By gathering people on a video call, a video conference is meant to minimize the need to meet in person. It's an excellent way to drive user engagement and communicate information to large groups of people—clients and colleagues—as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Hosting a video conference also eliminates the need to pay for plane tickets, hotel rooms, conference lunches or venues... adding up to exponential savings. Not to mention that its high-tech features captivate audiences far better than the standard, lecture-style meeting.

Their downfall, however, is this: Video conferences are so simple that people sometimes forget they're professional communication events. And that often leads to embarrassing and unprofessional gaffes that otherwise would not have occurred.

Here are my top 5 video conference horror stories. I hope you can learn from these professionals' mishaps and brush up on your video conferencing etiquette to prevent them from happening to you.

1. Need to take a break? Don't forget to hit mute

We've all been on at least one conference call during which someone tries to mask a flush in the background, but we all know exactly what's going on. Have you heard the urban legend about the top executive who took a break from a video conference in order to use the bathroom, but forgot to turn off his microphone? It's scary enough to keep you up all night—or prevent you from excusing yourself when the need arises.

This embarrassing mistake is simple to avoid; it just takes extra caution. Go before the call or at least remember to mute yourself when you step away. Even if you can't remove your microphone when taking a break, train yourself to at least turn it off.

2. Pets aren't meant for the boardroom

Pets are great. They really are. Maybe they comfort you during the call. But chances are they're just a distraction to everyone else, so keep them out of view. If they had something insightful to add to your webcast, they probably would've made headlines by now.

When choosing a place for your webcast, be wary of distractions such as barking dogs, ringing phones, or noisy children.

I was moderating a webinar for an author who was having some problems: Her dog wouldn't stop barking. To give her a moment to take care of the situation, I told her I would take a question from the audience. If you haven't already figured it out... she forgot to mute her line and proceeded to say some pretty colorful things to her dog before I had the chance to mute her. Keep the dogs away—and, again, always remember to hit mute!

3. Don't let hosting a video conference go to your head

There is a tale about a woman who drove by a police officer while webcasting in her car. When he pulled her over for illegally using a handheld device, she turned the camera in his direction to embarrass him. Yes, this really happened.

Moral of the story? Aside from being mindful of your environment, don't let the power of hosting a video conference go to your head.

4. Watch what you say on and off camera

Then there is the story of the host who mistakenly thought his microphone was muted and began talking poorly about the attendees. That sort of behavior is highly unprofessional and embarrassing; it can also cost you clients, your reputation, and possibly even your job.

Quick guideline: If you wouldn't do it in a face-to-face meeting, then you shouldn't do it in a virtual one.

5. A video conference is still a professional event

Video conferencing from home or even on vacation is a luxury we're more than lucky to have today. With that in mind, dress appropriately. Don't take advantage of the ease of video conferences by wearing something you'd never dream of wearing in the office.

Important: Wear pants. If something happens off camera that you have to jump up to take care of, don't let people know what kind of boxers you're wearing. Also, take off that stained shirt and put on a nice, collared one. If you're sitting, perhaps you can get away with a pair of slippers, but that's still pushing it.

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Five Video Conference Horror Stories and How to Avoid Them Yourself

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Eric Vidal is the director of product marketing for the event services business segment at InterCall, a conferencing and collaboration services provider. Reach him via

LinkedIn: Eric Vidal