Video Killed the Meeting Star

Yeah, those were the days. Everything about the first COVID wave and the lockdown was new. But we were concerned and committed to our jobs. Now we’re in a second wave and in a second lockdown. Worldwide there’s still a lot going on in the corporate world. But one thing remains – the web meeting.

Going to work in your pyjamas?

Nothing against pyjamas! I mean, we all need some, right? If you’ve came to the office wearing yours, it’s now perfectly ok that you present yourself in the video conference in your pyjamas. In the past, if you held a meeting in an untidy conference room in your corporate office, then business partners might be used to it and you can show your present web meeting background, even if it’s an untidy bedroom or chaotic kitchen countertop. Just kidding – but you can already see what is important to me: Over the course of our career we marketing people, especially, have given a lot of thought about how we “come across” to our customers, internal audiences and other stakeholders. We want to appear professional, in business attire. We’ve all written interview briefing books. We’ve done media and message training. We pay attention to the “look and feel” of our services. We are dropping concepts like staying on message, consistency with corporate design, and attention to corporate behaviour. These days, however, I’m seeing things in video conferences that aren’t aligned with our intentions to be communication professionals. And we don’t seem to care.

Hello? Heeeeeeeello? Can you hear me?

Yes, technology plays a role. Web meetings have their pitfalls, we’ve learned mainly through trial by fire. I find it infinitely annoying when you have a participant in the meeting who needs to go through numerous settings until we can proceed. Or someone who hasn’t yet managed to plug in the headset. People who haven’t yet “arrived” in the meeting, although they’re already visible to all. Dear readers, kindly test the settings before entering a meeting. Make a note (remembering would be a good alternative) which web meeting app and which headset should be used to make appropriate settings for camera and mic. Figure out whether you’re on mute or not.

It’s the background, stupid!
The background is a subject all by itself. What we have already seen there! What we might not have wanted to see at all. If you want to (or have to) show yourself in the video, please consider that people not only see you but also what is behind you. It is clear that under certain circumstances you might reveal private things. And everyone has to decide that for him- or herself. Here I do not talk about personal vanities, how you would like to look like and I do not present any make-up tips. But: It makes a considerable difference to the person opposite you, whether you speak out of a dark cave or appear in a brightly lit room – or whether the sun or a lamp dazzles you somewhere. Just try it out for yourself, but not live in my meeting. “Can you see me?” is just as annoying as “Can you hear me?” And don’t forget: some tools offer the possibility for virtual backgrounds. Again, please think about which one you choose. Maybe not every meeting participant likes the chosen motif as much as you do. And anyway: Why not define a uniform background (with a logo!) for the whole company? That brings us back to corporate design.

Communication and conversation via video – it’s different
By now, we are all familiar with video techniques and shouldn’t be afraid of a camera anymore. But that doesn’t automatically make us TV professionals or actors when the next take is live. For example, imagine two people start talking at the same time. Both pause. Both wait for a moment, thinking the other will resume. Both start talking again at the same time. Until they agree on who should go first. Painful and time-consuming for viewers. This is lack of non-verbal communication and eye contact, often compounded by minimal technical delays. Don’t assume that everything happens in real-time. You should include a one-second break in your presentation when you move on to the next screen. Same when you ask the audience a question. Or vice versa. If you are the moderator, communicate clear rules for the course of the conversation or presentation as early as possible. You know that taking into consideration the number of participants in a meeting will help, right? Above a certain number, it makes sense to automatically set the participants to mute and allow interaction only via chat/writing.

What about dialogue and interaction, you’re asking? You may want to get things moving by saying something humorous … Because of technical reasons, the interjection may be delayed, which can lead to a situation as described above. And never forget: A lack of eye contact, a lack of feeling for each other creates a completely different conversation situation compared to when you sit face to face in a room. … Let’s imagine the video conference more like a classic radio message. You don’t have to say “over” at the end of a sentence, but you might want to signal it with your expression.

Not all meetings are the same
In larger meetings, many people think videoconferencing is more like watching TV rather than a meeting where active listening is required. This means that they may be occupied with something else on the side, they are impatient and may even be on the verge of leaving. Please do not strain the patience of the participants! Keep it short and concise and avoid repetition.

Videoconferencing is corporate communication

As I said: it’s not about having the one tip for successful video conferences. Of course, if it fits the corporate culture, the CEO is allowed to come in a T-shirt. But just remember that a video conference or a web meeting is corporate communication. Period. With good preparation, your participants will walk away with a much deeper and longer-lasting effect of you and others, both positive and negative, compared to an e-mail or a telephone call. I invite you to think about it for your own career and for the company that you represent.


Thomas Hahnel, Managing Director, Lucy Turpin Communications, Munich/Germany

Lucy Turpin Communications is an official member of the GlobalCom PR Network.