The business community has been using video conferencing services for many years, and given our current pandemic situation, video calls have become even more widely adopted for professional and personal use. I don’t know about you, but watching local and national newscasters broadcast from their kitchens with poor lighting and hollow sound quality has been quite distracting!
You can avoid some of the blunders even celebrities make by using the following tips.
How to look like a pro on Zoom
Use quality equipment – Web camera, microphone, and computer.
• If your computer or laptop is less than three years old, it probably has a camera built in, and possibly a microphone too. However, the quality may be sub-par on one or both so you should test them and make sure you don’t sound like you’re in a dungeon or look like you’re in a hazy cloud.
• If you need to purchase a web camera, you can find plenty of options online. Logitech is a leader in this space and you really can’t go wrong with one of their cameras (under $50 for a decent model).
• Most web cams have built-in microphones, though you should test yours to make sure the quality is strong enough for your purposes. If you’re chatting with friends, it’s probably fine. If you’re recording an interview, you may want to upgrade.
• Investing in a separate microphone makes sense if you record podcasts, interviews, or other professional events of any kind. Audio-Technica and Blue Yeti make some of the most popular microphones for podcasters. If you go this route, you may also want to get an inexpensive pop filter. These microphones are extremely sensitive, and your listeners don’t want to hear you swallow or hear the lawn mower going outside.
If you use a phone for video events:
• You can use your smartphone or tablet in a pinch, especially if you have a newer phone with exceptional camera functionality (like the iPhone 11). But if you plan to do lots of video events, it may make sense to purchase an inexpensive web camera for your computer.
• If you do use your phone, turn it on its side (horizontal) so you can utilize the full screen.
• You may also need a higher quality microphone than whatever is built into your phone. This is why you see some people wearing ear buds on video interviews—so they can hear well and have a quality microphone at the same time. The iPhone cordless earbuds are ideal for this. You can also use corded earbuds, and I’ve seen a lot of news professionals doing this, but it doesn’t look great!
Use the right camera position.
• Many people look down at the camera, but this is not a flattering angle, and it doesn’t always look as professional as it could.
• Your camera should be at eye level or just slightly higher. As a bonus, looking straight ahead or slightly up is flattering and can make you look younger AND skinnier!
• If your web cam is built into your laptop, you may need to prop the whole computer up on a shelf or with books.
• If you have a separate web cam and it can’t easily be placed at eye level, you can purchase a simple tripod for your camera. There are all kinds of adjustable options for under $20. I use one that clamps to my desk and has a bendable arm for easy positioning.
Utilize good lighting. Trust me!
According to Michelle Pfeiffer, the key to looking great on camera is lighting. “The whole thing to looking great in films is your lighting. If they have the right light on you, it makes no difference what face creams you use because they can make bags under your eyes disappear and all the lines on your cheek go away.” Don’t believe me? Go stand in your yard and take a photo of yourself in the shade, another photo with the sun at your back, and another while you face the sun. You’ll see the difference!
Here are some additional ways to shine on camera:
• A window behind you will make your look like you’re in a shadow. Either close the curtains or better yet, change your position.
• Facing a window can cast natural light on you, which is often the best light. If you can angle your desk or seat to face the window, chances are you’ll look your best.
• If no natural light is available, you can simply point a desk lamp at your face or invest in an inexpensive studio light. (Search online for a “selfie ring light.”)
Create an appealing backdrop.
During video calls, I’ve seen unmade beds, kittens chasing each other across the room, kids running by, messy kitchens, and so much more. Ideally, your background should look pleasant without being distracting. A neutral picture on the wall can work well, and so can bookshelves.
If it’s not possible to use a proper background, Zoom has a built-in feature that allows you to use a digital background. You can look like you’re at the beach or in a stately library. You can also import your own photos and/or videos into Zoom to use as your background.
Prepare your technology.
Zoom and other video services require strong internet connections. If your kids or others play online games in your house, you may want to ask them to stop playing during your event. Also, be sure to close other apps on your computer or phone before joining a call.
Tools like Dropbox and email can slow down your internet speed and take up resources on your computer, which can cause all kinds of video performance issues. Just this morning, I watched a reporter interview a top physician about the pandemic, and his words were not in synch with the video. I would bet he had too many applications open on his home computer.
Also, if you haven’t rebooted your computer in a while, doing this prior to your event can help ensure you don’t have lots of extra processes running or anything that will interfere with your video event.
Watch your gestures.
Be mindful of your expression when you’re on camera. You might be listening to the host with deep concentration, but your resting face could make you look grumpy or mean, even if that’s not the case at all. You can always peek at your self-view to check your expression. And if you find the self-view distracting, you can also turn it off!
For most of us, myself included, being on camera can be awkward. It gets easier with time, so know you’re not alone if you feel this way. The goal should be to act and sound as natural as possible, so if needed, take a few deep breaths before you start. And remember to smile—but not so much that your eyes look like they might bug out of your head!
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