When Meetings Are Media

Recent events have exercised force majeure on our business culture.  Suddenly, everyone works from home, and it’s hard to imagine we are all ready to do so. 

Regular work-from-homies will tell you it’s not as simple as firing up Zoom and praying to the gods of bandwidth. Business communications are now changed in ways we can’t anticipate.  Online meetings are media, and you are the show. 

Media mediates, and that means the channel changes the character of the content it carries — and the context of the message. Be advised. 

WFH for newbies begins with Do’s and Don’ts for remote meetings. Meeting Science, which studies this stuff, makes it clear that for remote meetings, most old rules still apply.  There are new rules too, and some new twists to old rules.   



So here, with the aim of closing the mental distance while personally distancing, are more tips, for an un-sanitized version of Zoom etiquette. 

When you get there. OK, we all know trains are late, and, you know, those crazy elevators. But what’s your excuse now? Whatever it is, you’ve just made it clear to everyone that the meeting wasn’t a priority for you. Your feeble excuses will only make it worse, and there’s no undo button. 

Appearance. I beg you to reject the idea that  anyone other than your dog wants to see your authentic, comfortable, disheveled self. If you are in the advertising business, just think of your at-home self as bad copy. You’d never let a client see it, right? 

From school uniforms to corporate dress codes, the answer is always the same: We would like to scrub away superficial differences and distractions so we can focus on what you do and say.  So, why look like roadkill on Zoom? 

Side conversations. Was it ever OK to text around the edge of the person speaking? Now, it’s easier to do, and harder to get caught. Seriously though, somebody is putting their ideas out there, and you just lean back and take pot shots? It was cute once. Now it’s not.

Camera on or off? Experienced work-from-homies often show their face just to let everyone know they are present, and then go dark to save bandwidth while someone is screen sharing.  If you leave it on, try not to be reading your email, or worse.  Yes, people on the other end can tell a lot from the thumbnail. You have the control, use it wisely. 

Domestic Distractions. Do people forget to mute and say something intimate to an off-camera friend? Yep. Do dogs bark? Yep. Pee sounds? Ugh. The point here is not so much to avoid embarrassment as to spare others the distraction. You should default to mute to be safe, but don’t forget to un-mute when it’s your turn to talk. Happens all the time. 

Gaffers and grips. You would be amazed how many people present poorly as a result of bad lighting and sound. It’s not about vanity, but clear communication.  You can handle the sound by pairing your computer with your AirPods,  using a good external microphone, or being in a quiet room.  As for lighting, make it work using curtains, pointing your track lights, etc. There are dozens of cheap tricks at your disposal that can make a big difference. 

The tyranny of the calendar. According to Eric Porres, founder of Meeting Science, “Prior to WFH, it was easier for individuals to easily pop into someone's office or desk for an impromptu meeting. Now, you have to schedule every meeting.” This incentivizes calendar blocking, creating a sort of schedule gridlock.

Management is sometimes blind to this because people always say “yes” to them, forcing an exponential chain of rescheduling.  

Interacting.  According to teachers, in live meetings it’s easy to tell if you are losing your audience, and harder for them to go to sleep.  Online, not so much. 

Compensate by using the interactive nature of the medium to keep your fellow attendees engaged. “Bob, did I explain that last part right?” Enjoy watching Bob panic as he tries to find the un-mute button. 

When you have the floor: Don’t fumble around forever trying to find the screen sharing buttons — or worse, successfully share the wrong thing. People notice. 

Set design. Holy couch? Desk look like landfill? Bud Light cans overflowing in the trash? A copy of “Mein Kampf” on the bookshelf behind you? Your inadvertent props tell a story, folks. That’s what happens when meetings become media. Is that the story you wanted to tell?

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