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by Jennifer Hannigan, CEO of Alliance Resource Group

After more than three months working remotely, I’ve spent more time with Zoom than my own children. And I’ve got a few things to say.

I’ve Zoomed with my team. I’ve Zoomed with clients. I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates, hosted a Zoom webinar, talked to my kids’ teachers and even hosted a virtual book club. All on Zoom.

And I know I’m not alone. Everywhere I look there are blogs and articles on how to make the most out of your Zoom meetings.

Everyone is doing it… and yet SOMEHOW so few people do it well!

It’s killing me. After 100 days of working in our new virtual offices, we should all be pros. Instead, almost every day I see someone fail. Often, it’s a senior-level executive. Sometimes it’s a candidate making a first impression. It doesn’t matter. There are no more excuses.

So here’s my ultimate list — geared towards those prepping for an interview but relevant to ANYONE who is actively Zooming. Here we go…

Test Your Tech

No matter how many times you’ve used Zoom, test your technology before an important call. The last thing you want is for your video or sound not to work. To reduce risks, close all other applications on your computer and make sure you don’t have pop-ups. Don’t use your phone for any important Zoom meetings — even in the best circumstances, those look awkward. Remember the cliché: “you never have a second chance to make a first impression.” Bingo. This. Is It.

Lighten Up

Pay attention to your light. If you’re in front of a bright window, you’ll be in the shadows looking like Count Dracula. And not too dark either — don’t want to appear like you’re hiding away in a dungeon. Natural light works best — but makes sure it’s just right. Test different angles. Work with lamps. It may feel a little Kardashian, but good lighting can make all the difference.

Background Check

We’ve all loved playing with our Zoom backgrounds since that feature was added. Who doesn’t want to be on a beach or in front of the Eifel Tower? I’ve seen everything from underwater photos to mounds of toilet paper. Super fun and totally NOT appropriate for an important interview or meeting. The technology is distracting and imperfect. Your background can be personal — your home office or living room — or simply a blank wall, but it should be real.

Look Them in the Eyes

Make sure the camera is squarely in front of you, preferably eye level. If you’re using a double monitor, put the Zoom screen on the same monitor as your camera. There’s nothing more annoying than talking to someone who’s looking away (no matter how fabulous their profile is). When you’re speaking, look straight into the camera — not at the person you’re addressing, who may be on the far side of your screen.

Sound Advice

Don’t rely on spotty computer audio that can pick up everything or nothing. Use headphones with your computer or, even better, dial in from your phone so that you can minimize unwanted noise on your end. Activate the mute command when you’re not talking, especially in larger group meetings. No one wants to hear the neighbor’s dog or the garbage truck passing by.

Dress for Success

One of my biggest pet peeves. If you’d wear a suit or business casual to an in-person meeting, why would it be OK to wear a T-shirt to a virtual meeting? If your meeting is super important, then go all out — that means pants, shoes, the full deal. If you’re dressed for success, you’ll be more confident and will come across in the professional manner you want. 

ID Check

Before the meeting starts, make sure you’re using your own name for the log-in. You don’t want to pop into the meeting with your 8-year-old daughter’s name or some nickname you only use with close friends.

Early Bird

Give yourself extra time to successfully log into your meeting, make sure audio and video is working, and be ready to begin when the host arrives. Being even a minute late can be super annoying and give the wrong impression. Be first and be best.

Stay Focused

If you think no one will notice that you’re looking down to check text messages or that you’re browsing emails during a Zoom call, you are absolutely kidding yourself. Someone will notice every time. On a call with a big group and think no one will see you multi-tasking? Think again — someone is always watching! If you need to hide your phone and turn off your second monitor, do it. No exceptions on this one.

Talk with Your Hands

This may seem a little counter-intuitive, but I think it’s an important way to make an impression. We all have short attention spans. That’s even more true during a long day of Zoom calls. Adding subtle body language and strong verbal ques will keep the other participants interested and the meeting energy elevated.

Embrace the Pause

Zoom technology is amazing but far from perfect. There’s often a lag, so it’s important not to interrupt when someone else is speaking. Allow a moment for them to pause before you speak so you don’t appear rude.

Take Note

If you’re planning to take notes, tell your fellow Zoomers so they don’t think you’re not paying attention.

Extra Credit

  • Really want to up your Zoom game? Record yourself on a mock call with a friend and review how you look and sound.
  • Post questions or talking points on your screen so you don’t have to look down, but sound super prepared.

Follow these rules and you’ll make a great impression. Now go out and Zoom!

Related Links

3 Tips for Acing Your Virtual Interview (Forbes)

Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile in Five Easy Steps (Inc)

How to Use Zoom Like a Pro (CNET)

Networking During COVID-19


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