How to be at your best during the Zoom Boom!
With the pandemic, lockdown, civil unrest and such, we seem to be living in a Zoom nation. Many of us are working from home and using Zoom or some other online platform to communicate with the outside world. We’re now socializing online, as well, with Zoom Happy Hours being a common occurrence these days. Since this is how a lot of us are interfacing with everyone who isn’t a co-isolator (if that’s a word), we need to present our best selves in the best possible light (pun intended). Lighting is just one of the tips I have for you listed below. Let me just say at the outset to always remember to unmute yourself before speaking. I’m convinced that when they come up with the “phrase of the year” for 2020, it will be “You’re on mute!” I know someone who thinks that should be the new drinking game. Every time someone says, “You’re on mute!” the group would have to take a drink. Unfortunately, given everyone’s Zoom schedule these days, we’d all be smashed by noon.
Tip #1 – Get a Good Webcam
I use a Dell PC for my Zoom calls and, for years, I used a little Rocketfish webcam that I bought for around $30.00. It worked fine. I liked it because the picture was always a little out of focus and at my age that can be plus. With the world moving online, however, I thought it was time to upgrade not only my webcam but my entire online presence.
The first thing I discovered was that I wasn’t the only one upgrading. Keep in mind, it may take some time for whatever you order to be delivered and you may have to pay more than the suggested retail price. There are a lot of webcams to choose from and I recommend you do a little research to find the one that will meet your needs and price range. You may want to check out a few tech review sites such as Review Geek
The name that kept popping up for me was Logitech and I ended up getting the C920s Pro HD Webcam which is currently unavailable according to Amazon. I ordered in the middle of March at the beginning of the lockdown and, evidently, the beginning of panic buying of webcams. I paid around $175.00 and it took 3 weeks to arrive but it delivers a great picture, wrinkles and all. It also has extensive customizable settings such as zoom, frame rate and screen effects features. I’ve had people who are looking to upgrade ask me what camera I’m using so I guess that’s an indication I made the right choice. Once you’ve found your perfect camera, don’t forget you can always “touch up your appearance” in the Zoom video settings to take care of those age lines.
Tip #2 Look Them in the Eye
Most people recommend that you set your camera at eye level. If it’s too low, you get the famous “up the nostril shot” which can be less than flattering. If the camera is placed overhead, it looks like you’re addressing a security camera. Experiment with this but eye-level seems to be the best. If you are using a laptop, stack books to bring it up so you’re looking at the world eye to eye. And, when it’s your turn to talk, look through the lens to a point just beyond which will allow you to establish eye contact with the audience. Remember, just like when you are in an in-person setting, speak to one person. Audience members listen one at a time so speak to the audience one at a time. Pick out one person and speak directly to them and let everyone else eavesdrop.
Tip #3 – Light Up Your Life
Experts recommend that you light yourself from the front which will cast light on your face making it the most important image on the screen which, I think you’ll agree, it should be. You’ll encounter a lot of people in your online meetings that want to highlight the beautiful bright view from their balcony and use it as their background which, unfortunately, means they appear as a silhouette, a sort of grainy mystery person who could potentially Zoom bomb the proceedings. There are all kinds of videos online featuring very well-lit hosts showing you how to light yourself with readily available lights you’ll find around the house. I use a desk lamp, a floor lamp and some overhead lighting as you can see below, and it works pretty well. I’m tempted to go a little deeper and pick up some LED lights and lightboxes to diffuse. Let me warn you that this online video thing can be a real rabbit hole and you may find yourself spending money you don’t have on that next piece of gear that will definitely upgrade your online presence.
Tip #4 – Create a Pleasing Background
Your face won’t be the only thing on the screen. There will be something behind you and you need to pay attention to it. In a nutshell, it should be something fairly non-descript and not anything that would distract attention from you. Now that the nation, including news anchors, talk show hosts, musicians, etc. are all stuck at home, we’ve seen the evolution of backgrounds play out in real-time. We now have a chance to check out Ellen’s living room, Trevor Noah’s study and what awards and degrees people have strategically placed in their background. This is becoming very important, a real thing. There is even a Twitter page that critiques the backgrounds of the people we see on TV and online called, Room Rater. Check it out and ask yourself, “What would they say about my room?”
Then, there are those people who forego their actual surroundings and go virtual. This brings up one of the big questions of the day,
“Should I use a virtual background or go au naturel?”
I went virtual because it looked like fun and, I must admit, got a little carried away. I installed a complete green screen in my office which is hung from my ceiling. This serves as a virtual curtain that I can pull to the side when I’m not virtually somewhere else.
With the green screen and virtual backgrounds, I can be in my LA high tech office, my basic brick wall ala The Bitter End in New York, my Malibu beach place or any number of other fake backgrounds I now have stored in my Zoom file. Does the fake background detract from my credibility? I don’t think so but it would make for an interesting study by some up and coming psychologist looking for a topic for a research paper. It could be titled – The Effect of Virtual Backgrounds on Online Presence. My brother, who is in sales, now does all of his pitches online and he swears the right virtual background can set the proper tone for a presentation. I’m inclined to agree. Experiment and see what you think.
Tip #5 – Dress for Success
This is tricky because you want to look sharp but not over-dressed. You obviously don’t hang around the house in formal wear but you don’t want to show up in pajamas (on top anyway) even if that is how you hang around the house. Remember, this is how the world sees you, now. This is your image. And, it’s different for men and women. For women check out sites like Wardrobe Oxygen for advice on necklines, fabric, colors, prints, etc. For men, it’s a little simpler. Sites such as GQ can point you in the right direction and fill you in on things like Zoom Casual. Who knew? As with everything in this new realm, see what others are doing on your calls and experiment to see what works best for you.
And, a Bonus Tip – Look Like You Want to be There!
In order to make a good impression, you need to look like you are interested and engaged in what’s going on, not like you’re being held hostage. Your body language should be open and friendly even though it’s your third Zoom meeting of the day. Just as in a pre-COVID, face to face encounter, avoid crossing your arms, your eyes or anything else that would send negative non-verbal signals. Which person below would you like to do business with? Enough said.
There you have it. 5 tips and a bonus that will help you look great in your next Zoom meeting. Eventually, they’ll discover a vaccine or cure for COVID 19 but until that time, we’ll be socially distanced and doing most of our communicating over the internet so learn to do it well. Even when we do get back together, face to face in the same room, online communicating will remain a big part of our lives. It’s another way to win at public speaking.