We get it, athleisure wear is your new suit and the executive boardroom is now your bedroom. Zoom is our de facto “face-to-face” in the new Corona-crazy world. If you’re at any stage on the ladder to success, chances are you’ve had some “executive presence training.” Maybe you fancy yourself a pro at “owning a room.” Group meetings? Your chance to strut your stuff.
Zoom calls however are an entirely different beast and it pays to learn how to show up for every virtual conference call putting your best foot forward. Sadly, too many executives are clueless when it comes to Zoom basics. In the past few weeks, I’ve attended a meeting where I was literally staring up the nose hairs of a high-ranking executive. Then, a very impressive banker showed up for a zoom call looking like Carol from the Walking Dead, merely because she was in such a poorly lit room. Really? We’re at week 32 of the Pandemic and you still haven’t figured out your zoom vibe?
There are some basic simple things you can do to master the zoom beast. Funnily enough, at our agency, we support companies with large Zoom events and our focus is always managing the back end technology. However, we’ve found that our corporate partners are in fact more interested in learning how to look and sound good. What follows are our four best tips for your next Zoom call.
1. Location, location, location:
Choose an area of your home or office which is well lit, ideally with access to natural light. Your computer should be positioned so that natural light either streams in from the side in front of you, never directly behind you. If your back is to a window, this is a recipe for disaster. With light at your back, you’ll appear in silhouette, fall prey to the shifting light, and might end up looking like banker Carol from the Walking Dead. If you don’t have natural light, consider propping a lamp on a table to the side of your desk. An easy cheat for insufficient lighting is a selfie ring you can clamp on your laptop – available for under $20 at Amazon. In short, play around with the lighting before your Zoom calls. Set up a Zoom with a friend and experiment with your setting.
Also of critical importance: Choose a location that is free of distractions (ringing doorbells, leaf blowers, screaming kids, or barking dogs). If, like me, your dog is an 8-pound bundle of fur with a German Shepherd guard dog mentality, simply alert your fellow Zoom attendees in advance that you’re taking a call with Fido in tow and for Pete’s sake, put your computer on mute when he howls.
2. Have a Strong WiFi Connection:
Do you have a strong WiFi connection? If not, can you plug directly into your hardwired connection? Assuming you chose the room in your home with the best connection, consider how much bandwidth other house members are using while you are on your Zoom calls. One of the biggest challenges to a strong WiFi is when household members stress the system by gaming or anything that involves streaming. Tell roommates and family what time you will be doing your Zoom call and remind them not to stream anything or do something that might weaken your connection. Forgetful teenagers? Consider leaving a post-it note on all computers in the house, “I’m on a call from x to x pm!” as a strong reminder.
3. Put all eyes on you!:
You want people focusing on your face, not on what’s behind you. Take stock of what’s in your background. You don’t want to host a Zoom call in front of a bland wall, nor do you want a messy backdrop. Cluttered bookcase? Pretend you’re a stager at an IKEA store and place a few carefully curated objects behind you. Plain wall? Find a vibrant framed print or poster and take a nail-to-hammer to give some context to your room.
How you position your laptop is truly going to boost your ego. There’s a reason photographers rarely shoot headshots from below. Spoiler alert, that’s the same reason your computer or laptop should not be positioned far below your chin. For Zoom calls, we want your mugshot, so position your computer so the camera is roughly at eye level. Chances are you’ll need to find a few dictionary-sized books or a rectangular box to lift your computer. Once you have your computer in place, give us some distance. You don’t need to be up close and personal with the screen. Give a good foot of space between you and the computer. Play around with it until you feel comfortable.
4. Trust us, we can hear you and if we can’t, we’ll let you know.
The Zoom call has started. You really don’t have to lean in and shout, “Can you hear me?” Just start talking, smile, and look directly into the camera on your laptop, not at the screen. We know, this seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? We are naturally inclined to focus on faces. However, you’re making a connection with other Zoom attendees and when you look at the computer, it actually appears as if you are looking down, not directly at them.
While it may feel like an exercise in narcissism to take so many steps to look your best on a Zoom call, it doesn’t change the fact that how people perceive you is not just from an in-person interaction — it can be virtual too. Don’t worry — it’s not vanity, it’s professionalism.