Once upon a time in the land of professionals, it was considered okay to have a stray hair, wear a striped shirt or neglect to attend a Toastmaster’s meeting and pepper your conversations with “ums” and “uhs”. But these days with video interviewing, Google hangouts, transcontinental Skype sessions and YouTube stars, the game has most certainly changed. While marketing pros, former newscasters and some die-hard sales men and women might have the skinny on how to look great on camera, here are some tips for those of us taken just a bit by surprise.
1. Let’s talk about skin. Both men and women need to hear this. when you are on camera, shine is your enemy. Whether it’s an oily complexion or a bald head, if it can be considered distracting to your video counterpart, consider doing something about it. The same goes for blemishes, under eye circles and severely chapped lips. This doesn’t mean you have to pile on makeup, but making sure you’re literally putting your best face forward can make your visual session a little more bearable. Tools of the trade: powder, concealer, blotting papers, bangs, strategic lighting.
2. Clothing not optional. Just when you thought working from home was safe…you had to go get all gussied up again. Grabbing a conference call post-morning run isn’t as easy when that call is via video conference. But seriously, the clothing that you wear matters as much as wearing it at all. TV pros know this better than anyone (as do political consultants). You may not have time to get your professional “colors done” but you can stay away from bright white, vertical or horizontal stripes, or sleeveless anything. Ditto plunging necklines or distracting jewelry or ties.
3a. The camera DOES add ten pounds/years. But it all depends on the angle. If you are working from a laptop, mobile or desktop, be cognizant of the fact that looking down at the camera or screen makes you look jowly and old, while looking up at the camera can make you look slightly inferior. Angle your camera, phone or computer so that you are looking square at the lens and angled a little up and to your best side.
3b. On a similar note, it’s distracting for the “viewer” if you aren’t looking at them. This is tough because the screen is so large and the camera is usually much smaller (mobile is actually sort of a plus in this situation because the eye differential is so much less). A couple of quick tips to make it easier to pay attention to your conversation partner or intended audience:
- Place a sticker near the camera to draw your eye to that instead of the screen.
- Make the screen showing your partner large and put it as close to the camera as possible.
4. Create simple surroundings. If you are on frequent conference calls with multiple people, it might make sense to create a simple backdrop for these calls. Most people are so used to their office or cubicle that they don’t see what might distract others in the clutter. For instance, don’t do your webcast from in front of your bulletin board or calendar (which could have sensitive information on it) and make sure that any part of your desk, floor or walls showing is neat and free from debris. Finally, lighting and some decorations do matter. Overhead and fluorescent lighting makes people look notoriously….crazy and bad. Invest in a desk lamp and some neutral wall art or go with the standard bookcases.
5. Slow down. In normal conversations, we don’t answer or speak as quickly as possible once the other person is done speaking. I’m not sure why we have such an inclination to do so on camera. Instead, take some time, digest what the other person is saying and then speak slower than you want to. This accomplishes two things:
- You don’t seem nervous and will likely provide better and more thoughtful answers.
- Your conversation partner can understand you despite technical glitches.
When you pause simply wait a moment instead of saying “um” or “uh”. As more of us appear on camera with little to no formal speaking training, it’s becoming apparent that… yeah, maybe we should hit up a Toastmasters meeting after all.