Please, Mute Your Microphone!

Useful Tips for Video Conferencing

«Never have so many ceilings been broadcast to so many for so long», The Economist wrote in its leader about videoconferencing etiquette, adding that «letting crowds of colleagues and acquaintances peer into your life can be unsettling».

Looking at how world leaders and diplomats are now holding their summits and meetings via video conference it is important to outline some basic rules beyond the technical aspects.

A screen shot of a person

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First EU Council Video Conference, March 10, 2020

1) Mute your microphone!

Nothing is worse than background noise during a conference call. Make sure your microphone is always on mute, only opening it when it is your turn to speak. On many video conferencing platforms, the moderator has the possibility to mute all participants and that is probably a good thing.

UK’s First Digital Cabinet Meeting on Zoom

2) Turn on your video!

It’s called a video conference for a reason, so you should turn on your video camera, even if you have a bad hair day. Don’t hide behind a dark screen, claiming that you have connection or bandwidth problems. Make sure you are dressed appropriately. Turning your video off means that you are not fully engaged in the conference and you are probably working on other stuff, or you might even be using the bathroom… In that case make sure to mute your microphone (see point 1).

3) Sit straight and look up!

If you are using a laptop, make sure to prop it up so that the built-in camera lens is level with your eyes. If you are looking down on your laptop, you are likely to show your nostrils and your ceiling. Furthermore, you’ll also be looking down on the other participants in the video call which is probably not what you intended to do. There is a reason heads of state and government often sit far away from their screen and the camera, in that way it seems like they are looking directly at you and not just the screen.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa during the EU Council Video Conference
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte during the EU Council Video Conference

3) Look into the camera lens, not at the screen!

The closer you are to the screen, the more you must focus on looking into the camera lens. Looking at the screen is a common mistake on video conferences since you will not be facing your audience and come across as aloof and out of touch. If you want your message to be heard by your listeners, look your audience straight into the eye by looking only at the camera lens and not the screen.

UN Security Council Preparatory Video Conference

4) Horizontal or vertical?


When filming from a mobile device don’t hold the phone too close to your face if you don’t want to be perceived as domineering and overbearing. If most of the participants film in landscape format it is a good idea to turn your mobile device and film in landscape too. Vertical videos shot on mobile devices will take less space in the video conference grid and make you look small and insignificant.

G7 Extraordinary Video Summit

5) Watch the background

The background, just like background noise can be extremely distracting. Remember the high-definition videos give viewers a very detailed look at your library or the pictures on your wall. On Zoom you can add virtual backgrounds and Microsoft Teams and Skype allow you to blur the background, focusing on your face which looks very professional. A white neutral wall is probably the best. Make sure you have good lighting and avoid backlight as your face will be very dark and sombre. Avoid filming outside on your balcony or showing off the breath-taking view from your garden which is not a scene you want to show viewers, many of whom are stuck indoors in their small city apartments.

6) Sharing a screenshot?

When taking a screenshot of your video conference, make sure you tell all participants to get ready and smile for the family picture. And lastly: Don’t touch your face!Since the rise in video conferences was prompted by the coronavirus pandemic it is probably wise to give a good example and not touch your face. Remember you are being filmed.

Don’t look down on your audience!