Oh, Behave: On Camera During Web Conferences

By Aliah D. Wright Jun 22, 2009

You wouldn’t pick your nose during a regular meeting, would you?

But you’d be surprised what some people do—on camera—while on a work-related videoconference call.

Take the woman seen here on YouTube, for example. On a four-way conference call, she seems to forget that her meeting mates can see her and begins to remove an article of clothing—much to her colleagues’ chagrin. (The video was likely staged, but you get the point.)

As new technologies evolve, so, too, do standards on acceptable behavior, according to experts in etiquette and videoconferencing.

Although some behavior standards might seem apparent—such as muting cell phones and e-mailing agendas to distant participants in advance of a meeting—lack of etiquette can upset the success of a videoconference meeting, according to New York-based ooVoo, which has provided free webcam video chat services to more than 7 million users worldwide since 2007.

“A lot of people think once they have a mic and a webcam they are all set to jump into videoconferencing,” Lisa Gaché, co-founder and CEO of etiquette education company Beverly Hills Manners, stated in a release.

“We encourage people to be prepared to use these new technologies effectively as they would any other business tool.”

When using the technologies, “I think people tend to be very self-conscious when they first start out and then, over time, they forget that there is a camera,” says Lisa Abourezk, vice president of marketing for ooVoo. “When you’re on a videoconference call, you are more engaged because it’s just like being there in person. However, you wouldn’t throw your laundry in during an in-person meeting, just as you shouldn’t … on a video call.”

Harsh economic conditions have forced many companies to curtail their travel budgets, and, as a result, many companies are using videoconferencing as an alternative to travel.

A May 2009 Harris Interactive poll found that 15 percent of those interviewed said their companies were encouraging them to use teleconferencing and videoconferencing to reduce or eliminate travel. Wainhouse Research’s 2008 Video Conferencing End User Survey found that purchases of advanced videoconferencing equipment have risen sharply since 2008, with survey participants claiming that 32 percent of the deployed systems support high-definition (HD) videoconferencing.

Furthermore, 23 percent of respondents have begun using telepresence suites (videoconferencing rooms with large HD flat-panel screens, surround sound or HD audio and other advanced videoconferencing equipment) or are planning to within one year.

Hey, We Can See You!

With that in mind, people should be mindful of their behavior. So, ooVoo offers these etiquette tips:

  • Choose a facilitator to help manage any high-spirited conference participants.
  • Ask permission before recording a video chat. “Privacy is expected until consent is given otherwise,” the company states on its web site.
  • Pay attention and listen. Put away the BlackBerry, and avoid multi-tasking.
  • Be aware of your body language; avoid personal gestures such as picking, scratching and playing with hair.
  • Remember you are meeting face to face on a clear video, so remain aware of your facial expressions, and monitor them so that you don’t convey the wrong message.
  • Be mindful of background noises. Loud sounds like whistling and doors slamming can be jarring. Speak slowly and deliberately, because some microphones do not always pick up voices.
  • Don’t eat or drink.
  • Don’t be rude by engaging in side conversations.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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