If you’re like many workers these days, you’re telecommuting from home, and communicating via video conference, due to Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders. Some people, especially those who were videoconferencing frequently long before recent events, make this look easy. They always seem to look great on camera, manage to find the perfect, interruption-free spots in their homes, and exude competence and professionalism throughout every meeting.
Then there are those of us who may be a tad less videoconference savvy, and are trying to make it work in spite of problems like lousy lighting, unflattering camera angles, the kids yelling inside or lawnmower outside, and distracting things happening in the video background, like a cat throwing up a hairball. (Yep; that happened.)
If you’re among the latter group, here’s the good news: It’s fairly easy to turn yourself from a remote meeting rookie to a videoconferencing superstar. All it takes is a little time, attention, and experimentation. Here are few tips to get you started.
Check the lighting
Expect your lighting environment to dramatically impact the way you appear. For instance, if you’re sitting right in front a big window in bright sunlight, you might look a tad washed out; maybe even ghostly. If the window is to one side, only half of your face will be lit, which may look a little odd to your colleagues. A room with florescent lights in the ceiling should light you up just fine, but those lights may also expose every itty-bitty facial flaw. That can be particularly alarming if you have a high-quality camera with crystal clear video. Yikes!
Your best bet is soft, natural lighting, which tends to flatter most people. For example, if you have a room with a few windows, you can project a nice image if you’re not sitting too close to them. If you find your face is still a little dark, consider putting a lamp – yes, a regular old lamp with a shade and everything, behind your computer. Some people even set up a ring light, which photographers often use for portraits and beauty shots to get rid of those unflattering shadows.
Find the right angle
There’s a reason why many people who take selfies hold their phones above their heads when they look into the camera. It’s because doing the opposite—taking that photo from a low angle, can make you look bad, really bad. Expect to see downcast eyes, double chins and neck wrinkles you didn’t even know were there (and that may not even be there). This is especially true for the over-40 crowd. Looking down at your laptop can have a less dramatic, but still unflattering effect. So why not change that angle so you can look better?
You’re going to want your computer camera to be just above eye level, or maybe even a little higher so you’re looking up into the screen. If you don’t need to use the keyboard, you can do this by putting the computer or laptop up on a box or a laundry basket and tilting the screen down toward you. If you do need to use the keyboard, an adjustable standing desk with a lower keyboard panel can work, although those can be pricey. An inexpensive wired or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse can also solve the problem. If you use a wired version, just make sure the cord is long enough.
Beware of background distractions
If you’re in a business meeting, set the camera up in a place where your video background isn’t too messy or busy. If the busy part is not possible (for lighting or other reasons), ask family members to avoid walking or doing other stuff behind you. A Sacramento TV reporter learned this the hard way when she Zoomed-in from her bathroom to show her viewers how to give themselves haircuts, and viewers could clearly see her husband taking a shower in the background. All of him.
Know how your software works
With some video meeting software, you can upload backgrounds so people can’t see the mess behind you, your kids doing a jig in the background, or anyone walking around in their underwear. But especially if you use one of your own pictures, make sure there’s nothing embarrassing in the photo.
If you want to use filters like the kind that give you puppy ears or stretch your face in funny ways, be sure they’re appropriate for your workplace. One department head knew they weren’t right for hers, but had downloaded a special filter for a virtual happy hour with friends, When it came time for her meeting, she inadvertently showed up as a potato, and couldn’t figure out how to turn the setting off. So she did the meeting as a potato.
Also, be aware that, if you’re showing your video and your face is not on the screen, everyone can see still you. Actress Tiffany Haddish learned this the hard way when she continued her meeting while standing up in phone mid-conversation, and walking right into the bathroom.
Keep your pants on
Or your skirt. Or whatever else you might feel comfortable wearing from the waist down in your office setting. It not only matters what you wear that’s visible on screen but also what you think is not visible. Reporter Will Reeve, son of the late Christopher Reeve of Superman fame, made a super slip-up. While he was smartly dressed in a blazer and tie from the waist up, he didn’t realize the camera angle showed he was wearing short shorts from the waist down. At least Reeve was wearing something. Others have been caught in video meetings wearing nothing at all.
While these five tips aim to help you project a professional appearance and good judgment during your videoconferencing sessions, don’t worry too much if you mess up and end up showing more than you intended. We’re all human, and your mishap is likely to do no more than give people a chuckle at a time when we all could use a good laugh. By Julie Vallone, ETMG Blogger