Video chat, video conferencing, Skyping, Facetiming, or now, Zooming, is going to be a fairly major way we communicate through this season and into the future.
The reason presenting yourself well on a video call matters is because in that online video chat environment we’ve already lost a few of our primary senses from the human interaction, smell, taste, and touch. That leaves our sight and hearing. In the same way that someone without hearing or sight will say that their other senses are heightened, in a video call, we’re missing the hug we might have started the interaction with. We haven’t had a chance to buy each other a drink, or shake hands, or simply see our smiles and smell our perfume, and feel at home together.
So let’s make the visual and the audible sensory experience as good as our tools and technology allows us to.
1. Use headphones
Using headphones, even the cheap headphones that came with your mobile phone are better than nothing. Headphones gives the call a fighting chance of sounding good to all parties.
This is about isolating your microphone from the audio coming out of the speakers, so the microphone hearing your voice is only listening to your voice, and not the voices of everyone else on the video chat. Modern video conferencing software like Zoom puts a lot of work into removing the other callers’ audio from your voice feed.
2. Try a better microphone than the one in your laptop
If you’re lucky, the headphones you just picked up, like Apple EarPods or AirPods also have a microphone on them then that’s a double win because they bring the microphone closer to your mouth.
If you want to get super nerdy you can buy a pro mic like a Rode NT-Mini like the one I’m using here, or a great starter microphone is the ATR2100-USB many podcasters recommend. There’s even a new USB-C model.
The ideal position for most microphones is as close to your mouth as possible.
3. The rule of thirds
Look at yourself in your computers webcam preview and imagine that the image is split into thirds, and move the camera/laptop lid so that your eyes are on the top third line. This will ensure that your image is easy to view for everyone else on the chat, plus the webcam and video compression is optimised for this kind of positioning so you’ll look as natural and pleasant as possible.
Let the light in. Simply put, light up your face, and let the webcam see your lit up face.
If there’s a window in your room, position your computer and webcam so you’re seated looking outside the window, that way the light is on your face and the camera can see you easily.
If there’s no windows in your room, try and position yourself so ceiling lights, and desk or floor lamps, are all behind the computer, so the webcam has a fighting chance of exposing for your face and not a light behind your face.
The idea is that the your face has light on it and what’s behind you has less light on it.
5. Eye contact
With those other senses all turned off, we’re left with only a few signals that we are engaged and interested in the call.
One of the biggest signals of that kind of attention has always been eye contact, yet on a video call we have never been less able to make eye contact.
It’s because the people we are looking to, are usually in the middle of our screen, but the camera, the one picking up our eyes, is on the top or side of the screen.
Here’s an example from my iPad, one is me looking at the people I’m talking to, and one is me looking at the camera. Which one seems like I’m interested?
Early releases of iOS from 2019 had a feature where FaceTime would alter your eyes when it detected that that you were looking at the centre of the screen instead of the camera. It was actually really cool, but never made it’s way into the public releases.
So until artificial intelligence can make it look like we are looking at our caller’s eyes, try and maintain some eye contact by looking at your camera, instead of the screen.
6. Disable noise cancelling headphones
If you’re rocking a sweet set of noise cancelling headphones, you might find yourself a little bit emotionally disconnected from the call, if only because some of that noice your headphones are cancelling will be your voice, and a natural part of a conversation is not only hearing the people you’re talking to, but also hearing yourself.
Part of the reason I use the Rode NT-Mini is because I plug my headphones into them, click the volume button to enable monitoring, and I turn that volume up, so my own voice is mixed in with the video caller’s voice, so even though I have headphones on, I hear my own voice as well, and I feel a part of the conversation.
7. Lead the conversation
Video calls are still a bit weird, there’s sometimes delays, dropouts, and it’s just missing that hug and cup of coffee we mentioned earlier.
So with the absence of those other things, don’t let the conversation become weird because you didn’t have a plan for where things would go.
No need for it to feel like a corporate board meeting, but in those awkward silences, lead the conversation to where you need it to go.
Before you start the call, in your head or on paper, map out the general two to four places you’d like the call to go, and if there’s a possible call to action, that’s a natural out.
8. Follow up email
I like to take notes in a conference call into an email addressed to all in the call. I start the email before the call begins and put everyone’s email addresses in the to: section, and write a simple email thanking everyone for their time for the call and then just re-stating the dot points we covered and any items that ay of us need to follow up on, or provide info for. That way everyone else feels liberated to immerse themselves in the conversation because I’ve told them I’ll send some notes after the call.
9. Be yourself
I’ll end on this note because it’s an easy one, but something we can all aspire to: just be yourself.
There’s no need to over-perform or be over-excited on the video call.
Bring your best self, but be you, and find methods and rituals you can bring to the call that help you be yourself.
Here’s a weird but simple thing I always prepare, and it’s because I feel like the opening moments of a video call can be a little awkward. So I prepare a story about how some silly little inconvenient thing has ruined my day, so when we all say hello, and they ask how I am, instead of saying “good” I can reply with “Well, I have had the worst day ever. I went to my regular coffee shop and ordered a coffee, a long black with cream, and had great banter with the barista. We’re best mates now. So I leave the coffee shop and I’m halfway home when I take a sip of my coffee and realise that he’s forgotten the cream. So now I’m best mates with an obvious psychopath. Who forgets someone’s cream in a long black?! Worst day ever!” and we all laugh at how silly that is but we’ve also gotten over that initial stumbling block of starting a call.
10. Bonus tip: Use a great camera
This is a much higher tech level than most will go to, but I couldn’t let it slip.
I use a setting like the photo below that connects my Sony A6400 to my laptop using an Elgato HD60 S+. So my professional camera is now a webcam!
Photos below of the difference in quality, and also of the setup.