Look and Sound Your Best While Connecting Virtually
“Social distancing” has become the catchphrase of 2020, and we in the United States learned last weekend that we’re being asked to continue the practice at least through the month of April. By now, remote working is becoming the new normal for most of us. As a result, we’re replacing in-person meetings with web-conferencing, webinars, and fully virtual meetings and events.
Web-conferencing is nothing new, and we all have plenty of jokes about the pitfalls of communing with your coworkers through a webcam. There are a few things, though, that you can do to step up your online presence, or tele-presence, as this author likes to call it.
Look Your Best: Video Considerations
No one wants to get seasick watching your video bounce around as you pace with your phone or balance your notebook on your lap. Put your camera on something solid, whether that’s a desk or table for your notebook computer, or a tripod or stand for your phone or tablet.
Lighting is Key
Don’t be that coworker who shows up on screen as a silhouette, looking like someone in the witness protection program. Pay attention to the light sources around you. Bright lighting in the background – for example, sitting with your back to a window – causes backlighting and creates that silhouette effect when the camera tries to balance the amount of light it is letting in. Make sure you are lit from the front with a gentle, diffuse light source. If you’re facing a wall, consider bouncing light off of the wall to provide more even lighting with fewer harsh shadows.
Look Behind You
Take a moment and look behind you. Is there anything that might distract from the focal point of your video (that’s you!), or maybe that pile of laundry you’ve been meaning to fold? Consider the visual elements that fill the frame of your webcam, and make sure there’s nothing distracting (or embarrassing).
Some web-conferencing software offers the ability to substitute a virtual background. That’s neat and can be a quick fix for hiding what’s behind you, but can also be distracting. You’re probably better off just taking a few minutes to tidy up your workspace.
(Virtual) Eye Contact
Webcams aren’t always positioned well for engagement, either above or off to the side of the display we’re looking at. Since we’re speaking to people who are showing in little windows on the screen, our instinct is to address the display rather than the camera, and that makes us look distracted. If you want to make eye contact with the people on your call, be sure to look directly into your webcam from time to time, especially if you’re speaking at length. It’s not always easy, particularly if you’re referring to notes on your screen but try to remember to glance up or over to the camera as much as you can.
Sound Your Best: Audio Considerations
Don’t Phone it In
You may be tempted to just pick up the phone and dial in to the conference bridge, or worse … call in from a speakerphone (shudder). Telephone audio will almost always be inferior to audio through your computer or an app on your mobile device. Sure, there is a little bit of extra technical set-up to get it just right – and to make sure you select the correct audio source – but the improved quality, both for you and the people listening to you, will be worth it!
Get Up Close and Personal
Resist the temptation to use a microphone that is far away from the sound source (your mouth). The mic in your laptop might be convenient, but it may pick up a lot more of what’s going on in the room around you. A close mic wins every time over a distant mic. If your mobile phone came with ear buds with a built-in mic, consider using those for your calls. Or if you really want to step up your game, buy a USB microphone. Look for mics geared toward podcasters. Good ones can be found for around $40 and up.
It’s just how audio recording works. If your microphone can hear what’s coming from your speakers, you’re eventually going to experience an echo or feedback. Modern web-conferencing software does a pretty good job of identifying and stopping feedback, but it’s not perfect. We’ve all been on that call where you spend 10 minutes trying to track down the annoying echo.
A pair of headphones solves the problem by preventing feedback completely. If the microphone doesn’t pick up the sound from your speakers, there’s no chance of an echo.
The Power of Mute
Don’t be that co-worker who can be heard typing – or slurping lunch – while others are speaking. Get in the habit of muting your microphone any time you’re not speaking and keep the mute button where you can quickly un-mute when you need to speak. If you make it a habit, it becomes second nature and you won’t then be the one who talks for 30 seconds while still on mute.
We hope these simple steps can help you improve your tele-presence while we’re all mastering the art of working remotely. The same principals apply whether you are delivering a webinar, presenting at a virtual conference, or live-streaming on your social media channels.
Meeting Expectations is a full-service conference planning and association management company, and we have experience helping our clients connect in the virtual world, from web conference calls with a board of directors to e-learning webinars to fully virtual conferences. Contact us and let us know how we can help you with virtual engagement in this time of social distancing.