One of the byproducts of our current safer-at-home order, aside from some serious restlessness, is we’re capitalizing on alternative ways to connect with family, friends and co-workers. Virtual communication has become an integral part of our daily routine, and now that we’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s time to up our game. Here are some expert tips and tricks to help you look and feel your best on your next virtual meeting.
How to Look Amazing on Virtual Meetings
Choose a neutral background.
Your virtual meeting background is essential. The experts say you should opt for something less busy for professional purposes — avoiding distractions is what it’s all about. If you have an office with a desk that sits across from a neutral wall, you’re a step ahead. If not, choose an area that’s free of clutter and keeps the focus on you. Mimi Bliss, of Bliss Communications, admits she learned that lesson the hard way. “The first time I did a call with a client,” she tells us, “they said, ‘Hey, is that a ping-pong table back there? Oh, and a basketball net!’ I was in a playroom that had a lot going on.” She quickly found a spot that offered less opportunity for the meeting to veer off track. If you don’t have a blank, neutral wall that fits the bill, never fear. Mimi says other backgrounds are fine, as long as you choose wisely and take into consideration what people will see. “If you don’t have a neutral background, bookcases look good,” she says. Perhaps the most important factor is making sure you’re comfortable with whatever is behind you — especially on work calls. If you don’t want your boss (or your mom) to see all of the empty pizza boxes or how big your pile of laundry has gotten, make sure you’ve found a space to reflect that choice.
If you’re pining for some sunshine or a change of scenery, and you want to spice up your calls, Zoom offers some fun options with its “Virtual Background” feature, which allows you to appear like you’re on a sandy beach or the Golden Gate Bridge. You can even upload your own background. Here are a few screenshots to show you how to access these backdrops:
Keep your screen at eye level.
Whether seated or standing, having your phone or computer at eye level is key. According to Mimi, “The eye-level part is really big. Your natural instinct is to push the screen back on a laptop, and that’s when you get that up-your-nose look.” As for phones, she recommends leaning them up against something sturdy, still making sure to keep yourself at eye level to avoid unflattering angles.
Find the best lighting.
According to the experts, softer, natural light is better, but make sure any windows in the room are working for you, not against you. Photography gurus suggest finding a window that has indirect sunlight since the filtered light is more complementary than overhead lighting and less harsh than direct sunlight. “Usually, having a window next to you doesn’t work, because you end up being backlit,” says Mimi. “It’s tricky.” The same holds true for having a window behind you, which puts you in the worst light possible — none at all.
Mimi suggests testing out different locations until you find the best one. “Keep moving things until you find the right lighting in the right spot,” she says. “It’s worth it because we want to feel good about the way we look. Understandably, if we get uncomfortable about the video, we’ll be reluctant to turn it on.”
Spend some time getting ready.
Being stuck at home makes it easy to fall into a rut of skipping showers, staying in pajamas and forgoing makeup. But a little effort goes a long way. Feeling confident about how you present yourself is part of elevating your virtual communication experience, whether it’s on a personal or professional level. If you’re looking for a quick fix, Zoom has a touch-up feature available that adds a soft filter to your video. Here are a couple of screenshots for how to access the feature on both your computer and iPhone:
When thinking about makeup, keep in mind that it’s easy to appear washed out on camera. Mimi offers, “If you ordinarily wear makeup, it’s worth putting on just a little more. In the last couple of years, I learned that my usual ‘throw on makeup in 30 to 45 seconds’ wasn’t cutting it; I didn’t have on enough makeup. The main thing is not a lot of color — you want contrast with not a lot of red.” She recommends using a good bronzer for just the right amount of contour, which helps define your facial features and keeps you from looking too pale. Deeper lipstick and a slightly darker eye shadow are two other quick and easy ways to brighten your face without looking overdone.
Clothing is also an important consideration, especially as it pertains to work calls. While your best friend may not care if you’re in your pajamas, your clients and co-workers expect a level of professionalism that should be maintained even when you’re working from home. And if the goal is to take your virtual communication skills to the next level, you might as well make it count no matter who you’re speaking with. Solid colors tend to look better, as do deeper colors and clean lines — but it’s all about comfort. Whether you’re dressing for a casual virtual cocktail toast with a faraway friend or a formal conference call with clients, stick to outfits that promote comfort and confidence.
Consider your body language
A hands-free set up means you have the flexibility to be more expressive and adjust your stance without inadvertently messing up the angle and lighting you’ve worked so hard to perfect. But have you considered how you’re positioned in front of your phone or computer? Mimi, for example, swears by standing up. “To me, the biggest thing is that I stand,” she says. “I think it makes an enormous difference.” From raising your energy level to feeling less restricted, standing might just be the trick you never knew you needed. “If you’re standing, you want your weight distributed on both feet,” she suggests. If you choose to stay seated, make sure you maintain good posture and sit close enough to be easily heard and understood. “If you’re seated, you want to sit up and kind of lean in a little, and use open, natural gestures,” she says. Mimi also introduces us to her concept of “hand and voice mirroring,” a phrase she often uses in her workshops. “Use your hands,” she instructs. “Even if people can’t see them, they can hear it in your voice.”
Don’t walk and talk!
We’ve all been there — we’re in the middle of a conversation when the other person suddenly gets up and starts wandering around their house, multitasking as they go. While the walk and talk may work well on TV shows, we can’t say the same for real life. And no one wants to wind up looking like a bobblehead. This quarantine is a constant reminder of how valuable our human connections are. So, let’s try not to make anyone dizzy!
Talk to the camera, not the picture.
Have you ever noticed looking directly at someone while they’re talking to you on the phone actually makes it look like you’re looking elsewhere? Although it may feel a bit uncomfortable at first, looking at the camera itself, rather than at the face of the person to whom you are speaking, actually makes for better eye contact. Try looking at your friend or co-worker when you’re listening, and adjust your focus to the camera whenever you speak.
Try out a test run with a friend.
Test the waters by phoning a friend. Getting feedback is the most effective way to confirm whether or not your efforts have worked. Maybe your background is too dark, your lighting still needs adjustments, or your computer can afford to sit up a little higher. Honest input from a trusted source allows you to try out your new repertoire of virtual communication skills before you dive in.
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