The Essential Video Meeting Guide (Part 1)

How to prepare for a video call

You might think video calling is trivial. You just switch on a camera and then have a meeting. But there is so much more to it.

Once, I aligned my camera in FaceTime so that my room wasn’t visible. When the call started, all went okay up until the moment when suddenly my webcam caught a much wider viewing range. Not only was my messy room visible but also a whiteboard with sensitive information! Read on to not let this or other embarrassments happen to you.

On video calling hardware

There’s nothing worse than talking to someone whose hardware doesn’t work properly or is misconfigured. I get really annoyed when I speak to someone holding a $1000 iPhone but using it with $5 earphones that have a 10-cent microphone built in, so they sound like they’re sitting in a barrel.

Buy proper hardware, configure it and test it before you bother other people with video calls.

If you use a desktop, things can get really complex because there are software and hardware issues at play. I am not an Apple fanboy, but I can say that if you stick with Apple products, you don’t have to worry. The MacBook, iPhone and AirPods are the ideal hardware because everything works together in harmony and discourages any configuration that gives you degrees of freedom to screw it up.

If you don’t like Apple, that’s fine. But then you have to do a bit of research to find hardware that is equally good or even better. Compared to other expenses, good hardware is cheap, lasts a long time and rarely breaks. Buy a webcam that can be mounted on top of the screen. The Logitech C920S HD webcam is an excellent camera. And you might want to get a great microphone like the Blue Microphones Yeti too. That microphone is noticeably better than even the AirPods Pro microphone.

(There is more professional hardware you can buy for thousands of dollars that will turn a room of several people into a virtual meeting room, but in this guide, I focus on individuals, not groups.)

On video calling software

The first widely used video calling software is Skype, which was the only tool people used for a long time. Because they didn’t manage to innovate with useful features like scheduling, better compression and drop-in meetings (where you don’t need to exchange Skype nicknames and add each other before the call), they started to lose market share. Today people still say, “Let’s Skype,” but they use different tools, and the expression is even slowly changing to “Let’s Zoom.”

Zoom is a relatively new player that grew quickly and is even now listed on the stock market. It won the race because it has the best video compression and ease of use. It slows down the video when the internet breaks and speeds it up when the connection gets better. In this way the video and audio stream appear seamless. But to implement this, Zoom needed to program a native app for each platform. So, the user has to download and install an additional app. (Some of their installation routines had dark patterns and nonideal security.)[1]

Also, due to the integrated calendar scheduling feature and free dial-in capabilities (via normal landline), Zoom became one of the biggest players on the market for video conferencing.

The undisputed king on video and audio quality, especially if one of the parties has bad internet, is FaceTime. Apple uses not only its software but also hardware to optimize quality and compression. The only tool that I could use while traveling in Asia with bad internet was FaceTime. That option only works, however, when everyone has an Apple device.

Other tools I see used right now are Google Hangouts, and, with only BlueJeans also having a native app. (I haven’t used Microsoft Teams/GoToMeeting or other tools for a long time, so I can’t comment on those.)

Then there are one-to-many video meeting tools where you can broadcast your meetings, such as and Periscope. Crowdcast is more for a LinkedIn audience and Periscope, for a Twitter audience, because they integrate with these platforms and signal to your connections and followers that you are conducting a live public meeting.

If you know that both of you have good internet, you can use any (browser-based) solution since no strong compression is needed, yet every tool that needs a browser plug-in installed has one big weakness: They rely on your browser, most of the time on Chrome. Other browser extensions could be incompatible with the video streaming extension and your meeting might fail. I’ve seen it many times, and this is very embarrassing if you are video casting to social media. It is best to have a dedicated Chrome profile[2] only for these video meetings with only the needed extension installed and test them rigorously beforehand.

Back to basics

Video calls are similar to physical meetings in many ways but also have nonobvious differences. Here are some aspects unique to video calls that you should keep in mind.

Do a morning exercise routine

While a physical meeting suggests that you do have to move at some point during the day, a virtual meeting doesn’t force you to do this. So, sports are a must the morning of an important video meeting.

If you move in the morning, the improved circulation to your muscles will fill them up with blood, making them look bigger. Your face will have a rosy, healthy glow, and your brain gets more oxygen, which keeps your mind clearer throughout the day. Sports, especially heavy weight-training exercises or sex, have a much stronger effect than any easy-to-consume stimulant like coffee. The important thing is that you move somehow, that your heart rate increases and you run out of breath.

If you can have sex the morning of an important meeting, this will make you react calmly and reasonably to any challenging situation. Sex clears your mind, puts things in perspective, and distracts you from small everyday problems that will be gone next week anyways. The biggest mistake people make is to expect sex to be perfect each time, but nonideal sex is always better than no sex.

How to dress and groom

Dress powerfully, especially before important calls or negotiations. And please, I also mean pants. Although the other party doesn’t see them all, powerful clothes give you confidence that will shine through, even on the phone. On video it certainly helps to wear a collared shirt. If you are dressed in a bathrobe, I guarantee that you won’t be able to hold a serious conversation. When in doubt, always err on the side of overdressing. But know your audience. E.g. don’t wear a suit to a Silicon Valley video call.

The same goes for doing your hair, shaving your face, or putting on makeup. When working at home, it is easy to neglect those things. But they are even more important in a virtual meeting because you lack smell and physical proximity on video, two significant influences, so you have to make up for them.

I once had an important client call where I had to discuss money, and I was too lazy to dress because I slept late. As a result, the call went much worse than usual. I couldn’t make myself clear or present my arguments powerfully. I had to later renegotiate via email, which was painful and embarrassing. Make it a habit in the morning to get ready as if you are going to a real meeting.

Avoid interruptions

Nothing will throw you off more than interruptions during a call. In the best case, they are just a bit awkward, but in the worst case, you forget what you were saying, which disrupts the meeting entirely. If you live with other humans or pets, make sure they can’t disturb you.

If fellow humans don’t get it, tell them that an interruption of five seconds doesn’t just steal a few seconds but everything from several minutes up to an hour that you need to get back to the topic you were thinking or talking about.

We don’t want to be interrupted when we are squatting with a 300-pound barbell, do we? Meetings are activities that also need maximum focus from us. Don’t underestimate the effort when your mind is under a heavy load.

Also, don’t forget to switch off your phone and disable the doorbell ring.


[2] section “Add a person or profile”


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