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  • Writer's pictureDr. Clinton Lee

The Do’s and Don’t of Virtual Meetings

Over millennia, as human beings we have communicated through speech, gestures, writing and other uncanny methods, especially when we are drunk. 

The most impactful communication though, is meeting “face to face.” and there were a lot of cultural nuances that you had to understand. There is this special unique sense your message embodies the flavour of your character, through accent, movement, and presence. This phenomenon of meeting “face to face” that we all cherished was about to abruptly retire (though only for a few fleeting moments) and retreat and in an unforgiving manner. 

The arrival of COVID that changed the way we communicate

The battle lines were drawn at the beginning of Spring 2020 between the “Ancient Regime”, of how things were, and how we now live in the world today. The initial Blitzkrieg of Covid 19, was cold, hard, and brutal, it was merciless. The subsequent continuous bombardment shattered everything that many of us held dear in our daily lives. The stifling and destructive rules imposed destroyed the “status quo,” of the world we knew. But, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, a new era was born in all aspects and most definitely true in the global world of communication. 

The triumph of video calls was certainly used prior to that fateful Spring, but it was during those challenging times that we adapted, improvised, and innovated and the omnipresence of Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, Microsoft teams and the usual plethora of groupies in tow mushroomed. There was no shortage of choices in which platform to choose and neither was there a shortage in the abominable level of presentation delivered by virtual users. Thats right, you and me and everyone else. We are all guilty, so don’t look hesitantly to your left and right with that look of disbelief. We were all new and it was expected, so no surprises. Now that the honeymoon season is over, let's settle into some basic manners and etiquette when interacting via virtual meetings. 

Virtual Meeting Etiquette

With the grace of the communication Gods, we were globally, somewhat prepared to meet this onslaught of communication shutdown brought upon by COVID. We did it, defiantly though. It did require change and that takes time we all know. 

Treat a Zoom Call as if Meeting In Real Life

How many of us have had to endure the “Boris Karloff” ogre face when the person you were talking to, had their light beaming up their nostrils, casting a darkened shadow, face half lit and the other half indistinguishable, hardly appealing. Or perhaps you thought the other person had inherited some of “Cyclops” genes and showed only one eye due to poor positioning. Then, don’t forget the lighting, ranging from the twilight zone mode responsible for the casting mystery genre to the blazing glory of full on illumination on the face, offering the holistic look, bright and ghostly white and then of course the mysterious “cannot see clearly at all” not unlike the darkened version of the satanic mills of Victorian England. 

None of these styles are acceptable and most definitely, they are not good form or etiquette. No decent person would subject another to the barbarity of muffled sounds similar to a gasping inebriate looking at a shadowy outline of a face. 

The solution is to show a sense of decency towards your fellow communicator. Therefore, following in the teachings of “do unto others as you would like others to do unto you,” here are some recommendations.

Etiquette we should follow in a Virtual Environment

  • Do obtain a secure, dependable, and speedy internet connection otherwise you face the embarrassing proposition where your dentures might be the main focal point with a frozen screen.

  • Do have balanced lighting that illuminates without blinding and casts you in the best possible angle and accentuates your finer features. Everyone has a better side physically; faces are no exception. 

  • Do position yourself so you don’t look as if you are challenging “The Leaning Tower of Pisa.” Possess a sense of artistic balance, as it is off-putting if you don’t do so. It tends to make the other person not focus on you calmly but rather on the wrong points, thinking when will you eventually tumble down. Your voice is your “charge on the battlefield”, so speak clearly, calmingly, and slowly. Many speakers though prefer the cavalry charge speed of the “Light Brigade,” the speedy result is both hopeless and senseless. Make a positive impact with your message, be remembered, not for your pathetic attempts, but, more so, for the demeanour of someone who elicits the “wow we should listen to them” factor and makes them voluntarily turn on their DNA attention antennas. 

  • Do invest in a reliable external light and microphone. They will enhance you; your audience will be delighted at the prospect of not having to endure a session of amateurism from you.

Etiquette we should not do in a Virtual Environment

  • Don’t leave your microphone on, when not required, especially important in group sessions. Your bodily movements, burps, sneezes, and itches can then be diplomatically camouflaged.

  • Don’t forget to understand the rules of protocol when conducting the meeting and when participating. It is always a sound idea to confirm if “Robert’s Rules” reigns supreme in your session or not.

  • Don’t ignore the unfamiliar cultural behaviour of others, as this is an extension of the meeting protocols and etiquette. Listen to their speech patterns because in some cultures interrupting others when they are speaking is not considered rude while it is in other cultures. Good tip to remember, if you are not sure, wait until the speaker finishes before you interrupt. 

  • Don’t forget to ensure your “hollywoodesque” looks and sounds are optimised and not compromised. Your personal dress and overall physical presentation are not to be reduced to the pajama uniform and neither does the slovenly look, appeal much.

  • Chomping and slurping away food and drink is as acceptable as it is to walk barefooted into a volcano, don’t do it! It does nothing for you and only ensures the opinion that others have of you, will decrease faster than a deflating ballon.

Virtual meetings are only going to increase, and are the way to connect on a global scale. The only time it will decrease is when the internet is not working. Understanding cultural etiquette will provide you with the best opportunity for success. You have worked tireless for success and deserve the fruits of your labour, so be uncompromising and maintain that professional look, you are after all being seen globally. “Beam me up Scotty.” 


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