Who’d have thought, way back in January, that, ‘Karen, you’re on mute’ would be one of the phrases of the year? And, oh how we laughed at that poor Professor when his kids came dancing into his office when he was live on TV. Now we’re all trying to keep the show on the road while our three-year-old flicks soup at the kitchen wall, like a demented Jackson Pollock. Unfortunately, whether you are Zoom fatigued or not, virtual calls aren’t going anywhere. Luckily, there are some easy wins to help you look the part.
- First things first, make sure your face is well lit. We’ve all been on calls where some numpty is sat in near darkness, his face silhouetted as if he’s in the witness protection scheme. Bad lighting makes you look unprofessional, but there are some simple fixes. The secret is to have two different light sources, positioned so you get equal coverage on your face. Natural light from a window is best. If that isn’t possible, use a couple of different sources of artificial light. To look like a real pro, I recommend buying a ring light off Amazon for around thirty quid.
- Get your computer propped up on something so the camera is at your eye level. This ensures you are framed in the picture in a way that gives you maximal presence. You can buy a stand, but you needn’t bother. I put mine on top of a big box of Articulate. Alternatively, you can play book Jenga-even Hilary Clinton does it.
- Position your screen an arm’s length away from you. This allows you to use your hands for emphasis when making points and, again, helps frame you nicely on the screen.
- Watch your posture. It’s easy to slump on virtual calls, but to project authority take up space. A quick hack here is to tuck your bum underneath your spine a little. This will push your chest out and pull your shoulders back. Stick a pillow behind your back for comfort and support.
- If the camera adds ten pounds, then Zoom calls dilute our energy by about 20%. This means that when we speak virtually we need to be 20% more energised than if we were having a conversation face-to-face. That may feel mad to you sat in your living room, but the people on the other end of the call will appreciate it.
- The biggest place energy shows up is in your voice. You don’t need to go all Smashy and Nicey, but you need some light and shade otherwise you’ll bore them to tears. And don’t forget you are still allowed to pause: it’s easy to forget there are human beings on the other end of the line and go into robot mode.
- Make eye contact. You should be looking at the camera when you speak-not at people’s faces on the screen. This can feel odd on virtual calls, but it adds intimacy in what can be an alienating medium. A good tip is to use a Post It note with a face drawn on and stick it near the camera to remind you to look into it.
- Don’t monologue! In face-to-face meetings, we pick up on a load of non-verbal cues that tell us that other people want us to stop talking. Maybe they’re bored? Or have something to contribute? Perhaps they are on fire? It’s easy to miss many of these cues on virtual mediums. (And it’s also harder for them to interrupt.) So, remember to keep it brief. And be more pro-active in bringing other people into the conversation, especially the natural introverts. Not only does this take the pressure off, you’ll look more collaborative too.
- This is not Netflix! Research suggests that people behave worse on Zoom calls than they do in real life meetings. You can’t just sit there passively, head slumped, with a face like a smacked arse. You’re not a spectator, even though it feels like that, and your lack of engagement is contagious. Remember: we can see you. (I’m looking at you NYT guy!) So, if you are going to put your hands down your trousers, do turn off your camera. Or, you know, do it on your own time.
- Set yourself up to listen. Listening well is tricky, especially if you are on calls all day. To help, turn off your phone; shut down your email and internet browser; and activate the ‘speaker view’ function on Zoom. This way you can focus on what is being said, rather than wondering exactly what version of the karma sutra Dave in the middle window has got on his book shelf.
- Don’t have Zooms at all. I know, novel idea. But do you actually need to Zoom or would a phone call or email suffice? Online meetings are tiring for everyone and remember: you’ve got soup to clear off the wall.
Max Dickins is author of Improvise! Use the Secrets of Improv to Achieve Extraordinary Results at Work which is out now. He is co-director of improvisation training company Hoopla! Hoopla run improv classes, shows and corporate training.