When Virtual Becomes The New Reality

Lights! Camera! Action! But now with social distancing we need to rethink our lights and camera to get to the action.

The COVID19 pandemic has turned everything in our lives upside down including how we do business. Those face-to-face meetings with potential business partners, investors and journalists have been replaced by encounters through that tiny camera on the top of our computer screen. Our eyes are now focused on the lens of our Macs and PCs.

Today Zoom and Skype virtual meetings are a necessity. That’s why it is essential we have the vision and knowledge of how to communicate on these high stakes video calls.

The lighting, the angle, your posture, where you are looking and what is in the background are all things you need to consider when conducting those all-important meetings. As the actor Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” and that’s why we need to make that initial introduction great, especially since we are doing it virtually.

First, think about the camera location.

Is it at eye level? If your computer is sitting on your desk or on your lap, then it’s below your eyes.  That is okay if you don’t mind someone looking up your nose…but most likely that’s not your preferred view.

Way back in my second job in television news, I interviewed actress Debbie Reynolds (actress Carrie Fisher’s Mom, Carrie played Princess Leia in Star Wars). She told the camera operator and me to raise the camera to eye level. She said, “It forces my neck up and takes away the wrinkles.”  I never forgot that the rest of my career, and her advice applies here.

When conducting a virtual meeting you need to speak up!

The microphones on computers oftentimes aren’t the best quality so it is important to talk at a slightly exaggerated volume. Take your regular voice and crank it up a notch. It will sound better to those listening. If they can’t hear you, you will lose them and if you lose them then what’s the point of the meeting?

Though it’s not necessary, here’s a suggestion: Purchase an external camera with an embedded microphone that attaches to the top of your computer. The quality is noticeably better.

But no matter how good your microphone is please mute it when you’re not talking. The ambient noise can be irritating to say the least. No one wants to hear the garbage truck or indoor game of basketball in the background.

Lighting for your virtual meeting is critical.

Light behind you is bad. You don’t want to be “backlit,” which means you basically look like a silhouette. If there is a window behind you, then you need to move. If there is a bright light behind you, then turn it off.

At the same time, you do want light in front of you. A small lamp helps light up your face. Most people don’t realize it, but you can help yourself by turning the brightness on your computer screen all the way up.

When you have an important virtual meeting, you need to make sure you are looking directly into the camera. That way you are looking your subject right in the eye.

Eye contact is key when talking to someone because it implies you are paying attention and listening. The last thing you want is to be distracted or distracting. As a colleague of mine says, “You don’t want to be shifty-eyed slim shady.”

I remember when I was a kid in my elementary school classroom my teacher, Mrs. Evans, would always tell me to “Sit up straight!”  Now here I am telling you to “Sit up straight!”  Posture is important when you are on camera.  If you slouch it is noticeable and therefore it is distracting, and it takes away from your presentation.

Finally, what is that behind you?

With more and more TV news folks forced to report from home, their audiences are becoming increasingly aware of their backgrounds. Yahoo recently wrote a story titled: If You Can’t Stop Staring at TV Anchors’ Home Backgrounds, You’re Not Alone.  The author writes, “There were two shelves behind her, both lined with books. I moved off the couch and inched closer to the set, but I couldn’t make out any of the titles.”

Just like the TV audiences, the people you are talking with may also want to know what’s going on back there. So, you better be sure there is nothing you don’t want seen.  I have seen dirty laundry on the floor and magazines strewn about the room. Suffice it say, it’s not a good look.  And you don’t want any pictures or “sayings” on the wall that could be embarrassing.  Also, if there are other people (or animals) in the house, let them know you are having a meeting and don’t just close the door, but lock it.

I’ve been asked about those computer-generated backgrounds. My answer is simple, unless it is really good and good quality, then don’t do it. They look fake and add nothing to the purpose of the meeting. Additionally, if people only remember your backdrop, then you have failed to have them concentrate on the message you are delivering.

Former CBS Evening News anchor, Dan Rather, titled his book “The Camera Never Blinks.” That means the lens sees all and can only stare at what’s there. Make sure not to give the camera or those peering through it a peek at anything you don’t want seen.

Once you have all that, it’s up to you to give them a quality presentation, virtually of course.  Lights! Camera! Action!