8 tips for looking good on video conference calls

Make sure your sound and lighting don’t ruin your presentation. Don’t forget to check your background, too.

video-conference-tips

The coronavirus pandemic has made video conferencing essential. If you’re not careful, though, your colleagues and clients will focus more on how you look than what you say.

We’ve got 8 tips from Ken Barber, a former cameraman with ABC affiliates who has been part of Mower’s media training team for almost 30 years. He knows where to sit, what to wear, how to light the room—and how to avoid the dreaded “nostril shot.”

Ken’s biggest suggestion: practice before your web meeting. Whether you’re granting reporters an interview, pitching clients or talking internally, you should first put your phone on selfie mode and place it next to your computer.

If you don’t like the results, here’s what Ken recommends:

1. Check your sound. Wear a headset or sit close to the mic. Headsets minimize background noise, such as barking dogs and noisy kids.

2. Choose the best lighting. Use a small table lamp with a shade and either an old-school incandescent bulb or an LED light with a lower color temperature (look for bulbs 3000k or lower). You can slide it as close or as far as you need, but this will cast a warmer, soft light that overpowers the light from the computer screen. Make it look like there’s natural light, as if you’re outside and the sun is shining at a 45-degree angle.

Avoid bright windows behind you that show only a silhouette, overhead lights that give you shadows under your eyes, and CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs that cast you in a shade of blue. If necessary, dim the overhead lights or unscrew some bulbs.

Also, keep your laptop at eye level. If there’s any light shining upward, it’ll look like you’re telling ghost stories around a campfire with a flashlight pointing up at your chin.

3. Frame yourself properly. Sit at a distance from the screen where people see your head, shoulders and to the midpoint of your chest.

4. Pick the right background. Sit in front of a monotonous, one-color wall—preferably beige—and nothing with a busy pattern that could be distracting.

If you have to sit in front of something, be far enough away from a bookcase, diploma or picture over your shoulders so people don’t squint their eyes, trying to see what type of books you read, where you went to college or the artwork you find exquisite.

If you really feel brave, position yourself in front of an end table with a vase and a lamp. It’s risky, but it’s the kind of ambiance the crews at “60 Minutes” often create.

5. Sit the right way. Sit on either a stationary stool that forces you to focus on posture or a sturdy chair with four legs. Keep both feet firmly on the floor, because crossing your legs will make you shuffle.

If you’re sitting on a couch, you’ll likely slump, and if you’re in an office chair, you’ll might recline or swivel.

6. Wear the right clothes. You’ll want to discard the sweatpants or pajamas that many people wear these days, but don’t make it a fashion show. Leave the shiny, bright colors and the houndstooth coat in your closet. These items are too distracting and too detailed. Same thing goes for the stark white shirt that blends with the light from your computer. Wear business casual clothes with pastel-colored shirts.

7. Keep your eyes on the camera. It might be tempting to glance to the side and see how you look. Don’t. That’s distracting. If it helps, put a bobblehead doll behind the camera or maybe a picture of someone. Staring at the background objects will give the impression of eye contact with your audience.

This works even if people see a screen that shows both your face and your presentation. Look at the camera when speaking and, when necessary, quickly move your mouse or hit the keypad to advance the PowerPoint.

8. Avoid the nostril shot. Place your laptop or monitor on books or a table so the camera is level with your face. If your laptop is too low, you’ll have to look down at the camera, and folks in the meeting don’t want awkward views of your nostrils.

You can practice with colleagues before the meeting starts—or if you really want candid feedback, ask your teenagers who are also staying home.

Pete Smolowitz  leads the media training team at Mower. Contact him at psmolowitz@mower.com. A version of this article originally ran on the Mower blog.

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