Virtual Gathering Etiquette

As we are moving our common life increasingly into digital space, it is imperative that we remind ourselves of basic etiquette that can go a long way in ensuring a smooth, enjoyable virtual gathering. While most of us are well-versed in etiquette in face-to-face, phone, and written communication, video conferencing is a young enough technology that most people are still learning basic manners. Just like in-person, phone, and written space, the strengths and limitations of the medium, in this case video conferencing, present unique challenges, and equally unique solutions, in order to facilitate an enjoyable experience for everyone. What follows are some basic etiquette tips to help everyone enjoy their virtual gatherings.

1. Test the Program Before Your First Meeting

Most programs like Zoom, Discord, Skype, let you check your audio and video when you first set up. Testing the program before your first meeting allows you to check your connections (camera, microphones, and headphones plugged in, etc.) and get comfortable using the program.

2. Log on Early

As simple as it may sound, logging into Zoom meetings or Discord servers a few minutes before the meeting is set to begin can make a world of difference. Logging in early gives you an opportunity to check your connections and/or fix any problems that have sprung up and gives you a moment to prepare and present your best self.

3. Reduce Background Noise

Microphones in most modern equipment, even tiny microphones in phones and laptops, are remarkably efficient and sensitive. They also have a feature called “auto-gain” which drastically turns up the microphone sensitivity when you stop speaking. This is designed to make sure the microphone doesn’t miss you talking. While this is a wonderful feature in terms of accessibility, it often causes unintended noise for other participants in the group meeting (loud hissing, echo/delayed voices, etc.). A good rule of thumb is to assume that your environment is about 3x as noisy to everyone else on the group meeting. In order to prevent distracting your friends and colleagues by the sounds of whirring H-VAC systems, washing machines, birds, and even toilet flushes from four rooms away, just follow these three best practices:

  1. Wear headphones if possible
  2. Mute yourself when you are not talking
    • Pro-tip: Set your audio to “push-to-talk”. If you are using a computer, you can have yourself muted by default and hold down a key to unmute yourself while you’re talking. Just like a Walkie-Talkie or CB radio! (In Zoom the spacebar is the default key to temporarily unmute yourself)
    • Remember: if you don’t mute yourself and your environment is noisy enough to distract others, your friendly admins will mute you!
  3. When you are ready to speak, raise a hand, use visual cues, or write in the chat to make sure your voice is heard and people don’t accidentally talk over one another.

4. Light Up Your Life

  • Orient yourself to have light directed toward your face.
  • Avoid bright lights (especially windows) behind you, unless you intend to be mysterious and cloaked in shadow.

Bonus Tips!

  • Make Large Gatherings Less Chaotic: Most programs that allow for large gatherings (10+ people) have two viewing settings for seeing everyone’s video. Knowing the difference between the two, and how to switch between them, can reduce the anxiety that inevitably comes from rapidly switching video feeds.
    • Speaker View: This is the default setting for most programs. In Speaker View, the program will make the person currently talking as the largest video display. This is great for presentations where one person (usually the one who is leading the meeting) is speaking for most of the time.
    • Gallery View: In Gallery View, all the video feeds are the same size, usually a colored border will appear around the person currently speaking. Gallery View is great for large gatherings, such as virtual coffee hour, where there isn’t a single designated speaker.
    • To Switch Between Views, in Zoom and similar programs, move your mouse to the upper right-hand corner of the window with the video feed. There you will find a button that will indicate what view you are currently in, clicking that button will instantly switch you between views. You can switch as much or as little as you like to best fit the context of the gathering.
  • Sneaking in Late: If you need to sneak into a group meeting late, join the meeting with yourself muted and your video off. Once you are connected, turn on the video first, then the audio; you will slip in so seamlessly that most will assume you were present from the start!