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By Pamela Eyring
(Reuters) - Stories abound about business meetings gone awry via Skype, today's virtual connection with 300 million registered users logging on to make free or low-cost voice and video calls.
Whether you Skype with someone in the same city or in Dubai, you need to be prepared and mindful to be viewed (and seen) as a professional.
You may think your colleague (attending to personal grooming issues) is off-camera, but in fact they're not. Especially, as more television outlets interview experts via Skype, it's important to be prepared, when meeting face-to-face; virtually.
Here are a few handy tips to make the right Skype impression: 1. Perfect your profile: When you Skype with someone, your name, profile and profile picture make your first impression. Make sure your user name is appropriate, that the location is accurate for the business you're conducting, and your image is professional. 2. Do a background check: If you're using the video feature of Skype, check the background of your setting to ensure it projects a professional image. If there are pictures, or even white boards, behind you with content you don't want others to see, remove them or move locations. Similarly, avoid calling from places where background movement and activity may be distracting. 3. Dress the part: Just because its 11 p.m. in your time zone don't dress like you're headed for bed. Always dress appropriately for a video call. Additionally, try to wear a shirt of contrasting color to your background to avoid looking like a "floating head." 4. Send a courtesy check: The best way to start a conversation is to send a quick message via Skype asking if the person is free and the appointed time still works for them. Sending a simple, "Hello. Just wanted to make sure this is still a good time for our call" is a nice way to give someone time to prepare. If they don't respond immediately, resist the temptation to bombard them with query messages. Either they're there and ready, or they're not. Be patient and make the right (polite) impression. 5. Maintain eye contact: Once a video call is started, make sure you maintain eye contact with the webcam not the image on your screen. This can be tricky because the image of the person you're speaking to is usually below the webcam but if you look at the person, rather than the webcam, you won't be making "eye contact."
6. Be aware of body language: Ideally your webcam will show your upper torso, as if you were sitting across a table from the other individual. Assuming that's the case, it's important to maintain good posture, avoid slouching, leaning from side to side, or fidgeting with a pencil or in anything else that may indicate you're distracted.
7. Mind the volume: Depending upon the placement of the microphone on your computer, relatively unobtrusive sounds like tapping a pencil, typing on the keyboard, or even background conversations can be heard (sometimes quite loudly) on the other end. Try to keep noise distractions to a minimum. If your call requires taking notes, be sure to ask if your typing is distracting and, if so, take actions to minimize the impact. If ever in doubt about what's appropriate, imagine you're in an actual face-to-face meeting and conduct yourself with the same poise and professionalism. If you mind your Skype manners, you'll be prepared to forge meaningful business relationships regardless of the distance.
(Pamela Eyring is the president of The Protocol School of Washington (PSOW), which provides professional business etiquette and international protocol training. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Tom Pfeiffer)