Realize it or not, you are constantly presenting at work – whether you are speaking to one person on the phone, to a small group during a virtual meeting, or too many people at an online networking or social event. As a summer associate or first-year associate, you can enhance your professionalism and make a great first impression in all of these situations by following some simple rules of netiquette (virtual meeting etiquette). Below are best practices of online etiquette in each of the six areas that make up your online presence: stance, sound, smile, silence, sight, and setup.
Your physical presence should be as professional online as it is in person. First and foremost: turn your camera on. If people can’t see you, you will not make a strong impression. With your camera on, sit in a chair (no lounging on a couch or in a bed), close to the camera (so your face takes up more visual space in the gallery), and wear work-appropriate clothes. Comfortable pants and shoes are fine – just make sure you are wearing them so you don’t have any awkward situations if you have to stand up! No baseball hats. Ever. No smoking. Ever. (We aren’t making these up; we’ve heard reports from firms of both happening during virtual meetings.)
To have vocal presence, your voice must be clear and crisp. While your computer’s built-in camera is generally sufficient for video, computer audio is a different story. At the very least, use the earbud / microphone combo that came in the box with your phone to participate in virtual meetings. Consider a higher quality wired headset for more comfort and better sound quality.
Remember: when your camera is on, everyone can see your face in the attendee gallery even when you are not speaking. Make an effort to maintain a soft smile or engaged facial expression when you are listening as well as speaking. If you are experiencing Zoom fatigue after a long day or week of virtual meetings, keep your camera on for your speaking roles and display a professional headshot with you smiling as your profile picture (rather than your name).
Be sure to mute yourself upon entry to and between your speaking contributions during virtual meetings and events so sound in your microphone doesn’t cause needless background noise, distraction, or even embarrassment! Don’t forget to turn off notifications on your devices so you don’t make an annoying “ding” every time an email or text message comes through when you are unmuted. The sound of gulping water or sipping coffee will be amplified if your microphone is live, so mute while drinking during a meeting or event. And, unless it’s a brown-bag lunch or cooking social event, it’s best to avoid eating altogether in computer-mediated situations and definitely mute yourself if you must eat.
Lasting eye contact is crucial for building rapport and conveying confidence online. Position your camera at eye level and stare directly into the lens to give virtual listeners the experience of receiving eye contact. You might need to set your laptop on a few thick books or use a laptop stand to get the camera to eye level. Consider turning the gallery view off if you find yourself staring at people on your screen rather than into the camera lens. If you take notes with pen and paper, announce it to other meeting participants early on so they know what you are doing and that you are paying attention.
To achieve the strongest internet connection and enhance video conference stability, hardwire your computer or sit close to your router. Keep your computer software up-to-date and close applications you are not using to improve processing speed. Uncover and clean your computer camera lens. Optimize natural light to brighten your appearance by positioning yourself so that your face is illuminated evenly (and never sit with a window or lamp behind you). A strategically placed lamp or light ring can supplement natural light in darker rooms or on cloudy days. Don’t forget to spruce up your background. Curate an uncluttered, professional setting. You don’t need a beautiful floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcase – a painted wall behind you is perfect. Join videoconferences several minutes early to check video, audio, and other functionality. This will also ensure you are on time and don’t miss out on any pre-meeting banter.
Awareness of and attention to netiquette in these six areas will elevate your presence and professionalism in computer-mediated speaking situations. But remember, you need to match your command of netiquette with thorough and thoughtful preparation for online, hybrid, and in-person meetings and events if you want to stand out for all the right reasons now and throughout your career.
A version of guide by Christine Clapp, founder and president of Spoken with Authority, was first published on May 26, 2021, inProfessionalism in Practice: Expert Opinions, a weekly newsletter from the Center on Professionalism at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. You are welcome to share or republish it with attribution.