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Video revolutionized long distance conferences. You don’t have to sit in dusty conference rooms anymore, listening to someone present a boring slide show about last month’s fluctuations in your sales revenue. Now’s the future and you can listen to it from the comfort of your own home or office. Of course, the future has its own slew of problems. Video conferencing is still relatively young and means that disasters can and often will happen. Here’s five steps to avoid those.

What They See Is What You Get

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That might be the case with fashion, but in business circles, beauty is determined by how professional you appear. This doesn’t apply just to your clothes. The background in video conferencing can make or break contracts. A cluttered wall with the latest comic books and video games won’t turn off your friends and family, but a potential client will consider this a warning sign. How to avoid this? Pay attention to the background and check what the camera actually sees fifteen minutes before the video conference starts. Aim for a well-organized bookcase, a single piece of tasteful art, or even a simple, blank wall. As the Smarter Home Office points out, the camera should be treated as a window into your office. What do you want your boss and coworkers to see when they peer inside?

Master the Mutes’s top tip for video conferencing is to mute your microphone whenever you’re not speaking and it’s true. Background noise is one of the biggest distractions in any conference, in-person or long distance. Even if you don’t have a construction crew outside ripping through the pavement, you should make muting your microphone a habit: Nobody knows when your shelves will decide to take up flying off the wall as a hobby. This is also why it’s a good idea to develop a mute video reflex. In case of distractions, such as the aforementioned shelf crash, mute your audio so that your conference partners won’t be distracted by whatever’s happening on your end.

Be Prepared

One piece of advice is constantly repeated when it comes to video conferencing: Always make sure that everything is ready ten minutes before you start the conference. Conferencing software like Blue Jeans Network will ensure that you’ll be able to connect to your conference partners and collaborate with them, but it won’t find the files for you. For important conferences, create a folder on your desktop and place all the files you will need in there. Disk space is cheap and it’s better to have duplicates floating around your drive, rather than scramble in the middle of a conference to find files you’ve misplaced.

Focus Your Computer on the Task

Conferences can be boring, there’s no denying that. You can do one thing to make sure they go faster, however: Ensure that there are no technical problems on your end. These don’t have to be explicit problems with hardware or software: Simply clogging up the bandwidth on your end is enough to delay a conference or lengthen it unnecessarily. Make Use of Lists ten tips for video conferencing and three of them are directly related to this issue. Quit all applications that can hog your bandwidth. Take care to ensure that they shut down completely, as some will simply hide the main window and continue running in the background. If they suddenly decide to download ten gigabytes worth of updates, you can and will end up with a clogged bandwidth – and frowning clients and co-workers.

Dress Smartly

Finally, while long distance video conferences give leeway when it comes to appearance and keeping order in your workplace, it’s a good idea to apply the highest standards to how you present yourself. It’s tempting to invest in a mock business suit you wear on top of a T-shirt and a pair of jeans or just wearing the top part of a suit you own. However, you have no guarantee that you won’t have to suddenly get up and show what you actually wear to other conference members. Yet that doesn’t mean you should stuff yourself in a suit every time a video conference comes up. Dress codes are flexible and the goal is to look professional and business-like, rather than sweat unduly under a tie and black suit. Light, sporty jackets and colored shirts can be just as good. The key is to find the look that suits you and makes you feel comfortable.

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