If I had a video call scheduled for the day I would start sweating through my clothes hours before it was set to begin. The night before, I would barely sleep.
I would get so nervous that it would make me sick. That is not just a metaphor. I would literally get sick to my stomach.
Past me would do anything to avoid a zoom call.
But I knew if I wanted to grow my freelance business I would need to become a video call master.
My secret weapon for video calls: be more prepared than anyone else.
Amateur video call Chris
I would show up and hope that no one noticed I was there. My main goal at this point in my life was to end the call as quickly as possible.
But this was a massive mistake.
Video is a great tool for building relationships. While written forms of communication can be an incredible tool, video allows for the nuance to come through.
How I prepare for every video call
This is going to seem like a lot, and honestly it is. But once you build out a system and make it a habit, it will become second nature.
For every single video call that I attend I spend time before the call preparing.
- Research the people and entities that will be on the call
- Gather the most relevant assets
- Create an agenda (even if I am not the one creating the call)
- Identify my goals for the call
- Schedule time before and after the call to decompress
- Check the charge on my headphones and Internet connection
- Create notes of relevant talking points
I always make sure to see who is going to be on a call. If it involves people that I am not familiar with I look them up on LinkedIn. Who are they and what is there relationship to this project? I write quick notes about their position and relevance to the project in my meeting notes.
I have a Notion note for every meeting. It includes a bulleted list of my talking points and links to any relevant assets. I keep it all in one place so I have a quick reference point on the call.
Even if I am not the one to call the meeting I create an agenda of what I anticipate the call to be like. What items should be discussed based on the meeting title? This way if we get off track I can be a meeting hero and get things back on course!
For every video call I join I know exactly why I am there. If I do not have a reason to be there then I decline. Sometimes the goal could simply be to improve the relationship, it does not always have to be milestone based. But make sure you know why you are there and what the desired outcomes are for the call.
Do not leave until you achieve your goals!
Your goals will differ depending on the type of call you are joining:
- Sales: Close the deal.
- Networking: Make a friend.
- Status: Show progress.
- Collaboration: Solve a problem.
Schedule decompression time
I need a little bit of time to context switch before a meeting, especially if I am deep in code land. I schedule 10 minutes before the call to quickly review the notes and agenda. I also schedule at least 15 minutes after a call to decompress. I will go for a walk, or listen to an audiobook. This is not always possible and sometimes you end up with back to backs, but whenever I can get those decompression windows in I take them!
Check headphones and internet
Nothing is worse than getting on a call and the technology fails you. I check my headphones every morning and make sure they are charged. I also check the internet connection of where I am at before the call to make sure it will not impact the quality. This might not apply to you if you are always in your home office, but as a digital nomad I am on a different wifi connection almost weekly.
I always come with notes. These notes includes all the project assets from before and anything I learned during my research. I also jot down any talking points that I might need to use. I wont use them word for word, but writing them out helps them be ready in my brain in the moment.
I not only write project notes but also small talk notes. I HATE small talk and truly suck at it. I sometimes will look at someones social media to see if they recently celebrated anything or went anywhere. This gives me something to throw in there!
On the call
So now that we are the MOST prepared person ever for this video call it is time to join. I like to join a minute or two early just incase the software takes a moment ot update. I went to a military academy and have always had the mindset “if you are on time you are late”.
When the call starts, focus. Be present. The call serves a purpose so be there for it. Turn off your notifications for the time you are on the call. It is super annoying when you can hear peoples phones chiming or slacks coming in. Don’t be that person!
If possible, look into the camera. This gives the illusion that you are looking directly at the person you are speaking with which helps them connect with you. It is awkward talking with someone that is looking off to the left at a mirror of themselves.
And last, use your notes! Keep them up on a different device or in the corner of your screen. If an action item comes up be sure to note it down for later. IF you think of something else that needs to be accomplished on this call, write it down so that you can bring it up when you have the opportunity.
After the video call
Once the call is over spend a few minutes decompressing. Video calls can be draining and often it is a challenge to switch from video call mode to creative time. I like to go for a walk, read a book, or play my switch for a few minutes.
Now that the call is over take those notes and pull out any action items. Add them into your task management system so they do not get lost.
Last, send a follow up email if needed. This shows that you understood the call and gives you the opportunity to request anything you need or set expectations around timelines.
Being a video call master is a freelance super power
Not everyone knows these tips. While they are simple, if you put them into practice it will take the anxiety around video calls away and have you looking like a hero.
I have been on many calls where the team is not on course, but I came with an agenda. It is very easy to then say “I feel like we are getting off course a bit from the main goal here. If we want to solve the problem we need to discuss XYZ. We can discuss ABC on next weeks call”.
This skill takes a while to master, but once you do, the entire process takes less and less time. It used to take me an hour the night before to prepare for the next days video calls. Now it takes me less than 5 minutes.
Now that I have the process and soft skills I actually look forward to video calls. I know that it is an opportunity for my personality to shine and is a great way for me to grow connections.
Keep leaning into that uncomfortable feeling and you will get better each time!
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