participation is roughly equal.

A simple technique is to first discuss and then implement the device of hand raising. It's familiar to just about everyone from school, and it's minimally intrusive. Get verbal agreement from everyone (in turn) to wrap up what they're saying when they see a hand go up, and the problem is solved, for the most part.

2. Provide An Agenda Before Video Meetings

For successful video calls, you should provide an agenda, especially if the meeting is going to last more than ten minutes and adhere to it. With a meeting agenda, participants can plan their contributions which also helps balance out participation levels. Indeed, it helps to share out the responsibility for leading an agenda item to different members of the team, rather than hogging it all to yourself. If you have regular remote team meetings, rotate the ownership of sending out a call for agenda items and running the meeting.

3. Use the Right Camera

In order to get the best experience out of your video conference, it's imperative that you use the right camera. Many web cameras are of poor quality and have small viewing areas. Try to find a meeting camera with a wider angle lens, high-quality video and audio, and that's portable if you work from on the go.

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It's also helpful if you work in an office with limited conference rooms. When considering which meeting room camera or huddle room camera you'll use, it's also important to consider video conferencing software.

4. Begin All Video Calls With An Audiovisual Check

Since people are often too polite to express communication problems on their end, you should begin with an audiovisual equipment check-in around the participants to establish local issues that might affect the call, questions of timing, and so on. And remember that if you're working from different time zones, energy levels will be different. Most of us have more energy early in the day, and deplete as the day goes on – but not all of us.

5. Implement "Health Checks" To Evaluate Emotional Well-Being Of Video Participants

Institute health checks to understand the emotional undercurrents hidden by the virtual nature of the conversation or meeting. The best method is the simplest. Have each participant rate his or her emotional temperature in three categories—green (everything's OK); yellow (I've got some concerns, but nothing desperate); and red (I'm upset). If more specific applications of the method are needed, the temperature check can be taken at ten-minute intervals or after significant stages are reached.

You can also call for more detailed descriptions of how the person is feeling. Health checks are particularly helpful for remote managers to evaluate how their team is doing when facial expressions and body language may not allow for as clear of a picture.

6. Elect A Video Call Facilitator To Mediate

Create a new role, that of a meeting facilitator, to provide a referee and coach for video conferencing, to ensure that all participants feel heard. The facilitator's responsibility is to keep track of the discussion at a level the group is comfortable with and to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. If he or she is able, the facilitator can also help you summarize points, compare people's points of view, note actions to be taken, ensure that the agenda is adhered to, and do any other task to keep the meeting on target. The facilitator can also help with the health check area, next.

7. Rotate Duties

A common misconception is that managers need to facilitate every meeting. That couldn't be further from the truth. Give your team members the opportunity to be in the leadership position by rotating positions. Give them guidelines for how to run the meeting, like preparing an agenda ahead of time, and asking the team for agenda items. This is a great way to shake things up on the call and keep your team engaged. It can also be a huge confidence builder and allow your team to feel that they are truly being heard. As a manager, it gives you the chance to witness how members of your team handle the responsibility of remote work and give team members a stake in each meeting.


How to Make Video Calls More Fun

8. Use Icebreakers

It's important for your team to get to know one another before diving into complex work. One way to do this is by making introductions interesting. Have everyone on the call state their name, college, hometown, and if they have any siblings (or other fun "get to know you" questions specific to your team or department.) Icebreakers like this allow you to open the chat up for conversation, and team members get the chance to see if they share anything in common. One of the easiest ways to build relationships is by finding interests to bond over.

9. Hold Brainstorming Sessions

A great way to get your team engaged is to get the wheels churning early with a great brainstorming session. Each person contributes a solution to a complicated problem. Everyone gets an opportunity to express their opinions in a judgment-free environment. The healthy debate and conversation allow team members to become comfortable with one another. This is also a great way to promote cross-team collaboration. Perhaps one of your engineers will be the one to come up with the idea for your next great marketing campaign.

10. Use Contests

Even though your team may be distributed, you can still get the competitive fire burning with some compelling contests. For example, trivia about the company, competitors, or clients is a good way to test the knowledge of your team and have everyone learn important information that they may not have previously known. A small prize that you could offer is featuring the winning team member or allowing that team member to do an "Instagram Takeover" on the company social media account. By offering a prize you are incentivizing your team members to participate and getting them excited about it.

11. Leave Time for Personal Conversation

Leave the last few minutes of your team meeting for non-work related talk to help with remote team building. This is a nice way to wind down after an intense meeting. Allow your team to talk about the TV shows they are bingeing, current events, or sports games. Encourage team members to share pictures, videos, and GIFs on your company's messaging software. Any extra time you can provide to your remote team to build stronger relationships with each other should be prioritized, and as a manager, you can decide if you want to stay on or leave the team to chat.

12. Optimize The Backdrop

When you're working remotely, you want your conference calls to appear very professional. However, there is more to video conferencing than just ensuring all your notes are together. Every detail about video calls says something about your brand, including the backdrop. You want to keep it clean, simple, and representative of your company and image. Any work put into this aspect of the room’s design will only enhance your professional setting.

Make sure there is nothing distracting going on in the background that could draw the person's attention away from what you are saying. Try to find a space with a blank backdrop, solid colored wall, or part of your home without too much going on behind you. You can even try adding a custom Zoom background image to your next video call.

13. Find Good Lighting

Everyone wants to look good on camera. Proper ambient lighting is key when presenting yourself in front of others. Lighting should highlight your face, especially that million-dollar deal closing smile. Try to balance artificial and natural light. Improper lighting often forces cameras to depict images that are darkened with shadows. It can also lead to resolution issues and glares in the camera. Having a remote meeting with a dark shadowy figure isn't a good experience for anyone involved. Strategically placed lighting fixtures or facing a window with natural light can create ideal lighting not only on you but on the surrounding surfaces as well.

14. Prioritize Camera-Ready Clothing and Appearance

If you've ever experienced a last-minute video call with a coworker when they may not have been expecting it, you've probably seen some bedhead, tired eyes, and clothes that indicate they may have woken up a few minutes prior to your meeting. If you have an important video conference call coming up, choose a simple, solid colored top that will be visible on camera. Sometimes intricate patterns and designs are distracting on camera, and you want this conversation to be about you, not your clothes. Keep your hair out of your face and try to position your camera to show your face, shoulders, and a bit of your torso. Be aware of what the camera shows to avoid anything embarrassing!

The stronger the relationship your hybrid team has, the better they will work together. The better they work together, the more efficient they are as a team and the more successful they become for the company. In order to foster these relationships, promote activities that create an environment that is comfortable, engaging, and inclusive for all team members.

With these practices in place, video conferencing can be made bearable, and even fun. They're still stressful for the unconscious mind, however, and as such, they should be strictly timed, with appropriate breaks so that participants have time to recover.

To learn more, check out the top video meeting apps for teams and download the video conference camera comparison guide next.

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