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Public relations and Zoom fails

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve lost count of how many Zoom meetings I’ve been in over the last 14 months. The upside includes more time to work instead of driving to and from meetings. And I like working in my bunny slippers. The downside includes remembering to turn off my video before rolling my eyes.

After getting called out for the eye-roll incident during the first week of pandemic lockdown, I’ve kept a running list of faux pas I’ve seen others make including some posted on social media. Let’s just say each one offers a teachable moment when it comes to putting your best professional foot forward for yourself and your company.

Beware of walls and coffee mugs

Prior to hopping on a Zoom meeting, take quick stock of any surroundings that may show up in your video. This includes piles of papers or laundry, the coffee mug you’ll be using while on camera that has salty language or images, and whatever is on the wall behind you.

In a recent nationwide webinar, I found myself distracted by a painting hanging on the wall behind the speaker. It took a few minutes before I realized there were two legs that looked like they were sticking out from the side of his head. At one point he moved and the legs gave way to a full-on nude painting. That’s something I’ll never be able to unsee. It goes without saying it distracted from the speaker’s message.

Personal habits and hygiene

Before even sitting down at your computer, get presentable. Ditch the jammies. Comb your hair and brush your teeth. If you have seasonal allergies, take an antihistamine and set a box of tissues out of camera range. Above all, learn how to turn off your video before you touch your face.

There was a week of video meetings around the holidays last year when I observed unsavory violations on all of these little tidbits. The worst offender was a speaker who couldn’t keep his hands off his nose and had no tissues. While he was very knowledgeable about the subject, it was difficult to concentrate because of my queasy stomach.

Virtual happy hours and screen filters don’t mix

At the front-end of the pandemic, Lizet Ocampo joined a virtual happy hour with other community leaders in Washington, D.C. Political director at People for the American Way, Ocampo thought it was a good way to connect. She also thought it would be fun to download some funny filters to use during the happy hour.

Come Monday morning, Ocampo jumped onto a team meeting — and appeared as a potato with eyes and lips. She forgot about the filters. Rachele Clegg, one of her employees, took a screen shot of the meeting and posted it to Twitter @PettyClegg.

"My boss turned herself into a potato on our Microsoft teams meeting and can't figure out how to turn the setting off, so she was just stuck like this the entire meeting," Clegg wrote.

The tweet went viral. More than a year later it has close to 900,000 likes.

My best advice when it comes to fun screen filters? Don’t download them, and don’t let your kids download them to any computer used for online work meetings.

Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations and marketing consultant. She can be contacted through her website