As a follow up to my recent blog posted on September 15, 2020, entitled Network for Life, I thought it may be helpful to discuss the elephant in the room or lack thereof. That is, with many of us working in remote environments, typically from home, networking is not quite the same as it used to be. Or, maybe it is? Generally speaking, the same concepts apply to networking whether it is in person or remote but now we must consider other factors. Whether you are trying to manage a construction project like my family or your children’s on-line learning schedule, how do you deal with all of this in the midst of video calls while looking and being the professional you are?
Photo by Ketut, Subiyanto on Pexels.com
The first thing is first, cut yourself some slack. Everyone is in this situation together; you are not the only one. In other words, life will continue to come at us at a rate in which we may not appreciate at times. It is how you approach it and respond that shows your character. So, now more than ever, please consider these other aspects of the equation when presenting yourself in a remote networking situation.
Topics here include physical space, hardware and software etiquette, presenting yourself on camera, presentations, professionalism, family members and their schedules, and other distractions.
It is imperative to designate an area in your home for your office, preferably one that allows you to close a door for privacy. Once your table or desk is set up then the fun begins. However, if this is not the case and you have to share space with your roommate or family member then I suggest you set up a schedule. If there is no way to get around this then I would go as far as putting a divider of some kind in the room. This gives some privacy and a sense of space.
Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com
Hardware and Software Etiquette
Here, I will only cover etiquette as what hardware and software to use is a separate discussion and depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Many of us may already have the hardware or software that is necessary to do our routine tasks. Now you may be on camera either giving a virtual presentation or using a new software application, being watched.
For example, while I was on a networking call, the person on the other end was typing on their computer. Their action didn’t have anything directly related to our 30-minute “coffee meeting”. I had never met this person before but because they spent time typing during our conversation, it appeared they were not engaged. Using your computer in this way while trying to impress does not go a long way even though there are exceptions due to the pandemic. The same goes for software use. Meaning, when a call requires the use of an application unknown to you, it is crucial to take the time to properly be prepared. For example, whether it is Zoom, Facetime, or whatever the required application, it shows professionalism and consideration when the call was not the first time you used it.
Presenting Yourself on Camera
Ugh! You don’t have proper lighting or a background? Most of us never thought that we would need an item called a ring light, webcam, lights on tripods, and just plain other stuff to accomplish a professional-looking environment from our home office. You also may never have heard of a green screen or thought you would ever use one. When personally trying to figure this out, I turned to my MacBook Air. The processor and camera are great for most applications but I ran into some glitching issues when recording in certain applications or when I used a background without a green screen.
Initially, without experience in this, it took a bit of research to understand what was right for my needs. Since I really didn’t want to buy a webcam, I decided to go a different route for recording. And then there was that issue of on-line availability of a green screen earlier this year. At first, I thought I was going to be using material or something that mimicked a green screen but realized that a quality screen was the key to a good setup or end product. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who owns a good quality green screen that I have “borrowed” since March. Do not hesitate in asking to borrow something. I typically don’t do this but most are willing to help given these unprecedented times. Lastly, make sure that you have a logo or photo set up in your profile or virtual background.
Screenshot by Tracy Tanner
This above screenshot is a fun example of how to present yourself and your brand by Craig Kausen from the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity.
Screenshot by Tracy Tanner
This example is to note that most of the people did not have their video on. As you can see, only names or a letter is showing in their window. Meaning, when their video was turned off, there was no photo or logo representing them or what they’re about; a lost marketing opportunity.
Some other items to remember are: 1) sit up straight; 2) sit in a chair 3) check your lighting and virtual background prior to call; 3) assure that you are positioned at the right distance from your camera; 4) Ask a friend to do a test drive with you.
Screenshot by Tracy Tanner, SBDC meeting
Note: Philip Topham has both a very professional representation of himself and clear presentation. Take notice of the thumbnail views on the right side. Laura Beken has a professional headshot at the bottom right while her video is off.
As far as presentations go, some of us are very proficient in creating them as a matter of course but may not have delivered them remotely or better yet via services such as Zoom. So, this may be a consideration as to what application is best for how you are working. There is a lot of information on the internet about how to properly format your presentation and I personally have created countless presentations. Keeping it clean and precise with minimal bullet points using both color and graphics for interest showcases your professionalism.
On the other hand, many of you may not need to present formally. I have been on calls where the person on the other end just jotted a sketch down and shared it. In a one-on-one call, that would be perfectly acceptable to exchange concepts visually. There are also applications that accomplish this as well. They allow for two or more people to exchange ideas in text and graphics form. This may be an interesting way for collaboration on your next video call. Attempt to mix it up a bit as virtual meetings will continue to be in our future for some time.
Screenshot by Tracy Tanner, Richard Fleming shares his ideas with a quick sketch via Zoom. Old school works too!
Professionalism is also key and is not just defined by wearing a suit and tie. Professionalism goes way beyond dress with appropriate dress still a factor. It is the way you respond, the words you use, and general business acumen. You may have heard that first impressions are determined within the first 30 seconds. First impressions are considered important even at 5 a.m. with a cup of coffee via Zoom or Facetime. No matter what time or situation, begin by introducing yourself, discuss what you both want to accomplish, and verify the time allotted for the call. If you need to interrupt the call, please excuse yourself briefly and toggle the video and audio features in the off position.
Screenshot by Tracy Tanner
This is a screenshot of California State University students in the Business Entrepreneurship program. All are dressed very professionally to present to a client entrepreneur. Notice, a headshot photo of me is in the second box from the top right. At that moment, my video was turned off but a professional photo replaces my name.
For a unique and memorable distinction, add virtual backgrounds that both compliment and complement the person or organization on the call attended. That is, search the person’s or organization’s logo you are “Zooming” with and use it as your background. Most people don’t have their own logo behind them so showcasing it is a simple gesture demonstrating that you care and are engaged. I highly recommend that at the least you do is use your own background. Maybe even take a picture of your business card or create a special logo or a picture that depicts your business or maybe even interesting fun fact. It is much more fun than always sitting in front of a beach background. That is, unless you are a professional surfer or lifeguard.
Consider Other People and Distractions at Your Home
Additionally, now that our roommates or family members are home as well, considering their needs and schedules are ever more important, as is yours. This is especially true when trying to maintain a business conversation while other distractions may be going on at the same time. In my case, there has been consistent pounding, sawing, jackhammering as prior to the pandemic we embarked on an outdoor remodel that is still going on today. The jackhammering resulted in a broken gas line and the main cleanout drain (water) filling with rock and dirt. Ultimately disruptions and distractions.
Whatever your situation happens to be, sit down with your family so that everyone has time to express what their schedule is. Communication and empathy are vital at any time but especially with our current happenings. For instance, my son is about to graduate from college this semester and was on an interview via a Zoom call wearing a noise-canceling headset. He politely said, “My apologies for the background noise, as we are in the middle of an outdoor project”. Stating these kinds of things up front gives the person on the other end a heads up. Most likely they will greatly appreciate this and consider how you coped with or addressed the distraction as part of your character and business acumen. Another example of setting limits within the same workspace is when my husband made a sign that he places on his office door reading, On a Call. We know that entering his room is off-limits during that time. A nice reminder that we are doing business here.
If you haven’t yet done so, I recommend addressing the following topics with your family members or roommates:
- How each person has been affected by the pandemic?
- How distractions affect everyone?
- Brainstorm on how to address moving forward
- Does everyone have what they need to accomplish their schoolwork or job?
Adaptability, communication, empathy, and business acumen are all prominent personal attributes when networking. Each shows professionalism and character while presenting yourself to a professional community. You owe it to yourself to consider this so you are positioned for success.
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