Skype and other forms of video conferencing are becoming more and more common in the workplace today—presenting both benefits and challenges. Ideally, one should get individual coaching on this new technology, but that’s not always possible. Thus these tips will help ensure a good first—or fifth—impression for those times when communication is mediated by technology.
1. Decide Which Application to Use
One doesn’t always have the luxury of deciding which video conferencing platform to use. It may be Skype, Webex, a company’s internal video system, or even FaceTime. Some are better than others and some are less expensive than others, but any can have a glitch. For instance, a colleague well-versed in video conferencing was in the midst of a key interview at a search firm when the video went out mid-stream. I prefer using Skype’s free service from my iPhone and Webex on my MacBook Pro.
When you can choose an application, decide well in advance which is best for your purposes. Ensure that it will be compatible for others, download any required software, and share handles or user IDs. Take advantage of this time. Launch the application and get familiar with its features. Watch a tutorial or two. You’ll come across prepared, even tech-savvy, if something goes awry and you can help troubleshoot.
2. Optimize the Camera Angle
Most video conferences take place via a computer or phone’s internal camera; sometimes it’s a webcam clipped to the top of a monitor. Regardless, you want to be captured from the ideal perspective, with the camera centered and at eye-level.
The right angle is key, which is one reason why cinematographers are paid handsomely to capture just the right angles for big-budget blockbusters and low-budget indie films alike. The angle of the camera shot has psychological implications; you don’t want to look like you are cowering from or towering over your audience.
Ideally, you want to be shot straight on, forming a triangle of the crown of your head and your left and right shoulders within the frame. If the camera is too low, use books to prop it up until the lens is at eye-level. If the camera is too high, adjust your seating arrangement or lower the camera and put it on a tripod instead.
To create the illusion of eye contact, close the default—and often distracting—image of yourself, or move it as close to the camera position as possible; sit a few feet back from the screen; and keep an open, soft focus on the camera more than the faces of those you are meeting with. Entering full-screen mode on the application can also help with this.
3. Prepare Your Background
Look behind you. The people you’re interacting with will see everything that is in frame for the entirety of the meeting. A cluttered background can distract from what you have to say, and could project something about your organizational skills. A good rule of thumb is “If you wouldn’t want it in a live meeting, you shouldn’t have it in a video conference.” To further avoid distractions for both you and your audience, inform others about the meeting, put a sign on your door, turn off push notifications on your phone and computer, or at the very least silence them. It is important to conduct video conferences in quiet, businesslike settings with solid internet connections, especially when working remotely or from a home office.
If you are interested in branding opportunities, a great idea I recently learned from a rising entrepreneur with a tech startup was to create a backdrop by painting a spot of wall in your office with the company’s colors and logo. Or consider going the extra mile for an important job interview by optimizing your lighting situation. Overhead lighting might be the default scenario, but will cast shadows under your eyes. To look your best, you want soft, natural lighting sources. If possible, use three of these sources: one behind you and two in front of you/behind the camera coming from both left and right.
4. Prepare Yourself
Even though the camera frame only captures your face and shoulders in the shot, take the time to consider your attire and dress for the occasion from head to foot. Triple-check that nothing is caught in your teeth from lunch or that your hair is askew. Remember, you may need to stand up and retrieve something from across the room, so pay attention to the bottom half as well. You may not need it, but better safe than sorry. Solid-colored clothing works best; avoid stark whites, bright yellows and reds, as well as fabrics with complicated or bold patterns. Accessories, like scarves and neckties with subtle, tightly designed patterns work nicely on screen. Be careful about large jewelry and watches, which can be distracting, plus have the potential to rattle as you gesture.
Be sure to get comfortably seated in a good chair before the video conference begins. The camera and microphone magnify everything tenfold, so avoid fidgeting and project an authentic calmness. A smile can go a long way to set tone at the beginning. However, be careful not to smile too much, and avoid staring into the camera by maintaining a pleasant facial expression throughout. Good posture is of course essential.
In general, video conferences are much more akin to face-to-face meetings than conference calls. Display the same demeanor and physicality you would during an in-person meeting. Employ active listening giving periodic clues—a nod of the head, “hmm” or “yes”—that you are present and engaged, the technology hasn’t frozen, and their points are being received on your end.
Similarly, know your main points so you can interact naturally. It’s okay to look down from time to time to reference notes, but avoid typing and hunting around open browsers on your monitor during the meeting. On a related note, it’s a great idea to have the video conferencing application open in full-screen mode to avoid the temptation to click “send/receive” on your inbox.
5. Do a Practice Run
Video conferencing is beneficial, but to do it well takes practice. Once a video platform has been selected, do practice runs with a friend or trusted colleague. In addition to learning how the platform works, you can work out where to look, how loudly to speak, and what to do with your hands. If you don’t have someone to practice with, use your computer or phone’s video recording application and review the footage.
We also recommend launching and testing the application a few minutes prior to the meeting to ensure the camera and volume settings are still optimal. And if you do run into a technical glitch or weak connection, don’t hesitate to acknowledge the issue and request the speaker repeat themselves. There is nothing worse than stumbling to reply to a question you didn’t fully comprehend. And if the problem persists, politely suggest stopping the call and redialing, or if you are battling a terrible internet connection, switch to an old-fashioned conference call. It’s better to appear as a problem solver than strain to hear and be heard for the remainder of the meeting.
Diana Wyenn, CEO Perspective Group
Impression Management Coach
The CEO Perspective Group has helped leaders excel for decades—providing assessments and advice for the CEO, investor, board or company that wants to be even better. Firms, top and senior executives who don't believe in good enough. People and companies who want both rapid and long-lasting results. The CEO Perspective Group was created for these clients. To learn more, visit us online at www.ceoperspective.com.