Hate them or love them; virtual meetings are more vital now than ever before. The millennium is history, and virtual meetings are here to stay well beyond COVID-19.

Whether you like it or not, you are the “face” of your employing company brand when dealing with clients and customers. Professionalism during virtual meetings is a vital tool to position and enhance your professional personal brand and establish credibility and trust with your audience. Why is it vital to establish trust?

“If people like you, they will listen to you.
If people trust you, they will do business with you.”

Zig Ziglar [American Author]

Of the three standard human intake modes [Visual + Auditory + Kinetic] – the majority of people are visual.

Learn and master the following skills to host or attend a virtual meeting like a true professional.

[Pre-meeting Preparation]

1. Schedule Meeting + Confirm Link

  • Invite participants with the correct link to the virtual meeting platform [i.e. Zoom / Zulip / Microsoft Teams].

2. Agenda Sequence of Topics

  • The host should draft an agenda sequence + supporting material [if need be] + a timings sequence of topics.

3. Define and Assign Participant Roles

  • Hosts should define and assign participant roles and accountabilities as part of the agenda that should be distributed before the meeting.

4. Be Concise

  • Ideally, an agenda should be bulleted with columns: no more than a one-pager document.

5. Acknowledge and Prepare

  • Participants should acknowledge meeting roles and accountabilities with the host before the meeting.

6. Reconfirm Meeting

  • Hosts should re-confirm the meeting with all participants 8 to 12 hours before the meeting.

7. State Dress-Code

  • Hosts should give dress code direction to participants by stating specific dress code guidelines such as:
    “Business Formal” | “Semi-Formal” | “Smart Casual” |  “Casual.”
  • Even if “Casual” is noted, casual dress code should always be professional and client-ready, regardless if it is a virtual meeting or not.
  • Why? Because, you don’t want to be perceived as unprofessional or sloppy should the recording of your session be forwarded to the CEO of the company for instance, or worse; the session be re-screened post-Covid-19 when it’s B.A.U [Business As Usual].

8. Mobile Numbers

  • Hosts should ensure they have the mobile numbers of all participants at hand. And all participants should have the mobile number of the host. In case of the loss of signal and connectivity, drop a text message immediately to the host – or to the participants.

9. Plan Conclusion & Wrap-up

  • Prior to the meeting hosts should plan a conclusion to the meeting.

[Set-up Like a Pro]

10. Set-Up

  • Ensure the technical and physical set-up is professional and representative of your personal brand – and, representative of you as a brand.

11. Manage Your Environment

  • Ensure you are set-up in a quiet, professional-looking space that does not steal attention away from you. Regardless of where you are based at the time of the meeting, it is inappropriate to have a leisurely-looking background like the ocean, swimming pool, beach or bar visible in the background.

12. Silence Please

  • Make sure there are no “outside sounds” such as dogs barking in the background, the sound of lawn-movers going, people laughing or family members and staff walking past you in the background.

13. Camera Angle

  • Locate the webcam on your PC. Raise your PC to eye level to ensure you are looking all participants in the eye by focusing your eye contact on the webcam. Do not talk down into the camera of your PC – it’s hardly ever a flattering nor a professional angle to look down into the camera. Therefore it is advisable to place your PC with webcam 65 to 80 cm away from you, to give you the best view of all participants and the webcam.

14. Lights, Camera, Action

  • Ensure the lighting is from above or from the sides in order for all participants to see you clearly. Avoid being seen as a silhouette or shining light into the camera, thus into the eyes of the other participants.

15. Sound

  • Use earphones or a headset. Test the sound beforehand. This will help you to avoid interrupting / talking over other participants due to the fact that you may not have heard that they are talking.

16. Workspace

  • Clean-up your workspace that will be visible to other participants. Use a notepad with a professional looking pen to take notes.

17. Connectivity

  • If possible, use a wired connection as opposed to Wi-Fi, in order to ensure you stay connected with all participants.

18. Back-up

  • Hosts should have a backup PC connected and ready to use, should some technical error or connectivity loss occur during the meeting.

19. Be visible

  • Do not mute your camera if everyone else is visible through their respective webcams.

[Social IQ in a Professional Environment]

20. Manners Matter

  • Acknowledge and illustrate respect to all participants and enhance your professional and personal brand with your manners.

21. Greetings and Goodbyes

  • Meetings should be started with a greeting gesture and a goodbye gesture. Greet your fellow participants the way you would greet clients during a meeting.
  • Use the “Hand-on-Heart Gesture”: the palm of your right hand placed over your heart is the correct virtual form of greeting – and in person during the COVID lockdown period.
  • As a goodbye, the hand-on-heart greeting may be replaced with a simple, small wave with your right hand palm towards the webcam and not in front of your face.

22. Forms of Address

  • In order to let other participants know who is being addressed, use people’s names. If need be, introduce yourself [always with a name and surname during introductions] before making a statement – since you may not have met all participants. For example, “This is Tessa Power from Baker Street in Johannesburg.”

23. Stay Present

  • Avoid sidebar conversations. And no multitasking [i.e. reading or responding to emails and social media]. In fact, mobile phones must be switched to silent. Should your phone vibrate with an incoming call or text message, don’t let other participants know you are giving your mobile priority above the meeting or them.

24. Participate

  • You have been invited to the meeting for a reason. Therefore it is professional to participate in the discussion if it is appropriate to the topic being discussed.
  • Use your body language to let other participants know you are engaged and following the discussion. Avoid being perceived as un-engaged or dis-interested.
  • Remember to mute your microphone if you are not talking, since the slightest sound may interrupt other participants.

25. Avoid a “French Exit”

  • Nerve make a “French Exit” from a virtual meeting: sneaking out of the meeting without informing the host and other participants.

26. Eye Contact

  • Ensure you are perceived as being present and engaged by keeping your eyes focused on the webcam, with a very brief glance every now and again to the people on your screen.
  • More often than not, virtual meeting participants tend to look directly at people on their PC screens instead of looking into the webcam. This may give the impression that you are focusing on something else outside the meeting at hand.

27. Food & Beverages During a Virtual Meeting

  • It is not professional behaviour to eat, drink or smoke [even a vape] during a virtual meeting. If other participants are having coffee or water, you can follow suit. Should you have water, never drink from the bottle – simply because it looks unprofessional on camera. Use a glass instead.

[Look the Part]

28. First Impressions Count

  • Therefore, put yourself together the way you would dress for a client meeting. Working remotely from home does not mean that all professionalism should be ignored.

29. Dress Code

  • Boost your self-confidence and professionalism by going the “full monty” for virtual meetings; as if you are having a client meeting. The way you see and perceive yourself is the way other participants will see you and perceive you.
  • Your dress code includes shoes, hair, make-up, facial hair, glasses and scent. Even if the camera cannot see your feet or smell your perfume – you will exude a presence to other participants. Guaranteed!

[Did You Know?]

According to behavioural psychologists and fragrance experts – aromas can enhance your mood and change your behaviour. The stimulus for smell are processed in areas of the brain that have an emotional function. Subconsciously we connect what we smell with our environment and this gets stored in our memory.

  • If you are unsure about the dress code, always dress one level up – since it is easier to remove a piece of clothing, as opposed to having to add something that you don’t have. One can never be overdressed – but easily under-dressed.

30. Body Posture

  • Practice a professional, straight posture in front of your webcam and record yourself. This will give you a bird’s eye view of how other participants will view you – and perceive you. Always remain seated during the meeting. Do not move away from your PC, as this will instantly give an impression that you have lost interest in the meeting.

“People do business with people… People they like, people they trust.”

[K-Lo.]

Africa: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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About Koos Louw

Koos Louw is trained and licensed by The Protocol School of Washington, USA.

Koos Louw is trained by The British School of Etiquette, London.

Koos Louw is a member of PDI-POA : Protocol and Diplomacy International – Protocol Officers Association.

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Koos Louw is a Qualified Professional Member of the USA National Speakers Association [NSA].

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Koos Louw is a contributing columnist on Social IQ for the award-winning, upmarket lifestyle magazine — DEKAT.

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K-Lo@K-Lo.info.