Many people who participate in online events are not dressed for it and compromise how they look and sound. We all dress up to go to work or for face-to-face meetings. Should we not do the same for online events?
I have learnt much over the past two years, including how to look and sound good online, the value of asynchronous webinars versus synchronous webinars, digital-first events versus hybrid events, and the opportunities to scale events to reach larger audiences.
A key learning in my participation in Office Hours was how to look good and sound good in online meetings. Over time I developed a discerning and critical observation of how participants in online meetings look and sound.
With the advent of Covid-19, businesspeople and politicians increasingly turned to video calls to deliver presentations or do interviews with television networks. But the value of the information they had to share was often undermined, or even destroyed, through horrible online setups – with views all too often right up their nostrils!
There is too often an overzealous use of virtual backgrounds that distort the image, with viewers fixated on that rather than listening to the message being conveyed.
One of South Africa’s cabinet ministers took to regular online appearances during the lockdown with his head chopped off or comically veered to one side or the other – to the point where it was no longer funny but rather tragic.
It’s clear that many people attend online event from their laptops. But most laptop cameras point upwards, towards the face. This framing invariably leads to an unflattering view right up the nostrils. With a 4K camera, the visuals are even more dramatic.
During the lockdown, when I saw these horrific visuals on TV, my awareness of the importance of looking (and sounding) good evoked much despair in me. I would jump off my seat and take a photo with my smartphone camera. I now have quite a collection of up-your-nostrils images in my library – testament to how not looking good and not sounding good can destroy one’s image and fail to get the intended message across.
Over time, my frustrated reaction turned to the realisation that informing and teaching others about how to dress for online meetings had become a calling. Yes, it is as important to dress for an online event as one would when going to the office.
Often one hears of Zoom fatigue. What is not appreciated is the subtle impact of poor preparation and investment in participating in online events can have on engendering this fatigue. Poor audio and video drives irritation and additional technical challenges can cause mental fatigue, not to mention resentment towards online events.
There are simple interventions, none which require monetary investment, that can radically transform your presence and impact in online meetings. The simple steps to pay attention to are these:
- Audio: This is most important, even more important than video. Simply using the headset that comes with most smartphones as your mic and speaker improves the audio markedly.
- Light: This is more important than the camera. Ensure that the brightest light is in front of you – often referred as a key light. If there is a window with bright light, face the window rather than the window being behind you. A desk lamp or any other source of light can dramatically improve the look.
- Camera: If you can afford it, a webcam is flexible as there is less dependency on the position of your laptop.
- Framing: This often leads to the up-your-nostrils outcome. If a separate webcam on a stand is not available, raise the laptop so the camera is pointing at 90 degrees to your face. If the video shows any portion of the ceiling of the room, then framing is a problem. Use books or a shoebox to raise the laptop.
- Virtual backgrounds: Avoid these like a plague. Rather have a natural looking background that is not too cluttered than using a virtual background. It is very tempting to use a background that projects a logo or a façade, and initially it appears to be fun or even endearing. But it will lead to video aberrations, especially around the head and eyeglasses. Even your ear may appear to fly off your head.
Online meetings or events are not going away. You can participate in meetings from pretty much anywhere now. And a larger global community is now part of our networks. So, if online meetings aren’t going away, paying attention to sounding good and looking good is a worthy and rewarding investment.
We created a video to explain in some additional detail on how to look good and sound good in online meetings.
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