General meetings are hard enough without the challenges of making connections remotely.
I still remember my first virtual general meeting way back in Spring 2020 when we thought the age of Zoom was going to be short-lived. Now, it’s nearly Fall 2021 and here we still are– regularly meeting and working remotely. Considering things aren’t likely to slow down soon, it might be worth going over some tips to help you perfect the art of the virtual general meeting.
What’s a General Meeting?
A general meeting, or “general,” is a sit down with an exec or producer that has taken a, well, general interest in you as a writer. Odds are, they read one of your scripts and felt there was something there. But there probably isn’t a particular job hanging in the balance. They just want to put a face and personality to your writing sample, and assuming you hit it off, kickstart a relationship that may lead to a staffing job or development opportunity in the future.
Feels vague, right? It is. Generals are often compared to first dates. There’s a connection or spark before you meet up, but it’s all theoretical until you sit down over coffee or a drink, and see what happens in the moment. Remove the in-person energy of a first-time meeting, and it can feel even more intimidating. In my opinion, it’s impossible to recreate the feeling of an in-person general on Zoom. But there are things you can do to help you along.
Get Your Tech Together
Generals take place on Zoom, WebEx, Teams, and god knows what other platforms are out there. Do not — seriously, don’t — wait until it’s time to log on to click the link for the first time. If you do, you might find you need to create an account, or set up some kind of browser settings you weren’t expecting. And once any of those things come up, you’ll be running behind and enter the meeting with a frantic energy. Clicking the link in advance, even earlier that day, gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with the platform and overcome any tech hurdles.
Got testy Wi-Fi? Use a wired ethernet connection if at all possible. If not, try switching off the Wi-Fi on your cell phone, tablets, smart speakers while you’re in your general to help your bandwidth along.
Think about audio in advance, too. Where will you be taking your general? A coffee shop with noise in the background? (Not ideal, but it happens.) Get some quality headphones and be sure your Zoom is set up to input audio from them rather than the built-in microphone of your computer. If you know you’ll be somewhere quiet, use the built-in microphone and lose the headphones. Visually, headphones remind us that we’re not meeting in a normal way. If you can look natural while still being heard, that’s the best of both worlds. These little steps seem nitpicky, but poor audio is a knife in the heart of a potentially great virtual general. Think ahead.
Look the Part
When you meet in person for a general, you may be in an office building or a neutral location with its own ambiance. But in a virtual meeting, you aren’t just responsible for what to wear or how to comb your hair. Suddenly, you’re responsible for the whole mise-en-scène.
Think About Lighting
Again, tech ahead of time. When it comes to the visual elements, you need to be sure you can be seen well. You may not have a ring light, but you probably have a window. Don’t backlight yourself. Let some light shine directly onto your face, whether using a lamp or positioning yourself accordingly in your room so that your face can be clearly seen throughout the meeting.
Plan Your Background
Having your cat step in front of the camera or your dirty laundry sitting awkwardly in the background can be distracting. Find a clean background, but feel free to allow elements of your personality to shine through in a subtle way. A cool painting or plant in frame won’t hurt!
With all of those things to think about, you may find yourself tensing up as you think about your virtual general. But guess what? The person on the other side of the screen is dealing with all the same things. Over the course of maybe 25 virtual generals, I’ve seen execs get up to let a dog out, apologize for the sound of a crying child in the background, or just sit casually in their kitchen with a cup of coffee as we speak.
You don’t have to be ready for your closeup to have a great general. Most importantly, you just have to be yourself– the brilliant writer whose script made a producer stop and say to themselves, “I want to meet this person.” If something goes awry, make fun of it. Laugh about it. Brush it off. And know that while this is the first meeting, it’s just the beginning of a relationship that hopefully will serve both parties well into the future. You’ve got this.