Video conferencing – more than meets the eye?

Why does video conferencing accentuate people’s judgement on appearances? It’s as though removing the physical proximity of a real-life meeting gives us the license to scrutinise each other more. I’ve noticed people talking in the dark, strange items on bookshelves, camera angles so I am looking up noses, lots of kitchens, a few wardrobes and some very beige walls. At the other extreme, apparently, L’Oréal will soon roll out eight branded lenses using Snap Inc. which allows users to try on Snapchat Lenses in conference calls so now we’ll be able to add a bit of mascara here and a smudge of concealer there…

So when does caring too little or too much about your appearance on business video conference matter? For me, it matters when it detracts from what you are saying. So here are my top tips from now having had a few weeks of video conference calls:

1) Keep your background tidy and make sure the items on display are illustrative of you and your interests. Ask yourself the question, what does my background say about me? Double-check whether you can read book titles from the video conference and if so, be happy with what they say. Carefully look at what is being picked up by the camera as some screen sizes are different from others. I had the unfortunate occurrence of a recruiter once asking me, “Is that Darth Vader behind you?”

2) Keep your clothes simple and don’t wear patterns as they can distort on camera. Wear a colour that stands out from the background and avoid wearing white as it can seem that your head is floating in mid-space. Think about what your clothes say about you and do try to look good in an understated way; you want to aim for a look that is pleasing and nice, boring as that may sound as you really don’t want others to think you are trying too hard.

3) If possible set yourself up so the light from a window hits your face. Definitely do not sit with a window behind you as it makes you into a silhouette and any window in camera view will look unnaturally bright on screen and put you in shadow. This similarly applies to lights if your video conference is at night.

4) Make sure at least one third to a half of the video image is of you. If you are smaller than this you will have less impact and look diminutive as compared to others.

5) Think about where you are looking when you speak. Force yourself to make eye-contact with someone on the call, remembering that the camera angle is slightly higher than the screen. Don’t keep looking around when you speak and don’t fiddle.

6) Practice your video-conference set-up with a friend and have them critique your appearance, background and body language. Hold a conversation and have them tell you where to focus your eye-contact and if the sound is clear. Try some adjustments to make a better impression.

7) Watch out for the angle of the camera on your device as it can elongate your face. If it is too sloped forward you’ll be all forehead and nose, too backwards and you are all chin. This is particularly bad on laptops, so raise your laptop up – prop it on a book for instance – making the camera square with your face.

8) Finally, consider turning off the image of yourself once you are happy with your set up as there is nothing more distracting than looking at yourself while you are speaking. Do this especially if you can’t stop yourself adjusting your appearance once you catch sight of it: smoothing a stray hair, changing an unflattering posture or hiding an offending coffee cup. It all shows you’ve lost concentration on the conversation!

It is important to be noticed for what you are saying, not for how you look and like a lot of things in life, those who make it look effortless achieve this through practice and not by having a natural gift for video conferencing, thank god.

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