Public Relations Employee Communications

How to Prepare Spokespeople for Video Conferencing

By Kersa Haughey

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused businesses worldwide to shift to fully remote work. As companies confront this new normal, video conferencing platforms have proven to be essential. From interviews, events, and even team happy hours, video conferencing is enabling interactions beyond traditional meetings.

In fact, we recently transitioned what was initially an in-person, day-long analyst event into an entirely virtual one. Using Zoom, we facilitated a large group presentation, including a Q&A session, as well as one-on-one meetings between our client and individual analysts.

But despite the new expectation for people to interact via this technology, many are either unfamiliar or uncomfortable using it. Here are some of our tried-and-true tips for preparing yourself and your spokespeople to run a successful video conference.

Get ready for your close-up

Find the appropriate camera position. Present yourself as if you were in the same room as your fellow attendees and sitting across from them. Make sure your computer camera is at eye level. Then, pull your computer toward you until your face and upper torso fills up the center of the screen.

Ensure you have good lighting. The biggest offender here is backlighting. Too little light can lower the video quality and make it difficult for participants to see you. Instead, sit facing a window or light source so that your face is visible.

Do a practice run 

Test your tech with a teammate. Check to make sure your internet connection is stable, your accessories work, and that you know how to share your screen and display it in presentation mode.

Choose a pair of headphones and a microphone you trust. Noise disturbances from glitchy accessories are distracting and ultimately waste time.

Eliminate potential distractions   

Streamline your surroundings. Do you tend to doodle? Fidget? Clear out anything around you that could pull your attention away from the meeting. 

Be mindful of your background. Remote workspaces vary. Some of us have dedicated home offices, and others might be repurposing their dining room tables. If you can swing it, a neutral background is best. But if it’s not possible, consider using a virtual background image. Zoom offers preloaded options to choose from, or you can upload your own.

Minimize sound pollution. We’ve all been on a call where background noise makes it impossible to follow along with the discussion. To alleviate this issue:

  • Mute your microphone when you’re not talking.
  • Turn off sounds and notifications on your computer and phone. Particularly text, Slack, and email notifications, which in addition to being irritating for others on the call, also signal you aren’t paying attention.
  • Adjust your microphone settings to reduce background noise, if working on a Mac. Go to your system preferences, then to sound. Click input and make sure the box next to “Use ambient sound reduction” is checked.
  • Refrain from typing if you aren’t on mute or using headphones with a separate microphone. Because microphones are near the keyboard on most computers, attendees will otherwise hear a loud “clacking” sound when you type.

Set up a waiting room

Think of it as your company’s virtual lobby. Zoom even allows users to add their own branding to waiting rooms. Once you’ve activated the waiting room feature in Zoom, click the pencil icon to add your company logo, customize the meeting title, and include a description. Participants will see this information as they wait for the meeting to begin.

Vet your attendees. With the surge in Zoom usage, there has also been an uptick in trolls bombing meetings with inappropriate language and graphics. As the host, once you have the waiting room set up, you’ll need to admit each individual that joins before they can be placed in the larger meeting. If you don’t recognize a user, you can chat with them through the waiting room and ask them to identify themselves before admitting them. Use the following settings in Zoom’s Advanced Options to keep unwanted guests out of your meeting:

  • Use a unique meeting ID.
  • Enable a password.
  • Turn “Join Before Host” off .
  • Turn “Waiting Room” on.
  • Once all of your attendees have arrived, lock the meeting so no one else can join. To do this from the desktop app, click “Manage Participants,” then “More,” then “Lock Meeting.”

Eliminate accidental interruptions. The waiting room is particularly helpful if you have a packed meeting schedule, and don’t want someone from your next meeting to jump into your current meeting. This feature will hold them in the waiting room until you start the meeting they’ve been invited to.

Stay in control

Determine the best meeting format for the size of your audience. It’s easier to control internal and one-on-one meetings. But if you have a large number of attendees, you’ll want to take measures to ensure everything goes off without a hitch. Some controls you can put into place in your Zoom settings are:

  • Mute everyone upon entering the meeting, and control whether or not participants can unmute themselves as it progresses.
  • Disable the notification sound that alerts you when someone is joining or leaving the meeting. The noise can become extremely distracting if you have a large group of attendees.  
  • Assign a co-host to help you lead the meeting.
  • Leverage the polling tool to survey attendees and keep them engaged.
  • Disable the screen share function for all attendees other than the host.
  • If you’re planning to host a meeting with over 500 attendees, consider purchasing a Large Meeting License from Zoom. Without this add on, you will max out your attendee limit and some guests will not be allowed in the room.

Set an expectation for how the meeting is structured ahead of time. If you want attendees to participate, make that very clear from the beginning, and state how you’d like them to contribute their thoughts and ideas.

Use the attention tracking tool. It’s hard to read the room in a virtual meeting, especially if there are several attendees joining, and you have to share your screen. Zoom’s attention tracking feature alerts you if someone moves to another window. You can use this to measure your audience’s engagement throughout the meeting.

Be aware of your body language

Let your attendees know you’re engaged. At best, your behavior on video can illustrate your professionalism, that you’re paying attention, and that you’re interested in the conversation. At worst, it can cause you to appear sloppy, disengaged, unprepared, or anxious. Here’s how to make the best digital impression:

  • Sit up straight on the edge of your seat, then lean in slightly.
  • Maintain neutral facial expressions, and remember to smile when appropriate.
  • Actively listen and nod your head.
  • Look at the camera, particularly when you are speaking.
  • Avoid looking at the ceiling, off to the side, or at yourself. If you, like us, find your own image to be too distracting, try putting a sticky note over it or hiding it with your Zoom settings.
  • Use your hands when you talk, gesturing naturally but not overexaggerating.
  • Keep your body movements calm. Avoid fussing with your pen, hair, or smart devices, and swiveling or leaning back and forth in your chair.

Consider a training session

If your company is transitioning to virtual interviews or events – whether for media, analysts, partners, or customers –  video conferencing training may be in order. As we all get used to working remotely, it’s important that your spokespeople are comfortable with conferencing tools –  and that they look and sound great using them. Training is also an opportunity to practice communicating key messages or statements related to COVID-19, as questions on the matter are likely to come up. 

Knocking video calls out of the park all comes down to preparation. If you and your spokespeople put in the time beforehand to go through these steps, you’ll be ready to manage even the largest virtual meetings.