With the high likelihood that we will be on video conference calls for most of the day 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. You want to avoid your video setup diluting from the effectiveness of your message and relationship building.
While the way we do our jobs has changed, for most of us our actual job hasn’t changed. We are still interacting and connecting with people as teammates, customers, and suppliers –just in a virtual environment. Considering the fact that we are not meeting in person, we need to give more consideration to how we interact virtually, our video presence, to create the same connection required to be successful.
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 your eye contact and what’s in your background. By following a few simple Video Best Practices it will help you accomplish the goal of coming across as closely as possible to how you would in an actual conference room or client’s office.
In a live, in-person meeting, 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 come across visually 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 Video Best Practices below are intended to help you optimize this and come across more like you are meeting in person, enabling you to more effectively get your message across and build relationships with your clients and colleagues.
Optimize 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.
Avoid backlighting by making sure you’re facing toward the main light source and that you don’t have something too bright behind you like a window. 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. You wouldn’t be sitting in a dark room where people can’t see your face clearly so avoid doing that on video.
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 such as ring lights designed just for video meetings if you search “lighting for webcam.” The right lighting can and should be flattering to your professional appearance, not detract from it.
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 at an in-person meeting, and it can provide an odd or even intimidating perspective to those with whom you are conversing.
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 online. This also helps make sure that your full face is in view and not just the bottom or top half of your head.
Look into the Camera
When speaking and listening to someone, it’s important to look into the camera lens so you maintain natural eye contact with the person or people with whom you are speaking. At an in-person meeting, you wouldn’t be looking off to the side or (at another monitor or down at your keyboard) when speaking or listening to someone.
If you are looking away from the camera, probably due to a second display, it’s very unnatural body language for the person or people you are speaking to. It can come off as distracting or even rude to be looking away and it’s simply not conducive to building a comfortable rapport when you are looking away from others while you are speaking or listening. Even if you ARE looking at them on another monitor, it may appear to them as though you are reading emails or focused on something else. Active listening means given the person your full attention with good eye contact.
If you are using a second monitor during the meeting 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 for 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. With the challenges to natural communication inherent with virtual, being able to add expression through body language and occasionally using your arms and hands is important.
This also avoids having your head take up the whole screen where it may feel like you are in someone’s personal space. Don’t be a Close Talker! Again, think about what it would be like if you were at an in-person meeting. You probably wouldn’t 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 your 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 distractions. 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 meeting in a conference room, you wouldn’t have stacks of papers, piles of books, clothes, toys, or other personal items behind you. There are times when people have to work in common areas where there may be roommates, significant others, or children passing by. That’s understandable and often brings some fun and humanity to meetings. 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. Consider adding a plant, diploma, photos or something to make your background interesting while avoiding clutter and distraction. While you want to avoid clutter, try to also avoid the mug shot look where it’s just your face against a stark white background wall as well.
If it’s not possible for you to have an appealing background due to your workspace situation, one option is to use the digital background feature available in all platforms such as Meet, Webex, Zoom, Teams.
In Summary –
- Optimize Your Lighting
- Set Camera at Eye Level
- Look into the Camera
- Keep Appropriate Distance
- Ensure Background is not a Distraction
By taking a few minutes to adjust your workstation, your background, and maybe make a small investment in your Video call setup, you can dramatically increase your effectiveness on video and deliver a much more natural experience while working remotely. This will make your clients and colleagues feel more comfortable speaking with you and allow you to build rapport and collaborate more naturally.