Happy Anniversary! Last March, most of the United States, and its businesses, instituted social distancing rules that meant most of us have spent the past 12 months working from home. Back then, I wrote a piece outlining how to handle media interviews over zoom, with tips that also could apply to video conferences of all shapes and sizes.
As it looks more and more likely that even post-pandemic we will be doing less and less work in person, I thought it was a good time to update these tips with lessons learned over the past year. Here are my thoughts:
Don’t wear tight stripes
When I started my media training career, the standard clothing advice was not to wear white or tight stripes on camera. The move to HD mitigated this, since the “moire” pattern you sometimes see with stripes pretty much disappeared. Well, it’s back. Most home computer cameras are not good enough to prevent that wavy effect. So put those stripes back in your closet and stick with solids, wide stripes, or other patterns.
Watch Your Volume Settings
On a few doxy.me conferences, the other participant has told me about an echo problem. In every case, this was solved by my turning down the volume on my laptop. I haven’t run across this on any other platform, but if you do, just ensure you’re not “blasting” the other participants’ feeds. If you find you’re facing a lot of echo on your end, check your volume settings and consider hooking up speakers to your system.
Also, if you have more than one device on the same meeting, ensure that they are far enough apart so you don’t get feedback. If you can, mute both the microphone and the speakers on one of the devices to avoid this problem.
Prepare for Florescent Lighting
Some laptops, including the one I’m using to write this, have cameras that make dark blues, blacks, and other colors look purple under florescent lights. HP’s website explains, “While some degree of purple tint may be present under low light conditions, turning off the webcam (infrared) lights will reduce and in certain cases eliminate the purple tint.” My own experience says that it didn’t help that much. While I’ve already told you to set up your office so you have good natural light coming in in front of you, rainy days and nighttime meetings do happen. If you can’t find an alternative (most desktop cameras don’t seem to have this problem), consider buying an exterior camera and connecting it to your USB port.
Have a backup plan
I love my desktop computer, but sometimes it just doesn’t want to get me onto Zoom as my meeting is starting. This is why I have my laptop with me at my desk. While the picture and camera angle aren’t as good, I can at least be part of the meeting while my desktop gets up to speed. If I’m going to switch to the desktop, I mute my laptop during the transfer to avoid feedback (see above).
Only use your phone if you will only be a voice participant in the session, or if you have no other option. The narrow picture and unsteady camera work and distracting to say the least. However, I did have one participant join a roundtable via their phone while they took their morning power walk around the neighborhood. They were able to participate fully (fortunately it wasn’t so strenuous a walk that they got winded), and it was a welcome break from shots of everyone sitting at their desks in front of bookshelves. But, as a whole, I recommend using your desktop or laptop for meetings and especially for interviews.
Lock Your Pets Out of Your Office
While everyone seems to have learned to keep their children out of their zooms, pets appear to be a different story. Yes, it’s a nice break to see Rex, Mittens, or Fluffy on screen, but there are risks. Along with being a distraction, pets (especially cats) can end your call, knock you offline, accidentally hit send on the email you haven’t finished, or, in my case, make your eyes bloodshot and cause you to sneeze uncontrollably. All of these hurt your professionalism, and potentially your work.
If you MUST have your cat or small dog near you on the call, consider a clear plastic keyboard cover. While your cat might see this as an invitation to be even more involved in your work, at least you can get your typing done (assuming you are able to touch-type) without too much interference.
Keep Your Energy Up
In a piece I wrote for Strategies & Tactics on optimizing your webinars for a WFH audience, I spoke about the importance of energy. In all presentations, I recommend the speaker be about 10% more energetic than in a normal conversation; in a video conference setting, I recommend they be 10% above that. All cameras eat up a presenter’s energy. Now, you’re also dealing with an audience that has most likely been looking at people in small boxes for hours before you even meet with them. Good, positive energy (not hype) is a must to keep this group engaged.
Keep Those Hands Moving
Similar to energy, gestures are already important in presentations and interviews, but they are paramount in video conferences. They not only make you more visually interesting, they also force you to vary your voice and delivery – you just can’t speak in a monotone when you gesture. Also, gestures add credibility to the speaker – when you talk with your hands, your audience assumes you really mean what you are saying. Keep the gestures simple, but keep them.
Don’t Be Obvious When You’re Working on Something Else
We all do it – we all check email, or edit a document, or move files around while we’re on a Zoom. Just don’t be obvious about it. Assume the camera is on you at all times – because it is.
One last Tip
MAKE SURE YOU DON’T HAVE ANY FILTERS ON!!!