5 Tips for Creating a Winning Video Presence
With the high likelihood that we will be doing some form of virtual classrooms via video for the foreseeable future, it’s important to be intentional about your video presence and put some thought into how you come across on camera.
Your video presence is how you appear to others when communicating over video calls and includes everything from how easily others can see your face to how you make eye contact and what’s in your background. You can adhere to some best practices that will help you accomplish the goal of coming across as closely as possible to how you would in an actual classroom.
In a live, in-person class, you would be sitting a comfortable distance from others, with good lighting, looking people in the eyes when talking to them, and there would be minimal – if any – background distractions in the room. Your goal is to make your video presence as natural and real as possible.
It’s estimated that about 65% of communication is non-verbal and delivered through facial expressions, eye contact, and general body language. While your words are, of course, very important, it’s easy to forget the importance of how you say things and how you visually come across over video. Having an effective presence over video allows people to see your facial expressions and body language in a natural way while avoiding poor lighting or other distractions that take away from your message.
With a few simple adjustments, you can dramatically improve your video presence. The best practices below are intended to help you optimize this and come across as if you were speaking in person, enabling you to more effectively get your message across and build relationships with your teachers and classmates.
Double Check Your Lighting
One of the most important ways to improve your video presence is to ensure that there is good lighting on your face. Ideally, this would involve facing a window or some other light source, such as a lamp aimed in your direction.
You really want to avoid backlighting. Make sure you’re facing toward the main light source and that you don’t have something bright behind you. Webcams automatically adjust to the brightest source of light and if that light is behind you, your face will be underexposed, creating a dark silhouette or unnatural shadows.
Add a supplemental light if you have to. If you need additional lighting on your face, you can use a lamp from home, or there are many inexpensive options on Amazon designed just for video classes if you search “lighting for webcam.”
Set the Camera at Eye Level
If your laptop webcam is on your desk, you may appear to be looking down your nose at people when talking to them. Not only is this not the most flattering look, it’s definitely not how you would look at someone in class, and it can provide an odd or even intimidating perspective to those with whom you are conversing. Additionally, students are often tempted to tilt their webcam so that only the top of their foreheads are showing and often the ceiling of the room they are in.
The simple fix for this is to place a few books or a small box under your laptop to boost it up to eye level. Alternatively, you can purchase an inexpensive laptop riser stand. This also helps make sure that your full face is in view and not just the bottom or top half of your head. Your desk/ computer setup for your video classes doesn’t have to be elaborate; it just has to practical and intentional.
Look into the Camera
When speaking and listening to someone, it’s important to look into the camera lens so you appear to be maintaining natural eye contact with the person or people with whom you are speaking. At an in-person class, you wouldn’t be looking off to the side at another monitor or something distracting in the background like another person or a pet in your house or down at your keyboard. It would be considered awkward or even rude to be looking away when someone is speaking to you.
If you are looking away from the camera, it could be perceived as giving the side eye to someone. It can also come off as very distracting and it’s simply not conducive to building rapport when you are looking away from others while you are speaking or listening.
If you need to use a second monitor during the classroom for viewing a presentation or taking notes, consider getting a separate webcam that can be connected to the top of your second screen. External webcams will provide both better lighting and higher resolution than typical laptop webcams as well as allow you to look into the camera versus appearing to look off to the side. There are many inexpensive – as low as $30 – high-quality webcam options online.
Again, the goal should be making the discussion feel as natural and “real life” as possible, so find a way to set up your workstation so it’s easy to look directly into the camera while speaking and listening to others.
Keep an Appropriate Distance from the Camera
Position yourself a few feet away from the camera where you are able to convey body language by using your arms and hands. Remember the importance of non-verbal communication – you can’t use your arms or hands if the screen is filled with just your face.
This also avoids having your head take up the whole screen like you are in someone’s personal space. Think about what it would be like if you were at an in-person class. You wouldn’t appear to be one foot away from the person you are talking to. This is called the intimate zone and is off-putting to people unless you know them very well. It may feel threatening to others as it’s very “in your face.”
Ensure that the Background is Not a Distraction
This is one of the video best practices that is often overlooked. Pay attention to what others see in your background and avoid clutter or other distracting items. You want to make your background as simple and appealing as possible so it doesn’t distract the viewers from focusing on you and your message.
If you were in an in-person class, you wouldn’t have stacks of papers, clothes, toys, or other personal items behind you. There are times when people have to work in common areas where there may be parents, siblings or pets passing by. That’s understandable and sometimes brings some fun and humanity to classes. Regardless of where you are holding your video conference, be mindful of the items that others see in your background and minimize them to the best of your ability.
By taking a few minutes to adjust your workstation, your background, and maybe make a small investment in your call setup, you can dramatically increase your effectiveness on video and deliver a much more natural experience while working remotely.