17 video meeting mistakes that are making you look deeply unprofessional

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Since the coronavirus sent millions of people packing into their homes, use of the video conferencing platform Zoom has skyrocketed. Downloads of the app have gone up a whopping 728% since March 2nd, and the tool is being used for everything from hosting important client meetings and virtual trivia nights to streaming Grandpa Jerry’s birthday party.

But many new-to-Zoom users have already quickly discovered that, for the purposes of conducting work meetings in particular, there are a few noteworthy video call mistakes worth avoiding. Video meetings come with their own unique set of rules, after all, and even those of us who fancy ourselves Zoom pundits may still be guilty of breaking some of these.

Below, here are 17 seemingly small Zoom meeting mistakes that can actually make a major dent in your professional image.

1. Your video is turned off.

It used to be the case that keeping your camera on for video calls, while encouraged (especially if others’ cameras were on), was ultimately seen as optional. We don’t live in that world anymore. Barring a serious need or special circumstance, right now, your camera should really be turned on, for all of your calls. Actually seeing one another is crucial for preserving a sense of continuity and community with colleagues, and currently, video calls are our only outlet for that.

2. You think a Zoom is always necessary.

For workforces that are still getting their remote legs, over-communicating with bosses and colleagues has become critical. But that increased communication doesn’t always have to take the form of an official meeting, much like in our prior working world. If the job can get done via an email or Slack message, and you’re still getting at least some daily video time in with your colleagues anyway, make it a written message and protect everyone’s workflow.

3. You don’t turn on mute, ever.

When on a video call, every little sound in your background is going to be amplified. And for calls involving multiple parties, without people on mute, the result can be a cacophonous mess. Be respectful and make mute your default.

4. Once you’ve turned on mute, you never turn it off.

Although it’s a good idea to use mute, don’t let it be your constant setting. Meetings conducted over video have a different cadence, in terms of who gets to talk when and for how long. But ideally, you’re still giving voice to your ideas, even if the format feels a little uncomfortable at first. It may be tempting to think you’ll save your point for a Slack message or email after the call, but for the sake of your professional image, try not to become a video call wallflower.

5. You’re hogging airtime.

Video meetings pretty much necessitate only one individual talking at a time, and without in-person body language and normal meeting cues, some may struggle with keeping things succinct. Avoid using Zoom as your personal monologue platform, though, and be mindful of opening the floor to others as you would in any meeting. (And, if you’re the senior-most person or leader of the call, try asking specific team members for their input by name to help circumvent video call hesitancies.)

6. You’re sending private messages via Zoom chat.

Recently, an eagle-eyed Twitter user alerted people to the fact that for some Zoom meetings, the “private chat” function isn’t so private. Essentially, if the host has opted to save the recorded meeting to their computer, any chats sent publicly — as well as any sent privately — during the meeting will be sent to them as part of the meeting minutes. So think twice before sharing something you wouldn’t want everyone to see.

7. You’re clicking out of the Zoom window during calls.

Zoom is offering a new feature called “attendee attention tracking,” and it can only be disabled by the meeting host. It doesn’t use audio or video tracking, and thus likely won’t apply to a majority of calls made on Zoom. But if screen sharing is part of your meeting, that’s when things get tricky. If the host of your Zoom session is sharing their screen, and you click out of that screen for more than 30 seconds, the host will be alerted. The feature was created to help teachers keep an eye on student attentiveness but could also easily be used on, say, large, company-wide conference calls.

8. You’re treating Zoom meetings as less formal than in-person ones.

Times are strange. And, for the majority of us still working today, our professional lives and workflows look nothing like they did a month ago. It’s easy to think we’re in totally new territory, but a lot of the same processes and rules we had for meetings before continue to apply. Namely, meetings still need agendas and structure. If you start to treat all of your video meetings like less-formal “check-ins,” you run the risk of looking unprepared.

9. You’re joining the Zoom late.

Similarly, being on time for meetings still matters. Your work day is likely more fluid in a lot of ways, but failing to punctually log in for Zoom meetings will send the message that you don’t take them — or, by extension, the people on them — all that seriously.

10. You’re planning for only the top half of your outfit to be visible.

Memes about wearing pajama pants (or no pants) on video calls abound. But this only works in the scenario you are, in fact, able to remain seated throughout the call. What if your child/partner/dog/roommate starts having a meltdown in the next room and you need to hop up to close the door? What if you spill something? Better to be prepared here.

11. You aren’t looking into the camera.

We all do it: you’ve minimized the Zoom so that you can reference another window during the call, and suddenly, all of your communication and attempts at virtual eye contact have been relegated to the bottom-right corner of your screen. Meanwhile, the camera stays put, as they tend to do, at the top of your computer. When giving a presentation or making a point, try to position the minimized Zoom gallery at the top of your screen, closer to the camera, and give it a direct glance every so often.

12. You aren’t giving any thought to your background setting.

We’re under some pretty unique space constraints right now, to put it mildly. No one is (or should be) expecting you to maintain a totally clean, distraction-free background palette throughout your calls, especially for those with kids at home. But still, try to do your best here. Close a door if you can, and inform the other parties in your space when you’ll be on calls. You can also always use a virtual background on Zoom if need be.

13. You think headphones are optional.

Again, background noise. It’s a thing. While using mute is still the best way to go when you aren’t speaking, when you do have the (virtual) floor, headphones can still help with blocking out unwanted background sounds and distractions.

14. You aren’t checking your WiFi before the Zoom starts.

The WiFi struggle is real. Especially with so many people at home and networks under strain, connectivity issues during video calls is only understandable. But there’s still some work you can do to mitigate this on the front end. Namely, don’t wait until the minute your meeting is started to figure out whether your router needs to be rebooted. If you’re having a hard time connecting and it can’t be avoided, try giving the other meeting participants a head’s up in advance.

15. You’re leaving yourself vulnerable to “Zoom bombing.”

As Zoom use has been on the rise, so have instances of “Zoom bombing.” This is when someone who wasn’t invited to your private meeting is still able to access the meeting and share content during it, which is unfortunately pretty easy to do. To be safe, hosts can: disable the “Join Before Host” option in their settings; disable “File Transfer;” enable the waiting room feature, so that participants have to be admitted; and disable the “Allow Removed Participants to Rejoin” option.

16. You aren’t turning off your notifications before sharing your screen.

This is a classic video meeting faux pas. If you know going into a Zoom meeting that you’re going to share your screen, take a minute to disable your notifications, including Slack messages and texts if you have iMessage connected to your computer. Doing so has the potential to save you from a lot of embarrassment (or worse) if you’re sent sensitive messages during the course of the meeting.

17. You’re sharing your screen.

Okay, another thing. Just because you technically have the ability to share your screen doesn’t mean you should. If the meeting absolutely requires screen sharing so that participants can follow along, then by all means share. If the only thing participants will see, however, is the notes you’re taking — preventing them from, say, being able to take notes of their own — do everyone a favor and try to be mindful of the virtual space you’re claiming.

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.