Updated: Apr 29, 2020
We're all figuring out this new normal of working from home. I've definitely had a tricky learning curve with the technology. But as a performer and communication coach, I have an advantage with the new necessary "camera work". It's interesting that many people are quite good at in-person communication but not great over Zoom. Sound familiar? Don't panic! I've got some easy fixes. Here are 7 basic do's and don'ts to make your image and presence more impactful on your next video conference.
Pay Attention to Background
No, I don't mean set a full scene behind you so you come off much more impressive than you actually are. People will see through that. Just be mindful of what's behind you. Set up your computer and where you are sitting/standing (standing is always better if you can) beforehand and see how you look. Is there anything coming out of the back of your head? That vase looks like a growth on-camera? Move it. A tidy bookshelf in view is great. A messy dresser with yesterday's powerbar wrapper and action figures, not so great. A plain white wall will wash you out and is not appealing. Much better to have a blue wall with a simple landscape painting. You will be judged in some degree by what is in view. Make it simple but interesting to keep the judging minimal, so the audience can move on and concentrate on you. Like, "Oh, I like that side table. And he's reading Meng Jin, nice." vs "Guess she had pizza last night and doesn't like crust. I wonder if her husband is still there, maybe she's sad and given up on cleaning. Or maybe that is from her husband and she won't clean up his crap. Or maybe, did they have a kid?!" In actuality, your life might be a mess, but don't put it on camera. Present your best self, in your framing.
Find your Light
You want your light source to be in front of you. This seems obvious, but many people end up with odd lighting. Only overhead light creates odd shadows. Back lighting from behind your head makes you appear as a shadow. And any additional light sources in the background, like a window or the sun, can be an obstacle. Make sure you aren't blinding your viewer. Once you have your set up, check it out on camera. Often light seems fine, but is too harsh on screen. If you find this, throw a scarf or thin sheet over your lamp, or move it farther away. Play with it. no one will know you spent time on lighting.
Make Eye Contact
But we're looking at a screen? Don't only look at the screen, look into the lens of your computer's camera too. Not the whole time, of course. You do want to check in with people's faces to see if they are getting the message, and notes, etc. But for the juicy stuff, to make a point, to appeal to emotions, to begin or wrap up, you should look into the lens. This will make it more personal and give more of a sense of connection: the thing we need most right now. So give some thought to when to do it, make it a choice. Above all, don't spend a whole meeting looking at yourself, sad about needing a haircut. Go ahead and turn your image off and commit to being other-focused for the full meeting.
Interject with Authority
With focus jumping screens, sometimes it's hard to "take the floor" so to speak. I've seen so many instances of "Oh here's a point... Did you want to say something?... Oh that's not... Maybe come back to... no go ahead..." Follow this steps to interrupt the conversation-- say that you are jumping in ("Let me interject a moment..."), give context ("because this topic is essential to my team..."), then contribute in a positive way ("Shawn makes a good point, I would also add..."). You can't do it the exact same way every time obviously. But being a little more deliberate with interruptions and adding slightly more explanation than what is normally needed, helps you take the energy of the conversation and helps your audience make the transition.
This mostly comes into play when asking or answering a question. For some reason on video it's a lot harder to ask questions and allow people the time to answer them. I guess because everyone is in a "close-up" silence is even harder to bare. It helps to ask better questions too. For instance, instead of the dreaded, "Are there any questions?" at the end of the meeting, ask, "What questions do you have about...?" If you do not get answers immediately, resist the urge to offer your own. Let them think. And on the other side, it's fine to think! Feel free to even say, "Let me think a minute..." instead of jumping in to "Uhm... uh..." just to fill space.
I know, everyone thinks this is silly. But nowadays, you could go all day without talking AT ALL before your 4:00 meeting. If that happens, you are just not going to sound competent. But go ahead, do it once, and when you fall on your face, come back to this post. to warm up, take 5 minutes to say some words, stretch your body, and check in with your breath. If you have a kid, just read one Dr. Seuss book outlaid to them to start your day. It will make all the difference.
Above all don't ignore unplanned interruptions! If your kid or dog runs in, aknowledge them with love, give them an introduction. Joke and be kind when it happens to your colleagues. We are all in the same boat. This display of humanity is never a mistake.
See, pretty painless, right? If you want more virtual communication tips or just curious about it, all of this comes from the curriculum Shawn and I teach as communication coaches for GK Training (gktraining.com). Check us out and get in touch if you have any questions. We're having to adjust in so many ways, communication should not be an intimidating one. Please let us know if we can be of any help. Love to all of you!