For the past decade, conference calls have gradually been picking up steam. First with skype, then with fresh players like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. However, there can be no doubt that the global pandemic has accelerated the process, turning the conference call into the go-to way to connect across long distances.

Yet, in the scramble to adapt, many are still setting up their conference calls like the meetings of yesteryear. Many of us will have sat through such meetings: the stilted conversation, the awkward silences, and meandering presentations.

To inject a fresh and professional tone into your conference calls, follow these tips.

Develop a Professional Setting

In the age of the home office, a new maxim is needed: ‘you are where you work.’ Our environment matters, it helps set our mood and attitude. Therefore, developing a professional setting from which to work is critical when setting up your next conference call.

1. Lighting and Camera Angles

Think back: can you remember a conference call when an attendee positioned their camera below their face. Or perhaps, they were sat in a gloomy corner, their whole body cast in shadows. When deciding where to take conference calls from, consider the lighting and camera angle. By placing the camera below your face, you elongate your image, which is less than desirable. Plus, you give everyone a prime view of your nostrils. The camera should be at eye level – stack your laptop on books if necessary.

Additionally, shrouding yourself in shadows creates an air of distrust. We like to see the people to whom we speak. Therefore, pick an area with lots of light.

2. Consider the Background

A flashy or vibrant background can be incredibly distracting. Even a bookcase – seemingly the background of choice – can lead to people studying the titles. Instead, use a virtual background. Head over to Hello Backgrounds for instructions on how to choose Zoom backgrounds. They have hundreds of HD photos and videos from which to pick. There is a choice of swanky apartments, professional board rooms, natural settings and more.

3. Prevent Reverb

Sound is vital for conference calls. In a busy meeting, it’s essential that everyone can hear you speak clearly and crisply. Significant background noise is both distracting and unprofessional. Therefore, if others are also home, inform them of the meeting, and ask if they keep down the noise – at least for a little while.

Another consideration is reverberation. In uncarpeted rooms, the sound will bounce off the walls, creating a cold and echoey audio quality. Therefore, it is best to conduct meetings in a carpeted room. Even a rug can make a difference.

Checking your Tech Setup

Nothing looks more unprofessional than starting a meeting only to find your tech setup isn’t working. Now everyone must sit through an agonising few minutes as you fiddle with your computer, trying in vain to get it to work.

Before the meeting even begins, test your camera and microphone. Ensure you can communicate without any issues. You might consider recording a short video of yourself or getting a colleague to do a quick test call beforehand.

Additionally, if you are using any other software in the meeting, make sure it is working. Even better, have the files open and ready.

Furthermore, check your internet connection – this is especially important for large meetings. The more participants in a meeting, the more bandwidth you require. Review the specifications of the video conferencing software you are using before the session commences. Also, consider asking anyone else using the internet to refrain from any heavy bandwidth use, for instance streaming films or playing online games for the duration of the call.

The ‘Real’ Factor

Just because a meeting is virtual doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. People tend to treat a virtual meeting with an unprofessional attitude, that they would never display in real-life. They play on their phones, multi-task, or start daydreaming.

To avoid this rude and unprofessional behaviour, consider these tips:

1. Dress professionally:

Wearing a suit and tie, or a smart dress will create an air of professionalism. It will signal to the other meeting attendees that you mean business. Wearing your pyjamas and slippers is not conducive to an efficient and focused meeting.

2. Set an agenda:

Working online reduces some of the social rapport typically enjoyed. Meetings can meander off-topic or struggle to get off the ground. An agenda, with key goals and topics to discuss, will focus the minds of the attendees, leading to a proactive and productive meeting.

3. Remove distractions:

Turn your phone off (or switch to silent), put away other work, and look straight into the camera. Without distraction, you are forced to focus on the meeting at hand. You would never normally become so distracted. Additionally, looking at the camera gives attendees the feeling you’re looking at them. It displays a confident and direct demeanour, which can emphasise your point and develop a stronger connection.