An often-repeated phrase on any video shoot I’ve worked is, “Don’t look directly into the camera.”
Turns out, in this time of virtual insanity, that’s exactly what we should be doing. It feels unnatural, counterintuitive. But online meetings aren’t just meetings online. They’re a whole new ball game. Meaning much of our approach in the beginning probably felt unnatural, counterintuitive. Many of the points below about improving your online presence are likely reminders by now, rather than new information. But at one year in, maybe a refresher course doesn’t hurt.
A bonus of this new ball game is the new tricks and tools we can use in our virtual work. Use the chat to add valuable information or accentuate your points. Post an agenda, share links and confirm next steps. As a participant, use it to ask questions of or add input for the presenter. Use polls features to ask questions that can help attendees engage and buy-in to the discussion. But remember, unlike in person, online meetings are often recorded and the chats are saved. If you don’t want it in a news headline, don’t say or type it in a zoom meeting.
If you’re interviewing, the standard rules still apply. Dress appropriately, do your research, be on time, test your technology, have a backup, etc. But consider that if you’re doing it right (see background, below) no one can see your desk space. You can set up a NASA-level array of supporting materials and no one will know. As long as you maintain appropriate eye contact and attention, have as many notecards, cheat sheets and words of encouragement as you need.
Camera quality trumps screen quality. Your cell phone camera may offer better quality than your laptop. If so, go with it. And once you’ve picked that camera, look directly into it. It’s the only way to look anyone in the eye. If you have to, put googly eyes by your camera to remind you. And lighting is important. There is a happy medium between angels singing and witness protection. Have a light source or a window in front of you, rather than behind.
We’ve all seen our fair share of nostrils and foreheads by now. Make sure the camera captures your head—the whole thing—and tops of your shoulders. Use a low-backed chair that doesn’t creek, spin or rock. Mind your background, and not just to avoid the never-show-your-face-in-public-again gaffes we’ve all heard about. For some actually good tips, and a few laughs, check out @ratemyskyperoom on Twitter. If you’re going to use a background image, test it first. They can be distracting or distort your image. If you can make it work, consider a custom-designed one on Canva.
Don’t yell, but it takes a little more volume to convey confidence, command and authority online. And since focus during virtual meetings is a struggle for everyone, speak a little faster. It’ll help keep participants engaged. Speaking of audio, turn off your notifications. The symphony of bells and whistles on a virtual call can be distracting.
You think you’re being discreet when you multitask. You’re not. Close your tabs, put your phone in another room. Hide your self-view if the image of yourself distracts you (guilty) and choose active speaker mode stay focused on the discussion. We’re all used to a pet, kid or doorbell distraction by now. It’s OK. But for an important enough meeting—a presentation or an interview—mitigate your risk. And wear pants.