Yes, wear pants: Etiquette for online meetings

Image by Mohamed Hassan

A critical reminder that school and business meetings require attention to details

Many of us are now online for business, school and social reasons. Here are 10 things to consider for creating a successful and effective online presence. While all these tips apply to work and school video calls, social meetings with family and friends can have more relaxed standards.

  1. Purpose. School and business meetings require a high level of focus and attention to detail. Before your meeting, ask yourself, “As a result of this meeting, I want…” Ask the host how long the meeting will be so you know what to expect.
  2. App. Be familiar with the app ahead of time. Download it, check your audio and camera, know where the icons are for screen view, mute, and video off. Use the app initially with a friend or family member before the meeting.
  3. Dress appropriately. While this should always be true, being in our own homes for meetings has led to an assumption of relaxed standards. School and business meetings are still about school and business. You are making an impression. The dress code should remain the same. Your attire conveys your attitude. Yes, wear pants. Yes, check the writing on T-shirts. Yes, avoid casual tops for professional meetings. Yes, take your hat off. Yes, see if your hair is wild. In meetings with professionals, look professional. Pajamas and sweats are not professional.
  4. Background. Check your background. Are there oddities in the room? What is on the wall? Is there too much backlight from a window so that your face is in shadow? Is there a lot of clutter? You are, in essence, inviting your teacher, interviewer, classmates, counselor, etc. into your home. Think.
  5. Location. Find a table, desk and a chair. If possible, do not participate in the meeting from your bedroom. Lying in bed is not appropriate for a meeting.
    Screen angle. Check the view of you. Is there too much ceiling? Are you close enough? Far enough away? Are viewers looking up your nostrils? Are you sitting comfortably so you don’t have to move around for the duration of the meeting? Is your device on something stable and straight?
  6. Behave. There are a number of behaviors that we do subconsciously. Fidgeting, biting your nails, picking at things, playing with your hair, moving around, moving the screen around (the nostril shot) are all very distracting. You are on video (recorded or not, and you don’t always know which), so be aware of all the distracting gestures.
  7. Noise. Know where the mute button is. Be aware of background noise in your house or office. Door shutting, music, pets, tapping, etc. Let others in your space know that you are in a meeting. Put a sign on your door, if need be. Hit mute as soon as you hear distracting noises. It is wise to mute your microphone in large meetings until you wish to speak. Similarly, be familiar with the location of the camera so you can cover it should something unexpected happen, like a pet jumping on you or a sibling rushing in.
  8. Voice. Speak clearly and e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e. Most apps can show the screen of the speaker. Hosts can decide how they wish participants to participate, by either raising their hand, signaling somehow or being called upon. Free-flowing conversation can leave some people out while others claim too much airtime.
    Chat function. Many meeting hosts run the chat function, which allows participants to make comments or ask questions during a presentation. Make substantive comments, share resources, think about how to contribute to the conversation in a way that adds value.
  9. Bonus tip. Sign off politely and respectfully. Wait for the host to end the meeting. Ask any questions before the end of the meeting, not by email later. If you have a question, it is likely someone else has the same question. Say goodbye, thank the host if appropriate, and shut off the app before leaving the room.

MaryAnne Gatos is an independent education consultant. She lives in Charlotte and can be reached by email.