The 10 Commandments of Video Calls

Video calls – If you work from home then you won’t be able to avoid them, if you work (anywhere) you probably won’t be able to avoid them for much longer. We all have to get our head round how to make effective video calls.

Chris Lee has written his top 10 tips when it comes to making video calls. Chris is studying for a BA in Music, and spends what little spare time he has musing about everything from philosophy, to economics, to developments in technology. This post was inspired by a recent, awkward Google+ Hangouts conversation, and the subsequent thoughts about how to get the most out of video conversations. He maintains a blog (somewhat sporadically) at —(p)latitudes.


With the recent advent of Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and business video conferencing¸ the way we communicate with friends, family, and even business partners around the world is changing. Though highly beneficial mediums (no travel expenses, access to local resources, ability to include others in the conversation, and so on), they can take a bit of getting used to for the inexperienced user.

I’ve drafted up “10 Commandments of video calls”, which will hopefully lead to a smooth video call, regardless of the context. Disclaimer: Given the modern subject matter, I’ve dispensed with the ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’: apologies if this makes the commandments seem less authentic!

1. Give your equipment a test-run before the conference

There’s nothing worse than getting caught off-guard by technology and software you’re not familiar with, or by a connectivity problem. To make sure this doesn’t happen, have a practice run in which you can get used to setting up and using your microphone, monitor, and headsets, and ensure you check all devices are connected and that the internet connection is working correctly before starting the call.

It can sometimes seem more complicated than it is!

2. Dress appropriately for the occasion

If you’re preparing for a business based video conference, the expectation of what you should wear will probably be similar to a face-to-face business meeting. This means smart, clean business attire. Creases still show up over webcam! If you’re preparing for a more casual call with friends or family, your options are less restrictive, although remembers it’s unlikely anyone wants to see you in just your underwear!

3. Try to sit still

A webcam will amplify movement and sound made by participants on both ends and lag in the video stream may cause the screen to freeze. The best way to avoid becoming a messy blur is to remain as still as possible during the call, and ensure the lighting is optimal.

4. Optimise the lighting and environment

Talking to an ill-defined shape is less appealing than talking with the well-defined visage of a friend / family member / business contact. Ensuring the lighting is correct will prevent the former, and will improve the quality of the whole conversation. Some good tips to achieve optimal lighting include not having a window or bright light in shot, and not having your face lit from below (unless you want to look like a character from a horror film).

5. Speak clearly!

Bandwidth discrepancies between participants may create a delay in video and audio on one or both sides of the conversation; allow for this when waiting for a response. If you don’t receive a response straight away it’s more likely that a short delay is occurring somewhere in the connection than your remark has been ignored.

6. Keep it short and sweet

As with a face-to-face conversation, long sessions without a break can grow boring and it’s likely that participants on both sides will become distracted. Regular breaks and a conversation that’s as short and focused as possible are a great way to avoid this pitfall. A good way to gauge this is how frequently awkward silences occur (and how awkward they are).

Keep an eye on the time!

7. Position yourself well

Sitting around three feet from the webcam portrays a feeling of interest on your part, while also maintaining the sense of personal space (still a factor to consider despite the fact participants may be hundreds or even thousands of miles from each other!) While your friends and family may be more interested in your appearance than business partners, a close up view of your face filling up their screen may be off-putting.

8. Maintain eye contact

As has been mentioned previously, rules of face-to-face conversation still apply; keep eye contact during the conversation. This means looking at the webcam rather than the monitor image, and while this may feel unusual at first, you will become accustomed to it quickly.

9. Increase font size for on-screen conversation

Any on-screen text used to compliment the video conversation should be of an appropriate font size to avoid tiring the eyes of the reader.

10. Check comprehension during the conversation

Make sure everyone is following the conversation while it is in progress. Video calling technology is not yet a perfect system and sometimes bugs in the call can cause participants to miss part of what has been said. Answer questions and address any concerns that may arise in order to avoid this causing problems.