For many of us, Zoom has replaced everything from the office to the bar around the corner. We're lucky to have great technology to help make meetings easier and more efficient, but are you sure you're doing it right? Here's our checklist for how to videoconference like a pro!
And JUST like that, we quietly slipped into week 10 of the corona quarantine, which also means 10 weeks of endless meetings and chats via laptop or smartphone. I don’t know about you but I think we slowly have to acknowledge; it has not been ideal!
It WAS kind of ok as long as we work part or full-time from home. But now that we know we have to rely on our screens for human contact for many more months to come, we'd better do our best to make that video conferencing as enjoyable as possible.
And present ourselves as PROFESSIONAL as possible. Because let's face it: if you’re talking to friends or grandma while your cat passes in front of you it can be endearing. But when the same cat is passing while showing his ass to your client in a business meeting, it’s a little less cute.
Fortunately, there are people who know HOW TO DO IT. American fashion designer and
director Tom Ford, for example, explained to New York Times, how to best prepare
for a video interview. His advice: “just put the laptop on a pile of books and make sure
the camera is at crown height, place a lamp behind your laptop, cover the table with a
white sheet and then the finishing touch: lots of powder, et voilà!”
Ford, a man of taste and style, is of course right. But we can give you some more NEXT LEVEL tips to get it even better.
Don't: sit with your back to the window or any light source, this will make you look like a creepy Zoom crasher and it won’t be clear whether you're talking, awake or breathing at all.
Also do not sit in bright direct sunlight, or in a dramatic drop shadow. We’re imagining a Jack Nicholson in The Shining here… don’t.
Do: try to face your light source, and if not possible, at an angle of no more than 45 degrees, preferably in front of a window. Does the sunlight come in too bright in your room? Create soft lighting by placing a temporary thin curtain in front of your windows.
Do you have a room without windows, or are you taking video calls from the hallway as that’s the only quiet place in the building? Put a lamp behind the laptop that illuminates your entire face. The really vain gadget freak can invest in a professional light set like this one. But a regular desk lamp works fine too. Just make sure the lamp is slightly higher than the face and shines down at an angle of about 45 degrees to help camouflage those dark circles. It will even prevent those who have slept poorly/had too much to drink last night from looking like a Zoombie #triedandtested
Don't: experiment with that ‘just out of bed’ messy hair look. Or that in corona time everything is permissible. Those who normally groom, shave or use make up please continue to do so. If only because a bare, just out-of-bed face with tousled hair looks even more sleepy on a screen, especially if the head in question is too close to the camera (see: Angle and distance).
Do: shower. You may think no one can tell but trust us, they can! At least wash your face and look in the mirror, comb your hair and check your teeth for food scraps. Then the make-up: Know that real-life makeup and camera proof make-up are two different things. If you put on too much, it can reflect hard and look quite intense in bright light. What works better is a little bit of tinted day cream, a few licks of concealer to remove blemishes and some blush to avoid common video bleach. Shiny spots on the screen can turn into overexposed spots so use some colourless face powder for the T-zone if needed. Finally, use some gel to define your eyebrows, since it makes your eyes speak more.
Angle and distance
Don't: keep your phone low in the hand or open the laptop to the max: that way, double chin(s), nose hair, sharp canines and the peeled ceiling get the lead. Not convinced yet? Remember, it's exactly that angle Frankenstein director James Whale chose in 1931 to make the monster as menacing as possible.
Do: place the laptop on a pile of books or tissue boxes, so that the camera is at eye level (or according to Tom Ford: ‘something above it’). A screen that is upright, at a 90-degree angle, creates the most attractive angle. If you're done with shaky hands, unstable tablets or smartphones, you can invest in a tripod standard, you’ll find quite cheap and easy-to-fold tripods online in which you can snap your phone and determine the ultimate angle.
As for the distance to the camera: landscape with the body from head to just below the shoulders in the frame gives the calmest image. Too much distance makes for less clear non-verbal communication, while sitting too close provides too much information about depth of pores or excessive facial hair. If you act like one of those curious bears sniffing a National Geographic camera because of audio problems, don’t. It’s the most unflattering angle and can be easily avoided by investing in a good headset and microphone.
Don't: laundry drying in the background, dirty dishes, half dead houseplants, empty whiskey bottles, pizza boxes or half-dressed housemates...we can only say one thing: TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Also don't sit against a mirror, this will reflect the rest of your home and anyone who might be in it.
Do: keep the background quiet and neutral to minimise distractions. Though be beware of a completely white background. Better is a darker background or a bit more distance from the wall. Give housemates instructions and lock the door - that prevents scenes like the BBC father who went viral.
What about a bookcase? Even if it’s an organized, colour coded one, it might be distracting. And it can be tricky too if it tells that someone passionately collects certain comics or has a weird hobby. Nothing wrong with that, but it just can make the wrong impression. The safest is a neutral wall with a neat print or painting. Tune in with who you're calling with, whether or not you want to show religious art or family portraits in the background. Radiating authenticity is fine, but if you barely know someone, restraint won't hurt.
Don't: tops with bare shoulders or strapless tubes, busy stripes or too much bling are all going to be a no from us. Pure white and deep black can beam or look soggy, respectively. Colours look better than white, and solids look better than prints.
Do: fresh, solid colours provide attention value and a healthy complexion. Watches, earrings and small jewellery give a dressed and groomed effect, even if the rest of the outfit exists of nothing more than a totally worn out sweatpants. Assuming you aren't doing anything standing up!
Attitude and decency
Don't: look at yourself all the time to make sure your hair is still sitting smoothly. Hiding your own window is better, although you might forget that you’re still in the picture and mindlessly start picking your nose right in front of the webcam.
Another no-go: slump. Unless there is a physical disability that causes that, of course. Use the bathroom well in advance, as running away during a meeting is not done. Watching a film, messaging or emailing others as the meeting is getting boring? People notice.
Do: sit straight, stay with the lesson, listen carefully. Check facial situation, hairstyle, background and clothing by taking a selfie before you start your video, also to check the lighting.
What about food? Well, if it feels ok for you to work away a sloppy sandwich or a bag of chips in front of your colleagues with the microphone on, sure. But I would stick to a glass of water.
Don’t: make it sound like you’re in an echo well. Even if you are looking fabulous and comfortably in front of the desk lamp, every conversation will go missing if the technology is not in order or the Wi-Fi connection falters. So make sure that’s fixed.
Do: try to keep the windows closed as much as possible to reduce the noise from the busy streets, and doors closed to avoid noise from coffee machines or other kitchen appliances. And, it can't be said often enough: turn the microphone on mute when you're not talking, which prevents echoing from other speakers and keeps any unforeseen sounds outside the meeting.
Greetings and saying goodbye
Don't: be late. This can make for very uncomfortable situations for the first ones who joined the meeting on time. And without saying it's far from professional. Always.
Do: respect the clock and check in advance if you are sitting comfortably so you don’t need to stand up (remember you’re wearing those ripped sweatpants) to pull the chair back in. Get ready in time, take a minute to breathe, and call in.
When the meeting is done, wait for the invitee to say bye first. Please no silly waving! Waving is fun on the bike or in the car. Just say “thank you all”, give a friendly nod, and log out.
There’s a Secret Zoom Filter to Make You Look Better on Video Calls
Please do this immediately if you’re working from home and using the video conferencing service Zoom: Go to the lower-left-hand corner of the screen, find Video Settings, and check the box marked 'Touch Up My Appearance'.
Bless the creators of Zoom for offering this modern equivalent of vaseline on the lens. It’s the easiest way to look slightly more polished for a video call without actually doing anything at all. Zoom describes the look as ‘a soft box effect to minimize the visibility of imperfections.’ Your face will look slightly more dewy, but not so much that your boss will suspect you’ve been spending all your time on ‘quality time with your lover’ instead of working.
The filter has limits and will not make it look like you’ve washed your hair or brushed your teeth though and it also can’t make you look like you’re wearing an ironed shirt, rather than your pyjamas. But still, a great filter to use in these already stressful times.