It’s the new reality.
We’re all working from home. We have learned to deal (and be understanding) when kids, pets, spouses, parents, and other humans walk in on our business meetings on Zoom. This is all a part of our current reality. They are all business-acceptable realities that we should all be cool (and comfortable) with. It’s human, we’re at home and this is us. Still, there are many ways to make Zoom (or any other video conferencing platform) that much better. This matters even more for leaders, or those who are leading/presenting during a virtual meeting.
Here’s 10 ways to make video conferencing meetings rock (and make you a rock star in the process):
- Position yourself. Sit close-ish to the screen. If you are using a good headset (see #4 below), I’d recommend sitting a little bit further back than having your face fill up the whole screen, and even a little off of center. It creates more of an atmosphere and makes the overall shot a little bit more interesting to look at. Zoom has fun feature called “touch up my appearance” in the settings (under video). Try this if you worry about things like acne, make-up, four o’clock shadow, etc… I don’t use it, but many swear by it.
- Position the camera. Ensure that the camera is at eye level. You don’t want your audience looking up your nose, and you don’t want to look like you’re looking down on them (so lower/raise your seat, use a box from around the house to prop up your computer, put some books under your laptop, buy a laptop riser, etc…).
- Look at me… in the eyes! As much as possible, look at the camera (and not the screen) when you are speaking/presenting. If you struggle with this, Mark Bowden had a great tip in a video (see the link below): put a post-it note on top of the camera with a big smile on it… or a picture of someone that you care about.
- Sound quality matters. Do not use the mic that is built into your computer, smartphone or tablet. It sucks. A simple solution is to get a headset with a mic built into it. There are many options. I use HyperX Cloud Pro (mostly). You can do better. You can do worse. You also buy an external microphone (try USB ones to start off, you can get fancier with professional studio microphones if you have to). The main thing about great audio is also using headphones (this way the audio that is coming in doesn’t bleed into your microphone then back into the chat as feedback). I also use in-ear monitors and a more pro mic (depending on how important the meetings is).
- Silence is golden. This is a rule that I picked up from my early days in podcasting. When you’re not speaking, use the mute button. As a recent meme put it: Not muting is the new reply-all (don’t do it). Zoom has a very cool trick for this: Stay on mute, and just hold the spacebar when it’s your turn to talk (when you let go of the spacebar, you’re back on mute). Many of the better quality headsets and external microphones also have mute buttons.
- Sounds that don’t come from speaking. Avoid eating, shuffling and typing during a call – you may as well not be present. Stay present. If you need to do something else, excuse yourself via texting in the chat, and ensure that both your audio is muted and the video is off. Some people have not turned off their video, and let’s just say that there are plenty of new and viral videos giving overly personal tours of the bathroom. Don’t become the next viral video.
- Let the light shine on you. Good lighting is important. Don’t sit with windows behind you. Ideally face as many windows as you can. If you have bad lighting, add some lamps. If it’s still bad, invest in a ring light (Amazon has many options – see the link below). I had to reorganize my home office so that I am facing the windows. It was a worthy investment of time.
- It’s not easy being green. Virtual backgrounds and screens seem to be the new “wallpaper” these days. Here’s a thought from Laura Gassner Otting that I prescribe to: don’t use a green screen or a virtual background. It’s fake. Fake makes it impersonal. Zoom and all video conferences already create these weird impersonal barriers. Make Zoom better by being more personal than fake. Put some nice and memorable objects in the background (books that you love, pictures of your kids, etc…). The idea is to make this experience personal… not fake.
- Steady now. Try to keep the camera as stable as possible (this is especially true if you’re using a laptop or smartphone). Some smartphones have built-in stabilizers, but it’s often not enough. I’ve seen some pretty shaky cams, and it’s like being on a roller-coaster ride after eating way too much fish n’ chips. Don’t turn your Zoom meeting into a vomit comet.
- Don’t worry, be happy. As my friend Mark Bowden says: Smile. Be happy. We’re all struggling. Be the one that everyone else wants to see on screen. With that, these are long and hard days. Keep the content short and often rather than one long session.
Bonus: Always password protect your sessions (it matters) and – if possible – don’t use wifi. Plug your computer directly into your router and shut down all other software that is running on your computer. This will make the connection much better. Promise.
Two other great resources on this that provided some inspiration for this article were:
- Seth Godin – Zoom & Skype call tips (the secrets of video conferences).
- Mark Bowden – Best Tips for Virtual Meetings & Presentations Working From Home with Expert Mark Bowden.
As for the gear mentioned in this article (and more), I have compiled a massive list on a private Amazon wishlist. Please note, this is the Canadian site, so all you have to do is replace the .ca with .com in your browser bar. I don’t know if this is an affiliate link. If it is, all proceeds will be donated to the Kids Help Phone: Amazon – Mitch Joel – Video Studio Wishlist.
Any other ideas for optimizing video conference calls?