We’re now about 10 weeks into this global pandemic, and we’re all living in the world of Zoom and video conferencing. I feel as if by now everyone would have figured things out and be looking great. Sadly, that is not the case.
Don’t feel too bad, though. I’m surprised that even national reporters on CNN or other channels sometimes look pretty bad when they’re reporting news from their smartphones or webcams.
In this post I want to address how to look professional on a video conference call. But, first, I need to address the why factor. I think many simply don’t understand why they should make the necessary effort to look good on a call.
Why You Should Look Professional On A Video Conference Call
There are many factors involved in looking professional, which I’ll address more below, but for now, I’ll define it broadly as being well-lit and looking presentable for the context.
So here’s why it matters: The messenger is a huge part of the message.
If a doctor walks into the patient’s room in flip flops and jeans, you might get a little worried. If a lawyer walks into the conference room in shorts and a t-shirt, you might wonder if they are up to the task.
Here are three negative effects of not being presentable and well-lit:
1. People may think you’re not self-aware.
Do they not have a mirror? Do they not care? It’s confusing for people. There’s nothing worse than a leader who is not self-aware. A leader should have a sense of how they come across.
2. People may think you’re incompetent.
This is slightly less bad than not being self-aware. It’s ok to not have the technical know-how concerning being presentable or well-lit, but it’s not rocket science. You need to make the effort to figure it out. It’s easy for people to subconsciously extrapolate that if you’re not self-aware or are incompetent, then perhaps you shouldn’t be leading them. That’s a problem.
3. A leader you can’t see or who looks bad, is a leader you can’t trust.
This one is a little more subtle.
This might already be happening because people think you’re not competent enough to present yourself appropriately. But it’s much more complicated than that. When we’re face to face with someone, we can pick up micro-expressions in the face—we note if they’re looking us in the eyes, how they’re moving their hands, or why they might be diverting their gaze, for example.
But it’s disconcerting if you’re trying to communicate and have little idea as to what someone is emoting, if anything. Think about it this way. If you’re having a serious or emotional conversation with someone, but they’re wearing sunglasses, how would it make you feel? You’d probably ask them to remove the glasses, right? This is important because we need to see the person’s eyes to gauge how they’re receiving the communication.
In fact, in a 2015 study on eye contact scientists noted that being able to see someone’s eyes and whether and how they dilate in a conversation corresponds to trust or untrustworthiness. Bottom line: people being able to see body language matters.
Ok, those are a few points as to why it’s important to look professional and be well-lit on a video conference call. Here, then, are some nuts and bolts on the how.
How to Look Professional on a Video Conference Call
1. Light your face well.
The biggest sin I’ve seen in this area is people who sit with their back to a window. It makes their face completely disappear. This is bad for all the reasons I’ve noted above.
The best way to light your face is by using natural light. This is free. You can do this. Simply turn around and face the other direction. Not everyone has access to natural light in a convenient place, though, which means bringing in some artificial light. My home office is in my basement, so I fall into this category.
2. Light Your Face Artificially.
There are a few options for lighting your face artificially. The absolute free way is to get a desk lamp and shine it in the direction of your face. This is not usually pleasant, though, and will result in your squinting and not feeling relaxed.
There are also softboxes and ring-light-type devices you can purchase—I’ll address more of that later—but a lot of those can add up in price.
I discovered a great hack, though, that I’ve been using for a little while now. Get a trifold poster-board. I got mine at the dollar store, but you can see an example of one here. Set the poster board behind your computer and shine your desk lamp in the direction of the poster board. This will allow you to receive soft diffused light sent in your direction.
I would like to mention a few tools you can use to light yourself besides your desk lamp.
Tools To Light Your Face
When the pandemic first hit and I realized I was going to be creating content online and doing lots of Zoom calls, I went ahead and ordered one of these. Lume Cube is known for making well-made products for photography and video production.
It’s a small light cube that comes with a few rubber covers to diffuse the light. It also comes with a suction cup so you can attach it to your laptop.
Here’s what I liked about it:
It’s really small.
It has a magnet in the back so you can magnetically “attach” it to anything metal.
It uses an app and you can digitally control the exact brightness that you want. For example, you can put the brightness at 34% or 75%.
Here’s why I returned it, though:
It seemed to have problems with overheating and would start to turn off after about 3-4 hours of use. I reached out to customer service and they seemed to acknowledge that was an issue if it was being used at 100% brightness. Their recommendation was to use at 80%.
The light was too intense and didn’t light the face evenly.
Full disclosure. I went to the website again while writing this and noticed that they are no longer selling this item as a recommended tool for video conferencing. I imagine enough people complained.
This set-up looks really attractive. It comes with a suction cup so you can mount it on your laptop or computer monitor and comes with a nice diffuser.
I imagine this would still be too bright to shine directly at your face, especially since it would be right at eye level. The best way to use this or the Lume Cube would be to point it away from you and towards the poster board to create soft diffused light.
When I returned the Lume Cube, their other setup didn’t exist, so I ended up ordering this light. I’m happy with it. It’s affordable at $49 and does a good job of lighting.
Here’s what I wish it had, though:
I wish it came with a suction cup.
I wish it connected to an app so that I could dial in lighting even more. Right now, there is an on/off switch and a + button to increase the light, and a – button to lessen the light. It has 10 settings.
Because I don’t have a suction cup, I have it standing behind my monitor on a GoPro tripod stand. I’m pretty happy with it, but I’m suspecting that the Lume Cube video conferencing kit might be a superior product.
D. Ring Lights
There are lots of these on the market right now. Because I was needing to record sermons and other content, I ended up getting a ring light. I got this one from Ubeesize. It’s not great. It feels like a cheap product that could easily come apart. But, it’s affordable. I used it once or twice for video conferencing, and it did a great job. The only problem is that it has to be on a more substantial tripod and putting it in place is a little more challenging. Now, I only use it for my simple video production needs.
Those are some options for lighting yourself.
Ok, now back to the other principles.
3. Set the webcam at eye level
If you’re using a laptop, set it on a stack of books so that it’s at eye level. If you’re using your phone, do your best to get it up. A webcam shooting up towards your face from table level is not a good look for anyone.
4. Dress appropriate for the occasion
Did you hear about the ABC reporter who got caught recording a news segment in his boxer shorts? Yup, it happened. I haven’t worn a tie on a Zoom call, but I normally wear at least a button-down shirt of some kind.
Ok, if you have read up to this point, congrats! I wrote a lot of words, I know. If you’re more of a video person, here are two great videos I recommend on the topic.
(Image by Anna Shvets)
So what do you think? What else would you add to the list? What tools and strategies are you using for video conferencing? To leave a comment click here.