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Virtual Rules of Zoom Engagement

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What You Need to Know

  • Falling asleep on camera is bad.
  • Taking colleagues along as you walk the dog is just as bad.
  • Participating from the family dinner table can make you a legend, in the wrong way.

A while ago, I participated in a mastermind group with a number of speaker, trainer and coach colleagues. We would meet once a month on Zoom and alternate who would lead the meeting. We had an agenda, discussed action steps, the whole shebang.

One of the members of the group never seemed engaged in the conversation. She rarely participated unless it was her turn to speak. She always seemed busy doing, well, busywork. A few times she took us all on a virtual field trip to walk her dog that lasted the entire time of our scheduled meeting.

There were a few other mishaps that followed, and she was finally asked to leave the group. We all knew her time with the group was coming to an end based on her behavior.

At this point in the virtual meeting game, I wish virtual rules of engagement and best practices were a given, but they are not. And virtual meetings are not going away.

As my dad used to say, common sense is not all that common.

My friend Gail Goodman trains financial advisors, brokers and field leaders in phone skills and prospecting (the best in the business by the way!). Gail made some great points in a recent newsletter about virtual meetings that inspired my thoughts below.

Here’s the bottom line!

What impression do you want to leave when you’re attending a virtual meeting?

Follow my lead below (and Gail’s!) and see if you’re truly leaving the impression you want.

1. Logistics

Remember when we used to send an email to confirm the date and time of a meeting, so we didn’t make the trip for nothing? Well, those days are over — for the most part. Now we rely on our calendar invites and other calendar management tools. It’s always a nice touch to do the heavy virtual lifting when scheduling a meeting.

This could include communicating with colleagues, prospects, and clients in their time zone (one of my favorite practices) and setting up the calendar invite and Zoom link, so they don’t have to. Of course, Calendly and other calendar management programs make this much easier.

2. Attire

When working from home, it’s usually not expected that you dress as you might for a face-to-face meeting.

One of my friends and an active member of my networking group wears a Brooks Brothers suit and tie every day even though he’s been working from home. This is not new for him. He’d been working from for home years before the pandemic and always prides himself by suiting up with a tie.

This may be an extreme case, but it’s important to look neat, clean and professional.

And good hygiene matters here. Admittedly, I will often wear a white T-shirt as it’s on-brand (you know, the boxing thing). But if I’m at (or leading) a remote networking event or meeting with a prospect or client, I’ll be wearing a pressed button-down shirt so I’m at least business casual from the waist up and the neck down.

3. Engaged

If you’re in a meeting and you’re multi-tasking, looking at another screen, shuffling unrelated paperwork, texting, playing a video game, and not asking questions, then you’re probably giving the impression that you’re not all that interested in the meeting.

Of course, this may not be the best time for the meeting if you’re preoccupied with other projects and deadlines. If you feel that someone doesn’t seem all that engaged in the discussion, then maybe recognize that they seem preoccupied and ask if it would be helpful to reschedule the meeting at a better time.

When someone is making eye contact, taking notes, and posting relevant comments in the chat, that’s an excellent sign.

4. Body Language

Another one of the members of my networking group is a psychiatrist. Since her job is all about listening to others, she demonstrates excellent body language showing that she’s engaged in the conversation, whether it’s one-on-one or as part of a group.

Her behaviors include taking notes, leaning back in her chair, positive nods, laughing, and making comments as appropriate throughout. She is always present and totally engaged!

When I was leading a class at Rutgers University online, one student was upright in bed with a pillow under his head. He fell asleep during one class and of course, the students saw it.

I simply removed his image from the Zoom class, and he earned an absence for the day. He was embarrassed when he attended class the following week.

It’s best not to earn an absence for the day in the eyes of your online attendees.

5. Location

Now and then, we end up in a location that is far from perfect when taking a phone call or online meeting: the car, the airport or Starbucks. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.

Other times our location is the result of poor planning, trying to multitask (taking a meeting when you know you’ll be in the car), a previous engagement, or the result of already having a good relationship with the other party. There is no real right or wrong approach here if you don’t make those you meet with feel devalued.

If you’re in an unusual location, an apology right at the beginning of the meeting will usually suffice. “I’m sorry about having to take this meeting outside of my doctor’s office as I didn’t want to reschedule our meeting. Do you mind if I take our meeting from here?”

Every situation is different, so consider the scenario and the potential consequences.

Yes, many of us have regular obligations that might include taking a child to school. If this is the case, simply be open about it at the beginning of the meeting and check to see if the timing and circumstance isn’t an issue with the other party.

It often comes down to how we own our calendars and prioritize our meetings. If you were scheduled to meet online with a top prospect, would you take the meeting on Zoom from the produce section of the supermarket? Or while walking your dog?

6. Lights, Camera, Action

Keep your camera on and do your best to maintain eye contact with everyone in the meeting or at least make eye contact with your camera. Your background (virtual or real) should be neat and professional.

Try to avoid having clutter in the background or having to deal with other distractions such as pets, children, roommates, deliveries, laundry, etc.

As mentioned earlier, taking a meeting from your bed is almost never a good idea unless you happen to be sick in bed and you’re attending an important meeting that couldn’t be moved. Then, it’s just a matter of making an apology and creating context at the beginning of the meeting.

Also, be prepared with online materials and the ability to screen share as appropriate.

7. Food and Drink

Having your bottled water, coffee or tea handy is fine. I once had a financial advisor that is a member of my networking group attend one of our online events from her dinner table with her family. Yep! She ate her bowl of pasta over a bottle of red wine. It did look delicious, but this is straight from the files of “you can’t make this stuff up.”

On the one hand, she made the effort to attend the event, but at what cost? Well, she did provide some great content here.

Kidding aside, consider the cost of attending the meeting when the timing is not good, or you’re simply not prepared. As a friend of mine says, is the juice worth the squeeze?

There are all kinds of other behaviors that I see in online meetings, it always comes back to planning, priorities, and the impression you want to make.

Here are some other interesting behaviors I have encountered from the confines of my Zoom account during a professional meeting.

Someone not looking at their camera as they’re doing work off another screen, keeping their mute button on when they should be participating, sidebar chatter in the chatbox, drinking a beer during the meeting in the middle of the workday, sharing something off-color, vaping, and someone that I had just met sharing that they just took several “bong hits” before logging on.

Yes, really!


Michael Goldberg (Photo: MG)Michael Goldberg is a speaker, consultant, and the founder of Knock Out Networking. He’s also the author of “Knock-Out Networking!”

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(Photo: insta_photos/Adobe Stock)