So in 5 minutes you are about to have your very first video conference call since COVID-19 hit the scene. You have been forced to communicate with others via a screen instead of in person due to required social distancing. How can you ensure this will go off without a hitch and that you will look professional like the image on the right and not the poorly lit mess on the left? Follow these tips that can easily be done in 5 minutes or less and you will look and sound great! (A post specific to Telehealth and the COVID-19 Pandemic is available here).
Signal Strength and Bandwidth: Pixelation, smearing, image pulsing, and loss of video can occur during video conferencing sessions if you do not have a good internet connection. When possible pick a location for your video conference that is close to your WiFi router, you want the strongest signal possible. Turn off all unnecessary electronic devices that wirelessly connect to your network. This will make the most bandwidth accessible during your session. If you do not have WiFi at your location and are using a cellular network, go to a room that gives you the most bars for the strongest wireless signal. Standing near a window can help.
Location, Location, Location: Unless you are taking the call from a desktop computer you likely have a choice as to where you are going to be sitting. Ideally you want to have a window in front of you, NOT behind you. Here’s why. If you have a bright light behind you and no bright light in front of you, viewers will see you just as a silhouette, with little to no detail in your face like in the image below on the left. This is because the camera on your computer or phone is automatically trying to give a balanced exposure. To a computer a balanced exposure is about middle gray when you put everything it sees on camera in grayscale. So if your background is super bright and you are very dark, to the computer that is a great exposure, the scene averages out to middle gray, but those viewing you on the other end can barely view you at all!
By just rotating so that the window was on my right instead of behind me I got vastly better lighting. If you can’t avoid a super bright light behind you, there are some solutions. You can place a large object in front of the window to block the light. This can be as simple as drawing the curtains or blinds closed. The easiest and most flattering solution is to place a light in front of you so that you are better illuminated. The ideal light source is natural light from a window, but if that isn’t available try a lamp. Lamps provide side lighting which is much more flattering than overhead lighting. Look at the difference in how clear my face is in the image below on the right where the curtains were opened in front of me compared to the one with the curtains are drawn shut.
Once you have your location nailed down look behind you and see what is there. Is it a mess? Is there anything distracting? Is there anything embarrassing? Look at the preview window of what your camera sees. Everything will be on display. Do a quick cleanup of the area to get rid of anything you wouldn’t want the people on the other end of the video call seeing.
Dress For Success: Most of the day you can get away with working from home in your jammies, but that just won’t cut it for a business call. Go ahead and take 30 seconds to change into a collared shirt and brush your hair. Solid colors for shirts are best. Stay away from patterns, they are too distracting. Check your teeth to make sure there is nothing leftover from lunch. Ladies, a little bit of makeup will go a long way. Mascara and lipstick will help give your face definition on the screen.
Choose A Good Angle: We tend to feel at the mercy of the camera when it comes to what angle we are being viewed from, some make us look great while others make us look horrible. Luckily you actually have a great deal of control you can exercise when it comes to camera angle for video conferencing. The best is when the camera is about eye-level or slightly above eye level. It is the most flattering and mimics normal conversations we typically have in person. The absolute worst is when the camera is angled from below (see the image below on the left). It makes everyone look like they have a double chin. This is usually what happens when using a laptop or we have our phones on our desks or in our laps. To avoid this effect put some books underneath the laptop or phone to raise it a bit. The camera can also be too high. For large desktops the camera is often set very high up. This makes it seem like your viewers are looking down on you. In this situation it is best to raise your chair up if possible. If you can’t do that, sit on some pillows to raise you up higher.
Don’t Handhold The Camera: We are all used to holding our phones in our hands, so it is only natural to do exactly that during a video call. The problem with that is it results in a shaky video. You are much better off placing your phone propped up on a steady surface. If you don’t have a device on the back of your phone or iPad like a pop socket or stand to facilitate this easily just put a heavy object, like a can of soup, behind it that it can rest against. This will make the viewing experience so much better!
Mirror The Orientation of the Viewer: If you are using a tablet like an iPad or a smart phone like an iPhone the orientation you hold the phone in will impact how the viewer on the other end sees you. For example if they are viewing you on a computer or have their iPad in landscape orientation and you have your phone in standard portrait orientation they will see you as a tall skinny bar in the middle of their screen flanked by black bars on the right and left, and you will see them as a long skinny bar in the middle flanked by black bars on the top and bottom. While most of us like to look skinny, this is not the skinny we are going for. This just means we are smaller on a screen that is already probably small and hard to view. In general it is best to mirror your viewer’s orientation because this will make you as large as possible on the screen and will eliminate black bars they would see otherwise.
Appropriate Distance From The Camera: This is important for both how you look and how you sound on the video. Often times people move in very close to their device because they can’t hear what is being said well. As a consequence of this your face is then much closer to the camera which makes it look huge and distorted, which is totally unflattering.
As an added bonus you are now way too close to the microphone and so the people on the other end are hearing you much too loud and your voice may be distorted as well. So you are much better off turning up the volume on your device so you can properly hear them without getting nose close to it. If that isn’t possible try a set of headphones or earbuds. Be far enough back that people can see you from your upper waist to just above your head. Don’t leave tons of room above your head so that viewers on a small screen aren’t left having a lovely view of your wall or ceiling and your head left only the size of a dime. If you go too far back from the camera you will be tiny in the frame and the microphone on your device may not pick up your audio at all. To get the best quality audio for your viewers try to find a location that is quiet, not right next to a fan, away from any background noises that the microphone might pick up.
Keep Your Focus On Your Viewer: Video conferencing is totally different from teleconferencing. Unless you shut off your video feed, or cover the webcam with something like a post-it, your viewer on the other side can see and hear everything you are doing. So make sure you keep your attention on your viewer. They will notice if you are checking your email, or doing something else instead of looking at them. Be polite and give them the attention they deserve.
That’s it! Now you are ready to be a video conferencing pro. These basic principles can be used with any video conferencing platform, such as Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and WebEx. Wishing you all the best!