How to be Your Best on Video Chat
By Courtney Williams
Well, here we are in the midst of COVID-19 chaos, catapulted into what seems like a digital-only world. You might be reminded of Harry Potter, The Jetsons, or The Twilight Zone… as you repeatedly broadcast a video image of yourself to your colleagues. How about some tips to help you be your best on the live screen? (You’re welcome.)
CLOSE YOUR OTHER APPLICATIONS AND BE IN THE MOMENT. People can see you reading and typing. We all think we are getting away with it, but when you start reading email or texts, your eyes change and your shoulders move. It’s not a matter of mental focus or whether you are responding in turn – your shift of attention is all over your face.
RESPECT THE CONVERSATION by silencing phones, and keeping pets or other people out of view. Your colleagues may have difficult, proprietary (or hilarious) inside information to share.
WHAT’S IN THE BACKGROUND? Working at home, we can be so accustomed to our surroundings that we don’t realize what’s in full view – that old graduation party photo, our partner’s laundry, or a half-drunken bottle of Cabernet. Aside from revealing intriguing things about your personal life, a cluttered background can be distracting. Create a pleasing neutral space or employ one of the chat room’s supplied backgrounds.
EYE CONTACT or the appearance thereof, is achieved by looking directly into your camera. If you’re too close, you can’t look at the camera and see the other people on screen at the same time. Give yourself a little distance, so you can take in the whole picture and keep your eyes from moving around.
CAMERA ANGLE can be adjusted to great effect. The slightest move can take ten years off or reveal your worst fears. What angle is most flattering to you will depend on your face and the lighting at that time of day. Try a few angles before your next chat.
If the camera is below your face, you’ll appear to be looking down at your colleagues, giving you the superhero look. If the camera is above you, you’ll be looking up at Daddy! To avoid introducing a superiority or inferiority complex, level the camera with your eyes.
Most importantly, make sure you sit up straight and are in the frame. Your head should be toward the top of the screen and you should see your face and shoulders.
LIGHTING is everything. All vanity aside, more light will produce a sharper image, and low light will make you look blurry. Natural light on your face will be the most flattering. This means sitting so you are facing the window. Light hitting the front of your face will soften lines and wrinkles. Sunlight tends to fill the room and create ample, even light, so open those blinds! If you don’t have good natural light, turn on as many lamps as you can to create light from multiple directions.
- Strong light behind you, aka backlighting = halo or glow around your head. Though you might look like a benevolent deity alighting to grace your colleagues, they won’t be able to see your eyes or facial expression. It is well worth it to re-position yourself for the sun…your own Copernican revolution.
- Light at an angle = more contour (read: sags and bags) but it can give you a film noir look, which might suit your mood.
- Overhead lighting alone = bad Soap Opera look.
- Lighting from below = campfire story time.
TEST YOUR EQUIPMENT AND WIFI. Most laptops have good cameras, mics, and speakers, but do a trial run with a friend or colleague in advance. Hardwire your computer if needed. You might need to purchase or borrow a camera eye or a noise-cancelling headset with a microphone. Re-test with the new equipment.
DRESS APPROPRIATELY. Even if you don’t dress in work attire from head to toe, make sure you are at least dressed from head to toe.
Now you’re ready… Roll Camera! 🎬