15 Virtual Meeting Etiquette Guidelines & Ground Rules

Virtual meetings are a great way to connect with prospects, clients, coworkers, and team members remotely.

Unfortunately, not many pay attention to their virtual meeting etiquette.

Like any other medium, there are indisputable differences between face-to-face meetings and online video meetings. As a result, video conferencing etiquette differs slightly from standard business etiquette.

To learn more, I have compiled 15 virtual meeting etiquette guidelines and ground rules that can prove handy the next time you are a part of an online session.

15 Virtual Meeting Etiquette Guidelines & Ground Rules

1. Be conversant with the software

There are so many platforms you can use for your virtual meetings. One of the most important ground rules is to pick the best suitable option. However, it’s not enough to have the best video conferencing software. You’ll also need software that you and other participants can use with ease.

Zoom, Skype, Google Duo, and Microsoft Teams are some of the most popular video conferencing software today. They each have different features which makes them unique.

For example, you may be needing features like screen sharing, encryption for securing, and live annotations. Some of these features can be crucial during your virtual conference so you shouldn’t just pick software out of the blue.

With this, it’s very important that you become conversant with the software and all of its functions. The last thing you want to happen is to be unable to locate useful options while the meeting is going on.

Also, you don’t just want to know how to use these features but also how to use them effectively. This is most important if you’re the host.

Fortunately, virtual meeting software programs like the ones mentioned earlier are relatively easy to use with a short learning curve.

2. Prepare ahead

Preparing ahead is necessary to avoid any last-minute rush. If you’re the host, you should send a meeting request with an agenda to all attendees before the call outlining the purpose.

This will include who will be present and any expectations for the session. There are different email templates for this that you can go with. Inform attendees if decisions must be made during the meeting so they can prepare.

Furthermore, before starting your video conference, check your platform’s audio and visual settings. This saves time spent on technical issues during the call. Prior to the meeting, assign roles since you can’t do everything.

For meeting participants, you should prepare everything you need to present ahead as well. Therefore, you should gather the materials or information that you may need to pass across during the virtual meeting.

Ask ahead of time about expectations and agendas if the organizer hasn’t provided them. If the host did send some materials to you, do well to review them before the conference begins.

There are other things you should prepare ahead for as well. This includes your attire, background, etc.

3. Stick to time

Whether virtual or not, being on time for a meeting is important. Punctuality is one of the signs of professionalism in any given circumstance.

As a host, for example, attendees won’t like to sit around waiting for you to show up since they can’t start without you. You should even be on the line before anyone else.

For attendees, joining the conference late shows you’re not dependable. If it’s a work conference, you’ll be passing the wrong message to your employees.

Not to mention, you’ll miss some topics on the agenda if you join late. If you were to present something important, you could miss the opportunity.

Sticking to time isn’t all about the time you join the meeting. It also involves the duration and time you leave the conference. A conference shouldn’t be longer than scheduled.

If the schedule is for two hours, try your best as the host to stick to the time frame. As an attendee, you should also be time conscious, not saying more than you should and keeping your contributions precise and to the point.

When you begin on time, you can end on time.

4. Dress appropriately

When attending a virtual conference, you should dress professionally. Even if you’re in your house, you shouldn’t dress casually. Dress as though you were attending a normal conference.

Most people on virtual conferences and video calls only care about what they’re wearing at the top. They could put on suits and still wear shorts, as long as it’s not seen.

This isn’t encouraging. You could get caught unaware in any situation; like when standing up. Even if nobody will be seeing your trousers, for the most part, it is still important to wear some.

It’s ideal that you ask your video host for the conference dress code if there is any. You might dress appropriately but if there’s a laid-out dress code, you’ll appear odd.

Another important etiquette guideline most people miss when it comes to dress code is jewelry. This is mostly for the ladies. Wearing large, heavy earrings, for example, may be a little over the top.

It’s not all about how you appear. Sometimes, jewelry can get noisy since it dangles as you speak. The same goes for bracelets if you are typing on the keyboard. All of these can disrupt your audio quality.

5. Have a clear background

Already, you should know how important your background is. After your face, your background is the next thing others will see.

If you’re used to working remotely, you should have a home office. Otherwise, you should pick the best room, preferably one with a plain background.

Don’t pick a room that others will need to access frequently. They could interrupt your input audio or distract you.

You should remove anything that’s inappropriate from your background. It could be a poster or a picture frame. You may feel these are not important but they could distract other participants watching you.

It’s vital to have good lighting when making a video call. Both you and your background require sufficient light. A dark, low-light background and environment generally make you appear unprofessional.

A window might be enough but in large rooms or at night, artificial lighting is required. Don’t overdo it with harsh lighting. You can also edit your video brightness and contrast from your software.

One of the best options to go with is a green screen. Video conferencing platforms, like Zoom, for example, feature green screens so you can choose any picture or even a video to use as the background.

6. Try to avoid distractions

Distractions can ruin a video conference. That your coworkers won’t notice you looking through your phone or doing something on another screen doesn’t mean you should.

Your distracted behavior can affect everyone. You could miss important points forcing the host or any speaker to repeat material already provided. Try to avoid distractions and stay focused.

First of all, turn off your phone or put it on silent if you’re not using it for the call. If you’re using your phone, then switch off your computer. Close all other apps and browser windows before connecting to avoid notifications.

Multitasking is one of the easiest ways to get distracted when on a video call. You shouldn’t do anything else except as it’s relevant to the meeting.

Ensure there are no distracting background noises like music or any loud equipment. You should be in a room alone and alert your family or others you stay with not to interrupt until you’re done. On your part, don’t distract others by interrupting them.

Meeting etiquette does not vanish just because you are not physically there. Apply the golden rule: treat other online meeting participants as you would like them to treat you.

7. Know when to speak

It’s easy to know who the main speaker is at a normal conference. However, in a virtual conference where you’re looking at multiple faces, it can be difficult if there are so many noises.

An important ground rule to remember is not to speak unless you need to. You should keep your microphone on mute when someone else is talking. That way sounds from your end won’t interrupt their voices.

If it’s an interactive conference, then you won’t need to mute your microphone. Just ensure your place is quiet and speak only when you have something important to contribute.

While on a video conference, it’s ideal to not rush while speaking. It’s a live stream and some people might be experiencing lag with their network or poor audio output due to their device.

By speaking relatively slowly, you make it easier for them to catch up with what you’re saying. If it’s a global conference, there could also be non-native speakers who require text translations. Speaking slowly could benefit them too.

If the conference rules allow it, you can pass some messages by chat instead of saying it. Most video conferencing platforms come with built-in LiveChat.

8. Speak to the camera

What you get when speaking at a conference is a captive audience with everyone watching you. Hence, in a virtual meeting, you must stare directly at the camera, and not at the screen. If you aren’t used to this, it could take a while to adjust.

If you’re not staring at the camera and maybe at one participant attendee on your screen, you won’t appear to be addressing anyone. Teach yourself that the camera is the audience.

Sometimes, you may be speaking from a note on your computer screen or in your hands. Nevertheless, you should try to refocus your gaze on the camera whenever you look up.

You’ll look more professional if you can memorize most of your manuscript, you can speak without looking at the notes. Switching between notes and your camera could distract you.

Whilst staring at the camera, touching your face is another benign behavior you should do away with. Hands to the face make you look uneasy and may distract others from what you’re saying.

9. Use the Keyboard less

When someone is talking in a video conference and people are typing on their keyboard to take notes or do other things, it doesn’t look good.

To have dialogues that generate more ideas, meetings require everyone to be more aware and mentally present in the topic. Using the keyboard will only be a distraction.

Not to mention the sound of your fingers hitting the keys could distract other participants. This is why one of the ground rules is to use the keyboard less.

Only type if you have to or if you’re assigned to take the meeting minutes. If you must type, you can invest in a high-quality keyboard to minimize the sound or simply mute yourself while taking notes.

An alternative if you want to take notes or minutes during a video call, is to record the conference. After the session, you can replay it and get all the notes you need.

You can easily screen-record a video conference with any of the popular virtual conferencing tools out there. By default, anyone in the video conference can record. However, if it’s a highly private video conference, the host could forbid participants from recording.

10. Minimize body movement

You might think because you’re not seeing other participants in person so your body movement doesn’t matter. It does matter a lot.

You can pass several messages via non-verbal communication. An ideal way to go about it is to make as little body movement as possible.

Constantly turning from side to side could tell other participants that you’re not paying attention. They’ll assume you’re distracted by something nearby.

Likewise, constantly making shifts in your seat could show that you’re uncomfortable or you’re bored with whatever the conference is discussing.

If you’re the speaker, then your body movement matters the most as all eyes will be on you. What you want to do is to improve your body language rather than just making random body movements.

Body language does include body movements and others like facial expressions, gestures, and voice tone. Posture is also important.

Good posture during a virtual conference shows that you are alert, interested, and involved. Slouching in your seat is very casual and can make you appear unprofessional.

If you easily sink into your seat on a video call, try supporting yourself with a pillow. It will force you to sit up straight and pay attention.

11. Have breaks

This ground rule is for hosts. Like in any normal conference, there should be short breaks. This is most important if you’re hosting a relatively long conference. No one would enjoy being in a five-hour long virtual conference without taking a break.

Your participants will appreciate the opportunity to use the restroom, have a little something to eat, attend to something else quietly, or simply stay away from the event for a few minutes. Don’t forget that getting up and moving has a positive impact on cognitive health.

An important question, however, is what’s the ideal time for a conference break? When arranging your conference schedule, it’s helpful to know how long the meetings should go and how long the breaks should be.

The optimal meeting to break ratio is 52 minutes followed by a 17-minute break – the Rule of 52 and 17. This allows your participants to be as productive as possible.

You may change up the times a little. For example, you can set up a plan that allows for 50 minutes of meeting time followed by a 20-minute break for a total of 70 minutes.

12. Avoid eating

It’s not okay to eat in front of the camera. One of the rules of using a computer is not to eat close to it to avoid getting crumbs stuck between the keys on your keyboard.

There are different opinions on eating etiquette. Nevertheless, the majority would agree that eating during a conference, virtual or not, is unprofessional. Try to follow the same ground rules that you would if you were meeting in person.

Eating could be a major distraction most especially if you’re in a conference with not many participants. You would feel embarrassed if you spilled food on your clothes or your face during a conference.

Most presenters would issue a rule against eating. If you flaunt it, you could get kicked out of the conference.

Notwithstanding, sometimes, it could be difficult to have time to eat when your day is very busy. That’s why breaks are important so it gives participants the time to do something else.

If you must eat during a virtual conference, then turn off the camera and microphone. Alternatively, you can simply excuse yourself.

13. Don’t leave without informing others

Whether the conference has ended or not, you can easily leave by clicking the exit button. However, you shouldn’t ghost your participants like that.

Your host might need you to share an opinion or make a presentation. If they know you’ve left, then they can keep you out of the conversation and subsequently assign someone else to do the tasks.

As mentioned earlier, it’s ideal to prepare ahead so you can avoid all possible distractions and interruptions during your conference. However, no one can be 100 percent prepared.

Something else may come up that really demands your attention to leave the conference. However, you should inform someone.

One of the best ways is to drop a chat message. Sound as polite as possible and relate the importance of why you want to leave.

If you’re not going away for long, you can simply minimize the video call window and reopen it when you return.

14. Protect sensitive information

More often than not, you’ll need to share your screen with other participants in the conference when making a presentation. Your computer might contain other stuff that is not work-related.

Displaying such inappropriate stuff while sharing your screen is unprofessional. If the content is too inappropriate, it could affect your reputation in your company.

Hence, if you’re sharing your screen with other meeting attendees while giving a presentation, ensure just the stuff you want them to see is shown.

Close any unneeded tabs in your browser window and other programs you’ve been working on before starting a video conference.

When sharing your entire desktop, searching in the browser’s address bar may result in potentially humiliating auto-complete results. By opening a new browser window and planning ahead of time, you can keep sensitive or potentially humiliating information private.

Ideally, choose the option to screen share only one screen or one app instead of your entire desktop. This gives you more control over what your audience sees throughout your presentation.

The attention should be on you and your presentation, rather than on anything else that can derail your message.

15. Wrap up professionally

How you end your virtual conference as a host is vital. One of the best ways to do this is by implementing a closing round as proposed by Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Medium.

The idea of a closing round is simple. You simply ask people to drop closing remarks on the topics discussed in the conference. This could take about 30 seconds or less for each speaker.

Having a closing round ensures that everyone has an opportunity to get something off their chest. As a host, it shows that you’re paying attention to the perspective and opinions of others.

On your part as the host, you should give a summary of everything that the conference is all about. Ideally, you should prepare your closing remarks beforehand. While speaking, use a strong yet cheerful and polite tone.

During the virtual conference, you should also show that you’re time conscious by making reference to time. Randomly reminding participants of how much time is left.

Finally, as a host, you should be the last person to exit the conference since you alone can end the stream. Turning off the video call when other participants are not done can be disrespectful.

Conclusion

A video conference is different from a normal conference because you’re attending remotely.

However, you should take care of essential etiquette and follow ground rules just like any normal conference.

Not only would that make you look polished but painstakingly professional.

About Author

Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.