In an interconnected world, we need to be sure we don’t share… too much.

Silence falls in the zoom-call, jerking you back from your daydream. Sweat beads on your palms as you feel the sudden tenseness, hear the subsequent dry cough. Your eyes dart to the bottom of the screen; and the realisation that your mic was on hits you like the sky falling on your head. Everyone on your zoom call just heard you mutter that this meeting was a waste of time. Your line manager is staring at the camera with an inscrutable face, the client is frowning.

We have all daydreamed some variant of this sweat-inducing nightmare about a Zoom gaffe, but for a horrifyingly large cohort, the nightmare has become reality. Today’s news that a Texas lawyer accidentally transformed himself into a cat during a court hearing is but the most recent in a slew of incidents, some stretching back to the beginning of lockdown, and beyond.

So what are the key takeaways from this?

A. Frame your shot:

If you are going to appear on camera in your calls, its good practise to run the camera during setup to check the background of your shot. Many awkward conversations can be avoided by ensuring that nothing untoward appears in the background of your shot. As a rule, placing your back to a plain wall is the most sure-fire way of ensuring a neutral background, but those who desire a more engaging background should just double check nothing remotely offensive or unprofessional is on the bookshelf behind them.

B. Check your camera and microphone during the call:

In meetings and seminars in which you are an audience member and not a speaker, it can be easy to forget you’re being watched. The combination of being at home and the sensation of anonymity within the crowd of participants leads to many people forgetting they are still on camera, often with disastrous consequences. There is a lesson to be learned from this type of gaffe: be aware of your participation. Incidents such as idly checking a phone or gazing out of a window can rise ire amongst speakers, and frustration from team members.

C. Prepare your setup beforehand:

Most conference call applications give you the ability to check your camera, microphone, and software prior to joining a call, either by checking the settings, or running a trial call. For important meetings it is always a good idea to test your settings first, or even just join the call with your team a few minutes beforehand to iron out any potential kinks. This piece of advice went unheeded by one Texas lawyer, who unfortunately joined the court having activated a ‘cat-filter’, and event that has been much derided worldwide. We’ve seen variations this theme with other filter issues, and other forms of software problems, including interactive backgrounds; so if you want to avoid global derision, we recommend you take the five minutes to check your setup before you join that big court case.