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A guest post by Sean O'Brien of PGi.

Companies are incorporating video meetings into their business routines to communicate with distant business partners, grow and nurture customer relationships, and keep teleworkers in the loop. However, unlike other technologies that most professionals are comfortable with, many business users are still learning how to get the most from video technology.

At PGi, we host a lot of virtual meetings, conference calls and web conferences. Now with this year’s launch of iMeet, our web-based video conferencing application, we host an awful lot of video conferences, too. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and suggestions to help you enter your next video conference with confidence.

Before the Video Conference

  • What should I wear? For everyday meetings: As long as there are no pajamas on screen, whatever your work dress code is should be fine. For formal meetings, client presentations or interviews, remember that dark, pastel and solid colors show best. Red clothing and big, shiny jewelry should always be avoided as it may cause a glare with the lights.

  • When should I join the video conference? Arriving on time---or even early---is always appropriate for any meeting. For a video meeting, show up a few minutes early to ensure your computer and webcam are working properly. Give yourself the opportunity to adjust your webcam settings and get comfortable on camera.

  • How should I prepare for a video conference? Treat it like any other meeting---you always want to come prepared, whether you are meeting virtually or face to face. If you are presenting to the group, be sure to have tested any digital materials in advance.

  • What about international video conferences? Consider the different time zones of your participants. While someone in Australia might join a conference call with people in the United States at 7 AM local time, they probably won’t want to turn on their webcam if they are still home getting ready for work.

During the Video Conference

  • Is lighting important in a video conference? Like any camera, a webcam’s picture may be improved or ruined on account of lighting. Avoid bright and dim lighting, back-lighting (such as when your back is to a window) and harsh overhead lights.

  • Where should I sit and where should I look? Be aware of visual distractions like pathways behind you or the camera, or open blinds. Position yourself to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Sit within reach of your keyboard, but not too close to the webcam. It can be difficult, but remember to look into the camera, not at your screen. Pay attention to what you do on camera. Avoid tapping your feet (which can make the rest of your body move slightly) or making other movements that could be distracting.

  • Any tips on camera placement? For most people, placing the camera higher than eye-level and angled slightly down is more flattering than placing the camera at eye-level. Experiment with webcam placement and, if needed, add a stack of books under your laptop to achieve your preferred angle.

  • What is the appropriate amount of eye contact and body language? Eye contact doesn’t have to be continual, but make sure that your eyes don’t leave the camera range so you portray that you’re focused. Make sure that your body language isn’t over the top. If you make hand gestures, be sure that they’re in the camera’s range.

  • Should I display images? If your video-conferencing system permits visuals, then yes, share them with those in the meeting. Including visuals and videos makes the meeting more interactive.

After the Video Conference

How do I end a video conference meeting? Just like with any meeting, make sure to leave enough time for questions, and to assign action items and follow ups. Sometimes, it’s fun to capture a few screen grabs when folks are talking on video to remind attendees of an important point during follow ups.

As with anything, practice makes perfect. Video-conferencing technology isn’t necessary for every meeting, but it’s a great complement to your management toolkit. And getting comfortable "on camera" can make you an even more effective and productive leader. By following these suggestions, you and your colleagues can ensure that even if you aren’t in the same room, the connection will be just as valuable, that you’ll make the best impression and get the most value from your next virtual meeting.

Sean O’Brien is executive vice president of strategy and communications at PGi, the meetings expert.

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