Thanks to The Queen [reference here] more people are working from home. This year has been a year where we have been on camera more than ever before. I have worked remotely for the past 3 years, but even for me, 2020 has been a record year for conference calls! I did a lot of business travel for meetings and events that pivoted to virtual and that means virtual meetings and video calls using computer software such as Skype, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and of course, Zoom.
Not only is more of our professional work life being conducted over the camera, but our personal lives as well. We have not been able to see our friends and family in person for much of the year, so family Zoom meetings and virtual pub quiz nights have become the norm. People are even holding birthday parties, bachelor parties, and trying their hand at online dating through the world of video conferencing software. I am also now doing what would have been in-person only Alliance Francais classes via conference calls as well, something I would have never imagined before this year.
For many people, not having to go out and socialize or sit in stuffy meeting rooms can come as somewhat a relief, but for others, seeing themselves staring back from the computer or smartphone screen during a video call or meeting can be something resembling hell on earth.
It takes a surprising amount of confidence to feel comfortable in front of a camera, whether that is during a video call or whether in front of a still camera having photographs taken of you (Hello! This is me!). It is something that many of us confess to feeling awkward about – we feel our makeup looks too shiny/subtle/overdone in the camera light or we are not quite sure where to put our hands or how to finish the conversation. You will start questioning whether you need to have veneers, or new glasses (no squinting!) or whether your grey hairs are really that obvious to everyone. (Thank goodness people couldn't see the top or back of my head on video during confinement months!)
If this sounds like something that you tend to struggle with, fear not. You are far from alone! Here, are some of the things that you can do to make yourself feel a little more conference call confident.
Make sure you are Positioned Properly
To whomever you are talking to, make it look like you ooze confidence and self-assurance by sitting in the right place. You want to fill the space, both literally and metaphorically. If you are sitting too far back from the camera, you appear small and inconsequential. This gives the vibe that you are not feeling too confident, that you feel nervous or disengaged. You do not want that!
Instead, make sure that your camera is showing your upper body area – from your upper chest to your head, which should fill most of the space. There should be a small space in between the top of your head and the top of the screen and either side of you, but generally, you should be the main focus.
You also want to make sure that you are looking straight on. You build trust with people by maintaining eye contact, and if you are having to look up or down to the camera, you are not going to be having eye contact with whoever you are talking to (also it is just not flattering!). If necessary, prop your webcam or laptop on books.
Think about the Lighting
Lighting is so much more important than people realize when it comes to being on camera. It can make such a difference to the way that you look – and thus feel. Shadows can be very unflattering so try to think about where your light source comes from and where it is positioned. The best form of light is natural light, but if that is in short supply – as it so often is during the long winter months – you can give yourself a helping hand with a ring light. These are popular with those who like to take selfies or make videos as they bathe the person behind the camera in a glow of flattering light. You can buy ones that attach to your cell phone, laptop screen, or on a freestanding tripod. Mr. Misadventures being a professional photographer takes my lighting seriously and set me up with LED Lights on tripods, one on either side of my desk, but that may be overkill!
However you get your light, make sure it is not behind you. Avoid sitting in front of a window or being lit from behind with a lamp. Try to have your light source in front of you where possible for maximum light exposure.
Camera, not screen
One of the biggest problems is knowing where to look. Most people’s eyes are automatically going to go to themselves to see what they look like, followed by their colleague’s or fellow callers' faces. However, to give the impression of looking at whoever you are talking to, make sure you look at the camera.
If you struggle to divert your attention from your own face – and don’t worry; we all do it – try putting a smiley face sticker next to the webcam on your computer screen to give you something to focus on. You can also try turning off the self-view option completely if you are using Zoom, or use the active speaker mode.
Don’t be tempted by backgrounds
This one is one of the more flexible rules because it does depend on who you are talking to. If you are talking to your best friend who lives overseas or your parents who live in a different city, a fun and silly Zoom background is absolutely fine. However, if it is your first foray into online dating or a professional work call with your boss, colleagues, or potential clients, you might want to give them a miss.
If you don’t have an appropriate blank wall to sit in front of to take the call or attend the meeting, try pinning up a (clean and pressed!) plain white bedsheet as a background, or sit in front of a tidy bookcase. Try to avoid backgrounds that are overly personal for professional calls – you probably do not want your boss scrutinizing your family photos or collection of DVD’s – or too fussy, to detract from you.
Depending on the tool you use, you may be able to use a virtual background. Canva even has templates for you to make your own. Google Meet allows you to blur your background as well.
I have a letterboard shelf (kind of like this one, but my shelves are thinner with black translucent letters) which allows me to change my message depending on my audience. For meetings about my program, I put the program name, for casual meetings with my team, I put an expression or joke. It keeps things interesting!
Speak with strength
When you are in a face to face conversation, it is not just someone’s voice you rely on. You look at visual cues and the sense of atmosphere between you to build up a deeper understanding of the conversation. This is significantly harder to do over the camera, so you have to change the way that you speak to hold interest and engage people. This often means speaking a little faster than you would in real life – but not so quick people cannot understand you or miss what you are saying.
Consider your tone of voice, just as you would in person – inflection matters. Many of us tend to let our voice go up higher at the end of sentences, just as we would if we were asking a question when we are faced with a camera. Be mindful of this; a good quality headset can allow you to hear your voice and make sure you are talking in a ‘normal’ tone.
Also, make sure you have a good microphone and headset. I use the Plantronics C5200 headset.
This one I have to think about all the time! Would you sit swaying or swinging in your chair in a face to face meeting? No, you wouldn’t. Would you hunch or slouch or fidget? No. So, don’t do it in a virtual meeting. If anything, it is much more distracting because there is no other direction to look. Try to sit still – imagine there is a piece of string holding you in place. Sit up, sit straight but allow your shoulders to relax.
Video conferencing and Zoom calls are likely to be around for some time to come, especially in the workplace. Employers will see the benefit of not dragging staff into the office for something that can be done virtually, and so may keep it up even after the pandemic has passed. For this reason, it is important that you learn to feel confident on conference calls.
How about you? Do you have any conference call tips? Do share!