We’re about 11 months into widespread video-conferencing at this point. While we’re all increasingly comfortable with talking to our devices (and not wearing shoes to work), many of us could use some Zoom video tips. I’m not calling anyone out specifically – you know who you are.
I’m not recommending that you go out and buy a ton of gear worthy of your own Youtube channel. There may be some tools you need but most of the work is in preparation.
Step One: Lighting
How you set your lighting determines a lot of how and where you’ll sit so let’s start there. The best kind of light for your calls will be natural light, directly in front of you. Sure, you can buy light rings and all other sorts of effects but sunlight is still the best.
If you’re like many of us that still go into an office and work under unforgiving fluorescent light and not enough light from the windows, some artificial light can help. Just make sure that it’s a warm light (here’s an example). Pure white LED lights can make you look like the walking dead.
As the supermodel above demonstrates, the most dominant light should come from in front of you.
With a good amount of natural light in front of you, work to reduce the amount of light behind you or overhead. You don’t want the space behind you to be totally dark – that would be creepy – but reduce the sources of light that compete with the light in front. For example, don’t sit with a window behind you. We’ll get into the specifics of the background shortly.
Step Two: Camera Position
I think I can speak for most of us when I say that I don’t want anyone looking up my nose. In most cases, your laptop’s camera will not be high enough on its own to be flattering.
As with selfies, having your camera at eye level or slightly higher is best. Use a stack of books to lift your camera to the desired position. If you don’t have a stack of books, you can use a laptop stand but you should also give some serious thought as to why you don’t have books.
Also, practice keeping your focus on your camera instead of your screen during your call, unless you’re presenting slides or something that requires you to look at your screen. Those that look at the camera to talk are far more engaging, for obvious reasons.
Finally, keep a good amount of distance from your camera. Many webcams and even smartphones have wide-angle lenses that are great at making you look like you’ve put on some pounds when you’re too close. So sit back a bit.
Step 3: Your Appearance
One of the few benefits of using Zoom is that pants are now optional. Everything above the waist still needs the same amount of attention.
I’ll skip over the advice of brushing your hair and shaving because we’re all adults but you may need to modify your wardrobe. Go for solid, neutral colors for clothing – avoid bold colors and busy patterns. If you’re like me and wear t-shirts most of the time, keep a dress shirt near your workstation so you can change at a moment’s notice.
Step 4: Background
The background you choose can easily be too distracting. Shelves with tchotchkes or patterned wallpaper can easily take someone’s attention off of you, so go with a more plain background like a solid wall. Also, while Zoom backgrounds can be fun, they can be equally distracting. They also let us know that you haven’t cleaned your house in a while.
Having space between you and the background can also be helpful. You’ll be able to sit back from the camera and your shadow won’t give you that “mugshot look”.
Step 5: Sound
If you choose to avoid the rest of these Zoom video tips, please make sure to follow this step.
Modern laptops are now pretty good at picking up voice clearly. Oddly, smartphones have not but I recommend never using them for videoconferencing unless you have no other option.
To check your microphone, download and install Audacity. It’s a simple audio editor and the initial interface may be confusing but you won’t use 99% of the software. Simply open the program, hit “Record” and speak. Stop the recording and play it back. It’s that easy.
If you sound like you’re speaking into a toilet, it may be time for an upgrade. A great microphone doesn’t need to be expensive to be perfectly suitable.
Your voice should be clear and without any background interference. Your HVAC usually won’t be a problem but screaming kids or barking dogs definitely are.
Finally, and this is an easy one to forget: mute your microphone when you’re done talking. I understand how startling a child screaming in the other room can be, but please keep that shock to yourself.
Step 6: Prep for Each Call
If you’re like me, you’re on Zoom (or Teams, GoToMeeting, etc.) many times each day. This type of routine will often lead you to jump into calls with no prep at all. A few seconds can make the difference between a great first impression and providing unnecessary chaos to a call.
Find a place where you’re comfortable – where you can plan to sit still for a long time. Getting up and moving is distracting, even if you’re not the one speaking. If you are using a laptop, make sure your charger is already plugged in. Make sure you have water or coffee (or whatever your drink of choice is – I don’t judge) with you.
Most platforms have an option to preview your video before a call. Use that preview to adjust your angle, set your lighting, and get your position right before jumping in. For those that don’t, open your webcam app or Photobooth to make sure you’re looking sharp.
With these Zoom video tips, you’ll provide the best experience possible for your attendees, allow them to focus more on your message, and avoid being part of a compilation of embarrassing moments in 2021.