10 rules for surviving (Zoom) video calls

.productivity Dec 10, 2020

Don’t get caught naked.

https://www.dilbert.com/strip/2020-11-23
https://www.dilbert.com/strip/2020-11-23

If 2020 was the first time you started having video meetings, you might have missed the other software that came before it. You’ve heard of Skype, but the corporations were mainly using Cisco WebEx. And then Zoom took over and made history. I’ve been doing video meetings for years, but in 2020 it became the only way I do meetings.

Let me share my 10 rules for productive Zoom meetings.

I. Zoom call Mondays

I make Mondays my main Zoom day. It’s best to set the pace for the week — both for my Team as well as with my management and peers. For other days I try not to do any multi-user Zoom calls before 10 am or after 5 pm. I’m most creative early in the mornings, so I save those slots for creating value. After 5 pm is wrap-up time, so I’ll rarely take any calls after that, except if it’s from a different time zone (e.g., US PT).

II. No-video Fridays

Fridays are for weekly wrap-ups, planning the next steps, and winding-down into the weekend. No big decisions should be made then. Having said that, keeping Fridays video-free also offers some slack for when you really need to have another meeting.

III. Can you skip or watch the recording?

If it’s a call where I can’t contribute and don’t need to be there, I’ll skip entirely. If I don’t need to contribute, but should be aware of it, I’ll watch the recording, or at least review the slides. The great thing about recordings is that you can watch them at 2x speed and skip the boring talkers. Send some feedback. Contribute asynchronously.

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IV. The agenda is not optional.

No agenda, no meeting. “Picking my brain” sounds painful. Give me an agenda, so I can prepare, and I expect you to come prepared too. Which brings us to the next rule.

V. Always prepare.

You might do it the Amazon way, but for me, it’s more like 2-3 bullet points in Notion. I’ll have a checklist for the things that we need to discuss, and one or both of us need to walk away with a task list to action on — otherwise, the call might not be necessary. Exceptions apply, such as building new relationships, improving old ones, … you get the point.

VI. 15 minutes is fine.

Yes, we can schedule a 15-minute Zoom, and we’ll get out in 15 mins. Hard stop. I’ll have a calendar reminder and/or a loud alarm sounding on my end signaling we have to finish.
I usually share my possible meeting slots in 30-minute increments — because Outlook Mobile app can do it. Here’s a shout out to Microsoft: what’s the excuse for not having this in the BIG Outlook yet?

VII. Test your audio & video

Make sure you sound and look good. It’s the digital equivalent of checking your zipper. Hit Test Mic to record and playback the sound.

Test video as well — wipe your camera lens, see what’s in the frame behind you. If the background doesn’t look good, use one of the virtual backdrops. But don’t use the Golden Gate Bridge or that beach video. Everyone does it, it’s boring. Download a nice wallpaper from Unsplash — it’s free, takes no time, and it’s going to make you look great.

If Zoom is having a tough time separating you from the virtual background, get one of those green screens. They cost nothing and will make you look professional.

The next thing with video is light. Natural is best, and never — write this down — never from behind. You can do everything with your existing table lamp, or if you want to look your best — get a diva ring light. It’s $30 for a great look. But keep in mind that the more accessories you have, the earlier you’ll need to show up to get everything up and running. Which brings us to the next point.

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VIII. Show up on time.

“My Zoom was updating” is the 2020 version of a bad-traffic-excuse. Traffic was bad since the ’50s, and you had your whole life to build that into your agenda. Being late to Zoom calls is the same as being late for physical meetings. It’s rude and disrespectful of other people’s time.

If you’re late, we’ll start without you. It’s up to you to catch up. If you’re an Executive, we’ll give you an exec summary once you join. If you’re not, watch the recording. Also, don’t interrupt the call and start with the small talk if you join late — we’re already past that stage. Just signal by a wave or a message in the chat-box that you’re (finally) here.

IX. Demonstrate good Zoom etiquette.

Knowing how to behave on video-calls is the 2020s version of table manners. Look representative (whatever that means in your line of work), mute your microphone, and consider that the camera and the mic are always on — even if you’re 100% you’re on mute and the camera is off. If the Zoom is running, consider you’re being watched.

When speaking, look in the camera, not on the screen. When you’re silent, hit mute. Zoom has this wonderful function to temporarily unmute when you hit the spacebar. So it’s like a walkie-talkie.

Yes, it’s perfectly fine to temporarily turn your camera off to sip some water. Drinking from the cup or glass is okay on the camera, but anything bigger than 0,5l (17 oz.) looks weird. And don’t drink like the Zuck.

X. Summarize.

At the end of the call, summarize the agreements and confirm the next steps. The call leader should do that, and if they don’t, you do it. If there needs to be the next meeting, agree on the time slots on the spot — while everyone can check their calendars. End the call with a smile and a wave or thumbs up — that’s the new handshake. Leave the call and exit the Zoom app entirely — again, I repeat — if Zoom is running, consider you’re being watched and listened to.

Enjoy Zooming through your workdays!

Don't be like Tony. 
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