It’s Halloween this week and let’s face it, we have all sat through some pretty frightening videoconferences. From run-of-the-mill technical difficulties to barking dogs and other interruptions, I think it’s fair to say everyone has had at least one not-so-great experience. While some things will always be outside your control, there *are* things you can do to improve your participation on videoconferences.
Start with the Lighting
Bad lighting is a videoconference killer. You don’t want to look ill, washed-out or have other strange effects, so make sure you spend some time checking out your lighting before you join the call. Natural lighting is best; sit facing a window if you can. If natural lighting is not an option, position a good quality lamp behind your screen – the light source should be in front of you. Avoid fluorescent lighting and overhead lighting, both of which are harsh and can cast unflattering shadows. Never put the light source behind you.
Remember Your Camera Angle
Bad camera angles are also scary. Be sure to check the position of your camera and screen before joining a video call. You want your webcam positioned close to eye level. Other camera angles can make you appear to be towering over the other party or even worse, show an unflattering view up your nose. The angle of your monitor matters too – you don’t want your counterpart to see mostly ceiling and just the top of your head. Aim to have your head and shoulders centered in the camera view. You may need to experiment with raising or lowering your chair or your monitor to achieve the best camera angle.
Check Your Webcam Settings
Your webcam likely includes a basic set of tools to adjust brightness and contrast. Once you establish the lighting you will be using, check the camera settings to see if further adjustments are needed.
Dress for Success
Avoid patterns and wear a bold, solid color near your face. If your clothes are close to the same color as your background, you can end up looking like a disembodied head. Contrast is important for successful videoconferences.
Review at Your Surroundings
Once you have your laptop set up, take a critical look at the area around and behind you. Is there anything visible on-screen that would make a less-than-professional impression? For example, if you’re in a bedroom, is an unmade bed or dirty laundry in the frame? How about personal items or wall hangings that are distracting? Do you have a plant or flowers that appears to be growing out of your head or shoulders? What about a mirror that might be reflecting an odd view? Study the background carefully and move anything that looks awkward or unprofessional.
Watch Where You’re Looking
Making appropriate eye contact can be a bit tricky during videoconferences. During an in-person meeting, it’s normal to break eye contact to write notes, but it can seem very disjointed to do that during a video call. Make sure your note pad and pen are nearby and that you can write without turning away from the screen. DO NOT look at YOURSELF in the split screen view – this takes some practice! Similarly, if you’re looking at the other PERSON on the screen, it may appear to *them* that you are looking down or away. The best place to look is into the camera, but that often feels weird. You may find it helpful to tape some notes to the edge of your monitor, or a picture of the person you are talking to just above and behind the webcam.
Successful videoconferences require practice and a dress rehearsal. Figure out lighting, camera angle, and your surroundings well in advance. Give yourself plenty of time to connect, and have your notes organized and ready to go. You’ll be a video pro in no time!