Put Down The Pastrami: Zoom Performance Tips Two Years On
by Howard Fencl, Hennes Communications
Come on, people! We’re more than two years into Zoom as our proxy conference room, yet I’m seeing a disturbing uptick of on-camera antics that would have been red-faced embarrassing in the button-down face-to-face business meetings of olden times.
Whether it’s Zoom, Teams, WebEx – you name the video conferencing platform – there’s some truly awful virtual behavior going on out there. It reflects poorly on your personal reputation. And if you’re the only soul in the meeting representing your organization, your performance proclivities color your company’s reputation as well.
A few tips and transgressions:
Never, NEVER eat while you’re on a Zoom call. This really should go without saying. Working lunch meetings were bad enough pre-pandemic trying to explain a nuanced strategic concept to a client with a forest of broccoli jamming the space between every other tooth, but seeing anyone do battle with a recalcitrant pastrami on rye during a virtual meeting is just plain gross. Don’t do it.
I’m never happy when a client schedules a Zoom during what is normally considered a lunch hour in my time zone, but if I have to eat an early lunch so my stomach isn’t audibly rumbling during a lull in an online meeting, so be it. And if your meeting agenda indicates there will be a break, plan and prep a couple of grab-and-go snacks you can quickly chow down. Just don’t eat broccoli.
Never yawn on camera. I see this far too often in Zoom meetings – and what’s even more horrifying is that a ton of folks out there apparently never learned the courtesy of covering their yap when they yawn. Again, whether it’s in virtual or meatspace, no one wants to see your gaping maw. But if your autonomic nervous system catches you by surprise and you MUST yawn, mute your video, swallow your yawn, or turn away from your laptop camera. And please, cover your mouth. Please.
Don’t sneeze if you can help it. While a Zoom participant sneezing at NIOSH-defying decibel levels can certainly add a welcome bit of levity to an otherwise dull Zoom, it’ll bring your meeting to an awkward dead stop every time. OK, sometimes you just can’t help it. But if you must, turn away – don’t let it fly directly at your laptop camera – and make your best effort to hit the audio mute button. If none of that’s possible, sneeze as discreetly as you can and just move on with the meeting.
Don’t go to black. More and more often, I see meeting participants turn off their video and put up a black screen that may (or may not) have their name emblazoned in white font over it. Nothing says “I’m not paying attention, I’m checking my email or texting” (or eating a pastrami on rye) more than turning off your video during a meeting. If you must check out, at least be certain you upload a recent bio photo to your Zoom profile. Make sure it’s a flattering, head-and-shoulders business-like shot, and not a photo from your pre-pandemic Caribbean cruise.
Don’t get in my face. For whatever reason, some Zoomers feel it’s a good idea to stick their mug mere millimeters away from the camera. Extreme closeups are uncomfortable to watch in Hollywood films as it is – they’re downright jarring and distracting in a Zoom meeting. Sit back a bit so your camera frames you in a head-and-shoulders shot.
Resist the urge to swivel. If your home office chair swivels, use one of the other chairs in your house that does not. Whether it’s in-person or virtual, nothing makes you look 7 years old more than incessantly twisting from side to side during a meeting. BONUS TIP: This looks particularly bad if you’re doing a media interview. If you want to be taken seriously and you don’t want to distract from the important points you need to make, ditch the swivel.
Pretend to be interested. Some meetings are dull. Some are painfully dull. But like it or not, you need to be there, and you need to – at the very least – appear to be engaged. This one’s easier than you think. Just skooch up so you’re sitting on the edge of your chair (NOT a swivel chair!) and stay there as long as you can throughout the meeting. Sitting on the edge of your seat somehow seems to put you square in the middle of the action by conferring you’re totally focused on what others are saying. Even if the only thing you’re really thinking is pastrami on rye.