With the massive shift to online meetings, events, and webinars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to look and sound your best when you have to appear on camera. There are plenty of articles out there with information about choosing a platform or conferencing system, so instead of rehashing that, we wanted to focus on some videoconferencing tips to make sure you’re using whichever system you choose effectively.
Audio is Key
First and foremost, make sure you can be heard. Video is nice to have, but the truth is that business conference calls have been around for decades – for many meetings, video isn’t absolutely essential. In fact, let’s face it: many people on these meetings will likely not be watching the video feed the entire time; they’ll be listening while multi-tasking. So being clear and understandable should be your primary goal.
Unless you have no alternative, don’t use the built-in mic on your laptop. It will pick up every trackpad click, keyboard sound, and pretty much every other sound in the entire room (and possibly beyond). A great free first place to turn for better sound is the pair of earbuds that came with your smartphone – their microphone will often work with your computer, and will probably sound much better simply because it is far closer to your face.
If you decide to upgrade your microphone to something more professional, don’t immediately jump right to something you’d see on a podcaster’s desk. High-quality mics often need to be far closer to your mouth than you expect, so you could be making your audio worse by plugging one in and placing it next to your monitor.
Oh, and once you have your mic in the right place (whether it’s a headset or desk mic), don’t touch it, as the sound of your fingers can be very loud.
You want to minimize all extraneous noise. Keep the windows and doors in the room closed, and try and keep pets, kids, or wandering Roombas at least two rooms away if it’s possible. Turn off or silence anything that might make makes noise if you can: fans, smart devices like an Echo or Google home, or even smartwatches and fitness trackers can all beep, buzz, or talk at an inappropriate time. And be careful not to assume “vibrate” means “silent,” as a muted phone left on a hard surface can make a lot of noise when a call or notification comes in.
Of course, as a participant, the best way to avoid embarrassing attention due to noise is to make sure your sound is muted whenever you’re not talking. Many platforms (like Zoom) allow you to stay muted but momentarily be heard by holding the spacebar.
To move from merely being heard to having good quality audio, look at minimizing echo and reverb by holding your conference in the “softest” room in your house – this is likely your living room or a bedroom. Carpet, curtains, and cushions help to muffle echoes (and outside sound in general).
OK, now that your audio is sorted, you can think about video.
The number one issue we see when it comes to live video is lighting. You want your lighting to be even, and to come from in front of you (and behind the camera). Natural light from a window works great, but always be sure you have artificial light as a backup.
You don’t have to buy expensive studio lights: a pair of table lamps on either side of your desk, some inexpensive LED strips, or even cheap work lights from the hardware store will work. Do make sure all of your light is the same color, and try not to point it directly at your face if it isn’t diffused in some way. Pointing it away from you and bouncing it off of a white wall or sheet is a great trick for smoother, more flattering light without harsh shadows.
Camera angle is also something to be aware of – avoid putting the camera in a location where it will be “looking up” at you. Instead, go for eye level or just a little above that (a pile of books under your laptop will raise it up nicely). And you might actually find that the front camera on your phone or tablet is of a higher quality than what’s available on your desktop or laptop. If you do decide to use your phone, be sure you have a way to stabilize and mount it at the proper position in front of you – it could be time to break out that selfie stick!
Don’t forget to think about what’s behind you when you’re on camera. Make sure there isn’t anything private or inappropriate in view of the camera, and go for a background with few visual distractions. Sometimes boring is best (especially if using a large and interesting room as a background might result in family members or pets wandering by).
Put Your Best Face Forward
If you are going to use video, make sure you look appropriate for the venue and meeting. That probably means that you’ll just wear your typical business attire, but it’s important to be careful with certain colors and patterns. Video cameras can have trouble with bright red, pure white, and solid black clothing, so avoid those if you can. Also, it’s best to avoid small patterns, as some cameras can make them appear to shimmer and swirl as you move.
Of course, you only really need to worry about what’s visible on camera: you can probably keep your comfy sweatpants on as long as you are 100% positive you’re not going to stand up during the meeting.
To make sure you don’t have any need to get up, always be sure to have water available, even if you have a coffee or another drink as well. There’s nothing worse than starting to cough in the middle of a presentation or meeting and not having water on hand to take care of it.
If you can, keep your glasses/mugs out of sight of the camera, but try your best to keeps yourself and your attention inside of it. It can be disorienting and distracting if you’re constantly looking at or interacting with something offscreen.
When it’s your turn to speak, don’t look at the video feed on your monitor – look directly at the camera. If that’s hard, you can consider putting a small stuffed animal or other toy with eyes next to the lens so that you can talk to that. For some people, that’s much more comfortable.
Our last visual tip is about your slides: if you’re preparing a presentation specifically for an online audience, use larger fonts or photos than you might normally choose for projection onto a large screen. Some people may be watching you on a screen as small as a smartphone, so keep charts, tables and images as large and simple as possible.
Always do a Test Run
Finally, be sure to test everything before any important talk, pitch, or meeting.
Don’t assume your conferencing platform or tool is going to work flawlessly. Almost every online meeting platform has an audio and video test feature, so use it every time! And do a dry run (including slides, microphones, and lights) at least a day ahead of your meeting to iron out any kinks.
Then, do a final check 10-15 minutes or so before each meeting so that you have a few minutes to fix any problems and still start on time. You want to catch and correct any issues before the meeting starts so you can avoid troubles and delays on your end.
All of this may seem like a lot, but much of it will become second nature over time. Of course, there’s a different bar for a million-dollar pitch and a chat with a friend, so feel free to pick and choose the tips according to your needs.
If you have any questions about any of these steps (or about how pre-recorded videos can be used to augment live presentations), feel free to reach out – we offer consultations customized to your needs.