Meetings are an essential part of life. Thanks to Zoom, meetings once painfully done via conference call are now high-tech face to face on-camera encounters. It is popular to lament, “I’ve got to attend yet another meeting!” But meetings remain an essential part of life. If you’ve got to be in the “meeting game” play the game at the highest level.
If you have determined a meeting is worth your time, and you should determine it is worth your time when you “accept” a meeting invitation, then give people attending the meeting your undivided attention. If I’m in a face to face or Zoom meeting, and I forgot to put my phone on do not disturb, and the phone rings, I view it as an opportunity to demonstrate my commitment to those at the meeting. I turn the phone off immediately. I don’t look at the phone to see who is calling. I remain 100% focused on the person who requested my time and whom I assume invested their valuable time preparing for our meeting and has something valuable to communicate. In that moment I want the person in front of me believing they are the most important person in the world, regardless of their status, be it a student, or the President of Budweiser. And an interruption like a phone call, will not break that commitment I have made to give of my time and attention. Admittedly my meeting with the President of Budweiser was a while back and I did remember to turn off my phone.
Same commitment if the meeting is via Zoom. Zoom meetings are “camera on” events. Can you imagine having an interview for your dream job via Zoom and turning your camera off? We all know the answer to that question. That would never happen! What message are you sending with your camera off? Camera off says a lot about you and none of it is positive. It screams that you’ve got other stuff you’d rather be doing. It screams that your time is more valuable than others in the room that are committed and all in with their cameras on. It is disrespectful to those presenting, who spent their valuable time preparing for the meeting, and giving of their time to be at the meeting. For what purpose is the camera off? The presenter receives valuable feedback when they can view your reaction. More importantly you can’t focus equally on two different things at the same time. The camera is most often off so the meeting attendee can do other work, or eat, go to the bathroom, check text messages, go online shopping, or take a mental vacation at their desk. There are exceptions to cameras off. Emergency sustenance, a bathroom break, or childcare. But if you were interviewing for your dream job, I’m guessing you would simply plan better and remember to go to the bathroom before the meeting. And I get it. Occasionally you should be able to momentarily turn off the camera and go to the bathroom or grab another cup of coffee. Just as you would do at a face-to-face meeting. But those are exceptions and not standard operating procedure as it is for so many. The most valuable meeting attendees are engaged with cameras on.
And I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room. Some people are over the top conscientious about being on camera, or the way they look on camera, their hair, clothes, or whatever. Prior to the invention of Zoom I spent $35,000 purchasing a proprietary online video conferencing system so my company would be face to face with one of our biggest clients who owned the other half of the same proprietary video conferencing set up. I was convinced, as was our client, it would improve communication between our companies. About a month after spending 35 grand, I walked into the conference room and the account team was meeting with the client on our old conference phone. I later asked our account team leader why the team wasn’t using the $35,000 investment, and she explained that some team members felt uncomfortable on camera or were conscientious about their appearance. Given the choice of being face to face with the client or voice only, it is an easy decision for me to make. We persuade others with our words, gestures, nods, and twitches.
John Stewart recently came back on air after a lengthy hiatus from The Daily Show. It was obvious he had aged, and he joked, “This is what I look like now.” I can relate. I know I don’t look like I did at age 50. And I also understand we can’t all afford the same level of dress, or have similar hair preparation skills, or equal time to prepare for on camera appearances. But to turn off the camera for those reasons is to give in to people who would think less of us based on the natural way we look. Better to let it go, and go forward comfortable in our own skin, even if the outer covering has become a bit wrinkled or my hair is not perfectly coiffed.
“But my kids walk through and get in the camera shot?” Fantastic! Mistakes can be unplanned opportunities to turn negatives into positives. In this case an opportunity to demonstrate compassion and commitment to your family. “I’m sorry school was canceled today (or whatever), and I am the only childcare option.” It’s not perfect, and not everyone will understand, but you would have my respect for providing home care to your adorable children, and for your transparency, and for not turning your camera off, which is way worse than a kid in the shot. I’m guessing if your kid showed up in the shot you would forever stand out in my mind as a dedicated parent and employee who turned a tough situation into a positive. And I’d probably ask you how your kids are doing for the rest of our time together on earth. We often bond with people after such heartfelt encounters. There are always exceptions. But far better to be present in this new business Zoom environment than to be checked out with cameras off every chance you get an opportunity to unplug. Camera off is not a good look and it won’t elevate the conversation! We learn a lot from each other, especially when we give people our undivided attention.