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Do you like classic Hollywood? In this iconic image from the 1950 film “Sunset Boulevard,” an ageing actress is not ready to retire. It’s all about her beautiful close-ups. But how good are your close-ups?
Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype… what do you feel when you hear these words? Excited? Scared? All of the above? Are you a “rabbit in the headlights” (so scared you cannot move) or a diva who loves to be the center of attention? Whichever type describes you best, many of us are facing the camera every day, conferencing everything from work to school to Friday night happy hour. And while some of us have taken to it like “ducks to water” (with great ease) – other folks are not so handy.
What are some of the universal DOs and DON’TS of video conferencing? How do you look great in virtual meetings? In this article, we will focus on the visual, low-tech side of virtual meetings.
To begin mastering the visual art of video conferencing, launch a “test” meeting with a friend. Using the setup that you will choose for most meetings, see yourself – really see yourself – in the screen and make an initial self assessment. Ask your friend for feedback. Then with that feedback in mind, read our ten tips.
1. Do I look OK?
Plan to look your best, just like you would for any meeting. And remember that what is mostly seen is your head and shoulders. But most importantly, people will focus on your face. Avoid wild hair and wild clothing, and if you normally wear makeup, put it on!
2. Is that a pimple?
Be aware that the camera can make things like a shiny nose, pimples or chapped lips look more pronounced than in real life. If you do not normally think about such things, this is the time to start. A little vanity can be a plus.
3. OMG is my boss in his pajama pants?
And while you can, in theory, wear sweatpants or pajama pants (or no pants at all ;-)), be aware that if you have to excuse yourself to go to the WC or to feed the cat, your colleagues may see the rest of your costume (or lack of), so being completely “put together” is preferred. Plus it makes you feel better, and that confidence will help you perform better.
4. Shady lady: What is she hiding?
Light your face with a direct or bounced (reflected) light placed behind your webcam. It is not enough to turn on your overhead office light. This will result in a shaded face and that means other participants cannot see you very well. From a psychological point of view, your “face in the shadows” can send a social signal that you are hiding something. As they say, “I will show you mine if you show me yours.” There is a sort of intimacy to video conferencing, so turn on your camera, light your face and SMILE!
5. Do I look good in this light?
Avoid side lights (like windows). Unless you are under 21, side lights accentuate all the lines and creases while a bounced or direct light will fill your lines with light and make your eyes sparkle.
Backlight (light from a window behind you) will fool the camera into thinking there is a lot of light in the room and under- illuminate your face. If you have a window to your side or behind you, draw the curtains.
If you want to make the window light your friend, set up your camera so that you can face the window. Soft natural light can be a great choice. Northern windows are great for that.
Avoid strong overhead light as it can result in deep shadows under your eyes and people will wonder if you are getting enough sleep.
6. Please LED me see you.
LED ring lights are highly recommended for video conferencing and start at about 35 euro. They are easily found at Amazon. The bigger the ring light, the farther the light can extend, but for most of us, a small light is enough. I like a light with a clamp so I can put it on my desk, behind my computer monitor. That means my face is nicely illuminated. Special tip: clamp a small ring light to a hard back book and you have a light that is stable but easily moved… and naturally at about the right height. Be sure the light you buy has adjustable intensity.
7. Ew, is that the cat’s litter box in the corner?
Become aware of your space, especially your background. Be sure your home office or workspace is reasonably tidy and pleasant. Test your camera’s angle width to see if that messy pile of personal stuff in the corner is really hidden from view. Note: In some programs (like Zoom) you can use a virtual background provided by Zoom or you can upload a photo that you want to appear in front of.
8. Back off, Jack!
The relative position of your face to the camera is very important. Do not sit too close to your camera. No matter how good looking you are, it looks bad when your face fills the screen. Plus the wide angle camera lens will distort your face when you get too close. A little under a meter is often fine. When you do your preliminary test with a friend, you will immediately see when you get too close and become the scary giant face!
9. What’s your level?
Camera height matters a lot. Never conference with the webcam below your face. No one wants to look up into your nostrils. That camera angle adds kilos and is used by filmmakers to make people look scary. It’s what director James Whale used in the original 1931 “Frankenstein” movie to make the monster look even more menacing.
Most people have their computer lower than eye level, so to move your camera up, just stack a bunch of books under your laptop or desktop until you see the webcam eye to eye, or it is slightly above you. If you are using a phone, find a place to lean the phone that puts it at eye level.
10. Dude, do you know we can see you?
Irritating behaviors are amplified on the screen and when people forget they are on camera we become witness to things we may not want to see. Participants who are in “listen mode” may zone out, start scrolling through phone messages or actually fall asleep. Conversely, people who feel anxious on camera may engage in repetitive nervous behaviors that are truly distracting to others. Remember, we can see you!
At The English Center, we use Zoom for all our video conferencing. Do you want to read some Zoom video conferencing blog posts?
Do you want to see the most famous “close up” scene in the classic “Sunset Boulevard?” This actress was a diva till the end!
Do you want to improve your English? Request a free consultation.
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Shall we chat on the phone? Call us at +31 20 823 0569. We are happy to speak with you in English or Dutch.
Brenda de Jong-Pauley, November 2020