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Why Hiring a Ghostwriter is a Smart Move

As content remains king of the online world, companies are scrambling to come up with insightful content that establishes their executives as global thought leaders. This can be a seemingly impossible task for many companies. One solution is to hire freelance ghostwriters as a resource for developing strategic and informative content. In most organizations, there is a big push for blogs, whether they’re posted on your company’s website or on more widely read and prestigious sites like Forbes or Inc. Most PR managers would welcome the chance to pitch an article by a C-level executive to industry publications that discusses an inside track on the latest trends. When it comes time to create the content, the best of plans often come to a screeching halt. Let’s face it – executives either don’t have the time to sit down and write, or they are not able to effectively create this kind of content on their own. How a ghostwriter can help If you’ve never considered bringing in an outside resource like a ghostwriter before, here are several good strategic reasons why you should consider it. Ghostwriters make it easy and efficient for all. Ghostwriters can manage the process of blog or article writing from beginning to end. They will interview your executives on a quick 20-30 minute call and capture the content needed to establish a solid point of view (POV). Ghostwriters can also follow up directly with your content experts, gaining their approvals and making any necessary changes before delivering a final version. Ghostwriters are experts at capturing content owners’ voice. This is one of the most important reasons to bring a ghostwriter on board – although it might have been a show-stopper for you before now. The truth is that experienced ghostwriters have written hundreds of blogs and articles for high-level executives, so they know exactly how to capture the voice of content owners. During the input calls, a ghostwriter can pick up on the nuances that express an executive’s unique POV – and even more specifically, his or her passion. With these added touches, the content will sound like it came directly from the person’s whose byline is on the article – and not from some anonymous writer. Ghostwriters do the legwork. Most ghostwriters are also expert researchers, so they can fact-check or dig up supporting statistics and meaningful industry information that will enrich the content owner’s POV. They can add links to sources for extra search engine boosts, too. Ghostwriters pitch stories. Beyond finding data to support the ideas of content owners, ghostwriters also can do in-depth research on the latest market news, trends, and hot topics. They can then pitch stories to you and help you will fill gaps in your media calendar. Ghostwriters keep your media calendar full. Getting your executives and high-level managers out in front of the public should not be a one-time thing. Between your ideas and a ghostwriter’s research, you can develop a full year of frequently published content. Timely and continuous publishing of content can help increase your company’s brand as your content owners get more and more recognition in the industry. Ghostwriters add bandwidth to your resources. You may have a handful of writers on staff, but if they focus primarily on marketing collateral, then they may not have the right skills to do ghostwriting. After all, not all writers have great people skills and they simply may not be adept at interviewing – however, both of these are a critical part of ghostwriting. And even if they are comfortable in this arena, chances are that they’re too busy to take on the task of writing blogs or articles. Ghostwriters save you money. If your need for content is large enough, you could add an additional resource to your staff. But most marketing and PR managers find it’s more economical and just plain easier to have an outside resource fill this need, as you only need to call upon a ghostwriter when extra bandwidth is required. Ghostwriters save you time. Here is another efficiency savings: ghostwriters can typically expedite the content creation process because that’s what they do all day long. They have one focus and that is writing. Ghostwriters are well-respected resources. Typically, executives are thrilled to have a resource on hand that can help get their voice out there. And good ghostwriters can help you achieve all the benefits listed above. You can rest assured that a skilled ghostwriter will be an addition to your team that you can trust and rely on! Are you convinced yet? If not, test the waters with one project and one ghostwriter and see how it goes. Ask for a confidential sampling of previous ghostwriting blogs or articles to see if they’re a good fit. Once you engage a ghostwriter, our guess is you’ll find that you get the content you want faster and more effectively than any of your other options.

Six Steps to a Compelling Case Study

Case studies are great sales tools because they are written through the eyes and in the voice of the customer. This adds significant credibility in a sales cycle when sales people need a strong differentiator to sway a prospect in their favor. I personally love to write case studies because I enjoy interviewing people and capturing the essence of their story. I have a knack for getting substantial details on the personal and professional success that the people I interview achieve with my clients’ solutions. It’s these details that add flavor to my case studies and make them an exceptionally good read. Here are the six steps I follow when I create my case studies – hopefully they will be useful to you too. Learn all you can about the customer you are interviewing. Whenever possible, the first thing I do when assigned a case study is to quiz the people that were or are actively responsible for the customer relationship. Whether sales people or the folks that installed a product, these are the people that can provide me with a comprehensive background on the customer and the overall engagement. They can guide me towards the topics I should delve into and explore – or clue me in on any hot spots to avoid. This helps set the stage for an intelligent conversation with the customer and makes the best use of the 20-30 minute conversation we’ll be having. Prepare a comprehensive list of questions. I have a standard set of interview questions, which I customize for each call. The questions range from finding out how the customer first got interested in my client’s company to asking them to describe the implementation, and of course, the benefits of the implementation. While I may not get to all my questions, they are there to keep the conversation (and me) on track. And here’s a little tip for dealing with hard-to-interview folks — the ones that are naturally guarded or quiet. When they answer with a simple yes or no, I typically respond with questions such as “Tell me more about that” or “Can you explain that?” It’s surprising how much these types of questions can get people to open up and share more of the story. Get the facts. During the interview, the key thing is to get the facts, of course. This builds the foundation of a successful story – and the more hard-core facts, the better. The most effective details are quantifiable results, such as costs savings, productivity increases, revenue generated and the like – in actual numbers or percentages. When one customer says that he saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, another customer is going to listen! A lot of people are hesitant to share exact numbers, but I usually can get them to comment to some sort of percentage or best-guess estimate of savings, even if it’s man hours or a softer measurement than dollars. Add humanness. Here’s one of the things that really adds value to my case studies. To elicit some great quotes, I end our discussion with a series of opinion-related questions, such as “What did you think of the implementation?” People often share with me the good – and then the bad and the ugly (especially if my client is not on the phone). Besides the good info that is quotable, the not-so-good information is often helpful because there may be some angst on the part of the customer that my client doesn’t know about. I also ask the customers a few final questions – such as “How would you describe this solution to your peers?” and “Would you recommend this solution to them?” These questions cause the customers to pause and then share what they really think about the whole engagement – and these comments are typically golden nugget quotes. Don’t be afraid to clarify. This is true especially for freelancers like me. I learned a long time ago that it’s much easier to feel humble and admit that I don’t understand something, than to use incorrect facts and get the story wrong. Every customer I’ve interviewed has been very kind and gracious – they understand that their expertise is not mine. They are always willing to explain things and clarify what we’re discussing, even when the situation is very technical. Finish up with “What’s next?” This is an excellent way to end the story – and it is also helpful for my clients because they get a glimpse into what else the customer might be interested. When added into a case study, it’s another indication that the customer is happy with my client’s product and there is a growth path in the future. Case studies can be fun and engaging – and excellent sales tools. I hope these tips help your company produce some great ones!

Six Common Phrases We Get Wrong

So, you’re at an office party telling this great story to a group of your colleagues, when suddenly, you notice that the editorial-type in the group is looking at you intently and seems to have developed a strange eye twitch. Did you say something wrong? Did you double your negative or dangle your participle? Or worse, could you have used a common phrase, or idiom, incorrectly? Chances are, that’s the thing that would drive the editor bonkers, while most of the other people in the group could care less, er… rather, couldn’t care less. It’s unlikely even those who do care would correct you on these minor conversational slip-ups, unless they’re close friends or family members, and editorial types know that even that’s asking for trouble. So just to keep you all on good terms (so to speak) and confident about what you’re saying and writing, here are six commonly misused idiomatic phrases, along with the correct way to say them. A complete 360 Correct phrase: A complete 180 If you’ve been using “a complete 360” to indicate a change in perspective, try this little exercise: From a standing position, turn all the way around until you’re back at your starting point — a 360-degree turn. What do you see? Probably the same thing you saw when you started. Now turn just halfway around so you’re facing the opposite direction — a 180-degree turn. What do you see now? Something completely different. When you change your mind and end up with an entirely different perspective, that’s a complete 180. Chomping at the bit Correct phrase: Champing at the bit This phrase, used when people can’t wait to get started, comes from horse racing. The “bit” in this case is a horse bit, the metal piece of a bridal that goes into the horse’s mouth. Equestrians will tell you that when horses are eager to get moving, they tend to roll their bits around in the back of their mouths and gnaw on them a little —or “champ at the bit”. They’re really not chomping on it, as you would chomp on an apple. While some grammarians have started to accept the more commonly used “chomping at the bit” as interchangeable with the original phrase, true editorial purists and horse lovers are not going to let that one fly. Hone in on Correct phrase: Home in on Hone means to sharpen something, as with a knife. While it’s perfectly OK to “hone” — meaning refine or perfect — your marketing message, it’s not OK to “hone in on” it. When you’re trying to zero in on a particular idea or strategy, or the perfect wording, your actions are similar to those of a homing pigeon trying to fly home or to another targeted location, which is why the phrase is “home in on.” I could care less Correct phrase: I couldn’t care less All you really need to do to understand this one is to just say “I could care less,” then stop and really think about what you just said. Generally, you would utter this phrase to indicate that you don’t care, but if you could care less, you do care, even if just a little. If you “couldn’t care less,” you don’t care at all. Nip it in the butt Correct Phrase: Nip it in the bud This phrase essentially means putting an end to an undesirable situation before it gets out of hand. So if you’re thinking about stopping a burglar by siccing your dog on him, “nip it in the butt” might make a tiny bit of sense, but it’s still wrong. The correct phrase, “nip it in the bud,” refers to cutting off the bud of a flower so it doesn’t have a chance to grow. Metaphorically, it means preventing a little problem from growing into a bigger one. You have another thing coming Correct Phrase: You have another think coming Using this phrase with “thing” implies that, if you have a particular view or take a certain action, something you didn’t expect will happen. In actuality, the original phrase, “You have another think coming,” is simply meant to say, “If you know what’s good for you, pal, you’d better think again.” Once you have these correct phrases down, keep in mind that there is debate among grammarians on whether some of the misused phrases are actually right or wrong. Some believe that, because a phrase is more commonly said a certain way (e.g. “chomping at the bit”; “you have another thing coming”), the more widely used version has become correct. Other editorial types find that line of thinking fraught with peril, as it changes the meaning (e.g. “I could care less”). Your best bet is to stick with the original and true version of the phrase when your grammar matters, such as when you’re trying to impress a well-read job interviewer or write the perfect report or simply prevent your eye-twitching colleague from going into convulsions. A simple, correctly-uttered idiomatic phrase is enough to turn that twitch into a well-earned smile of editorial respect.

Three Ways to Improve Your PowerPoint

Sometimes, presenters overload slides with too much text. They forget about the built-in visual features that PowerPoint offers to improve design and flow. While both content and design need to capture and keep your audience’s attention, we’d like to highlight a few of PowerPoint’s great visual design features. Used the right way, these visuals can support your message by creating associations between what your audience hears and what they see. Builds, animations, and morph transitions are our top picks for both effectiveness and entertainment value. And remember, they can make your message even more memorable! Builds A build slide appears to build upon itself. Instead of showing the slide’s information all at once, build slides show information progressively, often bullet by bullet, as the presentation proceeds. Using a build instead of one slide with all the information lets you control the pace of the presentation. Builds allow your audience members to focus on the current point by preventing them from reading ahead. Using animations and effects to design the build gives you timing options and choices about how to introduce information. Bullet points can fly or fade in from the right, left, top, or bottom. You can trigger each new point with a mouse click. You can also choose to dim previous points on the slide as new points appear—just another way to keep your audience focused. Animations Animations are a fun and effective way to make presentations more dynamic by engaging your audience and building momentum towards specific points. The most common animation effects are entrance and exit transitions. You can also add sound to increase the intensity of animation effects. Any type of content can be animated with a number of effects like “appear,” “fade,” “fly in,” “spin,” or “swivel.” Combining animations adds more complexity but also more emphasis on the points or topic you’re presenting. And it doesn’t stop there either. There are options that extend how the animation works. For example, you can coordinate your rate of speech with the appearance of the content on the slide by using Trigger, Duration, or Delay—or by using a recorded voice-over. The Morph Transition The morph makes objects, such as text, shapes, pictures, SmartArt, WordArt, and charts appear animated as they fade in and out of the frame. Slides must have one or more objects in common for this to work, but it provides a new complex look as you transition your slides. To set up a morph transition, all the objects are created on the first slide. Then, duplicate the slide as many times as you want the slides to change. On each subsequent slide, you can delete, rearrange, or move the objects around, so that they appear to dance around the screen from one slide to the next. Note to the over-ambitious: As with “text heavy” slides which bog down and bore audiences, the same overuse principal applies to visual elements. Don’t include so many moving parts that your audience members feel as though they’re watching a 3D action movie because they can miss your message. Your audience is taking in both what they hear and what they see, so make it easy for them to remember your presentation.

Get The Most Out of Infographics – 3 Ways to Leverage Data Visualizations

You’ve spent time and energy creating awesome infographics. Now, how can you harness all that effort to maximize your brand exposure? Let’s explore three ways you can repurpose those data visualizations on other channels to connect with an even larger audience. To stretch your marketing dollars, we’ll focus on distribution on company-owned media as opposed to paid or earned. Owned media is media controlled by your brand such as your website, Twitter account, YouTube channel, blog… you get the idea. It’s through these channels that you can start or extend the conversation. So, here are just a few ways to leverage your infographic design: Create Social Cards or Memes Deconstruct sections of your infographic to create social cards or memes. These are typically images, nuggets of text or more often both combined and shared across social media platforms with the potential to go viral. Twitter has four types of social cards to choose from based on your content. Twitter social cards allow you to go beyond the 280-character limit of the platform and attach media experiences—including video—to Tweets. In a text-heavy stream your Tweets will stand out. Construct a PowerPoint Presentation or eBook Organize your infographic into a PowerPoint presentation or eBook. Remember you already have the content and design elements, so you should be able to do this without much heavy lifting. If your infographic contains numerous sections, you probably have the page break-out too. It’s now a matter of reformatting these components to accommodate a different size. If necessary, prudently add in additional supporting content. To distribute, consider uploading your PowerPoint to SlideShare. Previously owned by LinkedIn and currently owned by Scribd, SlideShare, is a massively popular slide-hosting network with over 60 million users, there is both a free account option and a paid pro account option. Additionally, eBooks can be formatted as interactive PDFs. You now have another marketing tool that can be given to potential prospects signing up for your blog, attending a company webinar, or as part of an overall marketing campaign. Animate a Video Animated videos are in high demand these days and extremely captivating. The production process is a little more involved but needn’t be complicated. To begin you’ll want to write a short script based on your content. You can hire an animation professional or even use basic business tools like PowerPoint or Keynote—along with a desktop screen-recording tool—to create your animation. To distribute, take advantage of the massive popularity of YouTube. Believe it or not, branded YouTube channels are free. Remember to cross-promote on your website, blog and social media. To sum up, take advantage of this digital age. Look at something and think what else it might become. As in life, experiment and observe what works best…then refine the next go around.

Top Promotional Giveaways for 2021

It’s the start of a new year and that means it’s time to share our top picks for promotional giveaways! Along with great value, we look for high-quality and re-usability. Now that all our meetings are done over Zoom, we thought it would be fun to highlight products that can liven up the atmosphere and share team spirit. Check out our top picks for 2021! Branded Chocolate Bars What do we like about this giveaway? Everything! It’s chocolate, c’mon! Besides the delicious taste, it’s custom-molded with our logo and our custom-designed wrapper. Chocolate is good any time of year, so whether you’re promoting a campaign or gifting clients, you’re sure to find some occasion to send out these yummy treats! Cork-Bottom Ceramic Mug Toast your team mates each morning with this snazzy cork-bottom ceramic mug. We love everything about it!. The cork bottom not only acts as a coaster, but it’s quiet on hard surfaces—so important during Zoom meetings when the mic seems to pick up every sound T-shirts Here’s a fun way to promote T-shirt Tuesday! T-shirts continue to be popular giveaway items and this one has been a crowd favorite around here for years. Buttery soft and durable, somehow they get softer with every wash. Private Eye Lens Cover This Private Eye Lens Cover has been our most requested giveaway for the last couple of years and 2021 is proving it’s still popular. It adheres firmly over you’re the camera lens on your desktop or laptop computer and slides open or closed easily. With many on our team working side-by-side at home with family members, it was hard keeping these little devices a secret and now they’re on every computer in the household! Mini Cutting Board Truth be told, several of us have more than one of these handy little slim-profile cutting boards. We use them for snack- and lunch-time prep—fruits, veggies and cheeses are our favorites. Use them in the kitchen or at your desk. Bonus points for eco-friendly materials! Need more tried and true ideas? Check out our Giveaways page

By ETMG Social Media Team

5 Tips for Powerful Presentations

So you’ve just been asked to whip together a PowerPoint presentation to keep your colleagues up to date on your latest product line. Do you: a. Cram each slide with as much information as you can fit on it because you don’t want to leave anything out? b. Make sure the words on the slides are exactly the words you plan to say? c. Keep your slide text brief, and use it only to highlight key points of your presentation? If you said “c,” you’re off to a great start. If you said “a” or “b,” or worse, are guilty of “a” or “b,” we have to talk. The problem with “a” and “b” boils down to this: People can’t read and listen at the same time. So if you plan to put more than a few words on a slide, you’ll need to choose whether you want people to read the slide or listen to you. Unfortunately, you can’t have both. Here are a few additional tips to help you create PowerPoint presentations that pack a punch. Blessed are the brief You know that look, the one where an audience’s eyes glaze over as a presenter displays a wall of text and reads every word. Perhaps there’s a lot to cover, but there’s a better way to do it than by bombarding your viewers with information. To make your presentation more impactful, start with length. A good guideline for determining how long (and dense) your presentation should be is the 10-20-30 rule, which originates from tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki. He says your PowerPoint should: Contain no more than 10 slides Last no more than 20 minutes Use no less than 30-point type That last guideline is designed to help you gauge how much text should go on each slide, but that actually allows for quite a bit of text. Consider breaking it up with subheads, appropriate images or videos, and white space. The 10-20-30 rule has been around for a while, but it still holds up, helping people create better, more effective presentations. Use images wisely Charts and graphs should be easy to understand and quickly illustrate the point of your speech. You don’t want your audience sitting there with knitted brows trying to figure out what those shapes and numbers mean. Photos and videos need to make an impact and evoke an emotional response, or at least interest, if you want your presentation to be compelling. Appropriate photos and art can also help break up text and support your information. (Be sure to lose the random, irrelevant stock photos and clip art.) Adding videos and animations can give your audience a break from reading and make your presentation more engaging. It’s well worth your time to learn how to insert them. You’ll find plenty of tutorials online. Tell stories Just as you would with copywriting, use stories to capture the attention of your audience and bring your point home. For instance, break up the facts and figures of your presentation by creating customer personas. Tell tales that show what their lives are like, what kinds of related problems they’re facing, and how your product helps them. With good stories, your audience will better understand and remember your presentation. Create a handout When you’re delivering a presentation, certain people will want to write down every word. If they do so, they won’t really be listening to you and grasping the main ideas you’re trying to convey. To solve this problem, tell your audience right off the bat that they don’t have to take notes because you’ll have a handout with the main points to give them after the presentation. (Don’t plan on giving it to people before or during the presentation because they’ll want to sit there reading it and, again, won’t be listening to you.) Many presenters just send the PowerPoint deck to everyone after the meeting, but often these presenters don’t include speaker notes, at least not for all the slides. This may leave the PowerPoint recipients trying to fill in gaps, either by remembering what you said or figuring out what you meant by the limited content on your slides. Instead, it shouldn’t take that long to summarize your key points on a one-page Word doc or PDF that your audience can easily reference. If you’re able, give the handout a nice layout with images to make it more readable and improve audience recall. Present! Remember: You are the presenter. So present! That doesn’t mean looking up at your presentation on the screen and reading every word of your slides or bombarding your audience with less-than-interesting data. Rather, you’ll want to make eye contact with people and have an actual conversation where you tell them something that’s not on your slides. Give them plenty of opportunities to ask questions and interact with you and other participants. By the end of your presentation, your audience won’t just leave with a solid understanding of your material; they may also have a more enjoyable experience. And the next time you send them a meeting invitation, they won’t be rolling their eyes in anticipation of “another boring PowerPoint presentation.” Instead, they’ll be eager to find out what you have to say and how you plan to say it. By Julie Vallone, ETMG Blogger

Marketing Sensitivity in the Age of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 virus continues to bring unprecedented changes to our world, your business has probably experienced some big changes as well, from telecommuting employees to shifts in how you operate. While attempting to navigate these changes, and the best way to respond to them, one thing is sure: for most companies, it’s no time for business as usual. One of the biggest challenges businesses face is determining how to market to customers during this difficult time. Some companies have already hammered out a plan for approaching them. Others are still trying to figure it out. To help you assess your own situation and forge an appropriate path, we’ve gathered some lessons from companies who have already come up with a strategy, along with data-based best practices for showing sensitivity to the current situation in your marketing. Don’t lie low While you may be tempted to keep quiet until the business climate becomes a little more certain and less confusing, that’s not what your customers want. It turns out that they actually would like to hear from you. In fact, in a recent Advertising Age study, 43% of respondents said they found it reassuring to hear from brands during this time. A GlobalWeb Index survey supported this conclusion, with 38% of respondents agreeing that brands should continue to advertise amidst COVID-19. (Of the other respondents, 28% disagreed and 35% neither agreed nor disagreed.) Bottom line: let your customers know that you’re still out there and ready to help. Be nimble Are you ready to launch a traditional marketing campaign, developed before the coronavirus turned the world upside down? Well, it may be time to shelve it instead, at least temporarily, until life for your consumers gets back to normal or closer to normal once virus numbers finally begin to decline. Instead, use the time to learn how the virus is affecting your consumers and adjust your strategy accordingly. Reassess your goals and priorities. Almost half of marketers surveyed by GlobalWebIndex have decided to change their priorities during the pandemic. Only 6% are going ahead with business as usual. Avoid making assumptions You know what they say about assumptions. (If you don’t, you can Google it.) In any case, because everything about marketing during the pandemic is new, it’s no time to be assuming things. In this changing business climate, it’s more important than ever to rely on new data and insights regarding your customers, prospects, and others connected to your business. How are your customers feeling these days? (Depressed? Stressed? Happy? Relaxed?) What are their financial challenges? Are they buying goods and services now or holding off on them until later? What are their expectations for the companies they patronize? It’s well worth your time and money to do the research and adjust your marketing to reflect what you find. Be sensitive to financial pressures In April of this year, the unemployment rate soared to 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression. While many of these job losses may be temporary, a significant number of those now without jobs are having money problems. Even those who aren’t, appear to be conserving their dollars in the wake of economic uncertainty. For example, according to a Scorpion survey, many consumers are holding off on large purchases and are planning to save during the upcoming months. It’s important to take this uncertainty and these financial issues into consideration when determining your marketing strategy. Perhaps it’s time to think about offering special promotions or flexible pricing to help customers weather the financial climate. For instance, for a small startup fee, some enterprise software companies have created promotional offers that give prospects almost unlimited use of their products for three months. The strategy has helped the companies gain market share while remaining sensitive to customers cash-flow problems and building customer loyalty. Use your power for good When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s an appropriate mantra for all the tech companies that have seen the problems brought about by COVID-19 and worked to find solutions. Here are some examples: Rideshare services Lyft and Uber are delivering food and medical supplies for frontline workers, seniors, and others in need throughout the world. Apple has donated 10 million masks to the medical community and $15 million towards the global COVID-19 response. It’s also continuing to pay all its hourly workers, even though they can’t go to work. Honeywell has partnered with the U.S. government and is expanding its operations to produce N95 masks. According to the Smithfield, Rhode Island company, the expansion will create 500 more jobs in the area. Verizon Media has offered new tools to help developers and data teams better organize, understand, and present publicly available COVID-19 data. Cisco has created programs to help healthcare operations quickly procure free networking equipment. Google is working with the U.S. government to create a website for COVID-19 education and resources. The company is also removing misinformation from its sources. These are just a few of the companies that have looked at the pandemic problems impacting their communities and the world and risen to the occasion to help out. Their actions will not only create goodwill with the community and loyalty from their customers, but they are also likely to make partners, vendors, and others feel good about working with these businesses. What can you do to help your customers and communities during this time? If you can’t think of anything, ask colleagues and employees to weigh in with their ideas. Even some of the smallest actions are likely to be remembered and appreciated. Just keep in mind that, in the worst of times, it pays to be at your best. By Julie Vallone, ETMG Blogger

Five Tips to Make You a Videoconferencing Star

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