An etiquette is a set of ground rules that people are expected to comply to. Is there an etiquette for participating in online meetings and webinars?
Just half a year ago a lot of people had never participated in an online meeting. That was different when you worked for an international (American) company. Because they were far ahead of small and medium-sized businesses elsewhere.
But Corona resulted in lots of people working from home all of a sudden and all business people started to have video conferences.
Personally, I have been giving training webinars for several years and normally, about 20-80 people participate live in these sessions. They don’t use a webcam, interactivity is created by interaction in the chatbox and in polls.
Online training courses, however (with webcam and microphone), normally happens with groups of 6-10 participants.
The system that I use also offers a personal online meeting room as well. Before the Corona crisis, I often used it for communication with international customers. But I always had to explain how it could be used for meetings with people from local smaller businesses.
Today, nobody is surprised when I suggest doing an online meeting. It became common practice. It saves time, prevents traffic jams and is good for the environment.
Is there an etiquette?
But what are the rules of conduct?
There are many self-proclaimed gurus out there that state A, while others state B. I think there is not yet a clear etiquette.
I did some research on Google and, combined with some CS (common sense), this brought me to the following ground rules.
In general, of course you should frequently look in the lens of your webcam, to make the other person feel there is eye-contact. And you ensure that your webcam is positioned at eye-level. The technical stuff must be in order and your background is representative. The same is true for yourself.
When 4 or fewer people participate: microphone on, video on
This creates an environment as if you are in the same room physically. You will be able to see all participants on your screen so you can pick up non-verbal signals. The ability to talk straight away (and listen straight away) makes it feel like a ‘normal’ meeting. Of course, you don’t interrupt and don’t speak too long. But that would be common sense in a regular meeting anyway.
Of course, you ensure there is no background noise. The mic will pick that up and disturb the meeting.
There can be good reasons to switch off your microphone. Explain this to the other participants before you do so:
☛ Another participant gives a presentation and you are listening,
☛ There is someone at the door,
☛ You need to go to the bathroom,
☛ You really need to eat something,
☛ The garbage truck is in front of your house,
☛ The neighbour is trying out his new chainsaw,
A somewhat larger group (> 4): Microphone muted, videocamera on
Only when you speak you un-mute your microphone. Video is always on. This way, the meeting will not be disturbed by background noise. For other people, it is very strange if one or more people are not visible. Turning your video off means that you are not fully engaged in the conference and you are probably working on other stuff. In a ‘normal’ meeting you would not dare to hide behind the curtains.
☛ You are interrupted (there’s someone at the door, the kitchen machine falls off the highest shelf, your son is fighting with the girl next door (and it’s a no-win situation), you need to fo go the bathroom etc.)
☛ You have all agreed that this is an ‘audio only’ meeting
☛ You have a bad internet connection and that leads to interrupted audio/video on your side. Apologise and mute your camera. That saves bandwidth and improves audio/video on your side.
A large group of people that you don’t know. Mute your microphone. What about the camera?
If you participate in a webinar with tens or hundreds of people that you don’t know, it might be a challenge to stay focused. Especially when it is a one-way webinar without any interaction (unfortunately that is the case in 99% of the webinars).
I could imagine that there is not a lot of added value to switch on your camera. You don’t want other people to see that you are working on your sales forecast at the same time.
But if you are really engaged, you might want to switch it on. After all, this is nice for the presenter and the other participants.