We all know webcam zombies, people who may look normal when they walk down the street, but when they sit in front of a webcam for a video conference, they look horrible. This problem is occurring more and more frequently as more and more people are working from home or remotely and have not thought about their appearance on the screen.
The problem could be the lighting. It could be their sloppy clothing choices. It could be the garbage piled up in the background that you just don’t want to see. Either way, they look like someone you’d rather avoid than participate in an online chat.
I had no idea I was one, until a coworker sent me a screenshot of my appearance online (see above). Yeah, pretty awful. I knew I couldn’t keep this look and also keep my clients.
If you’re sick at home or going into quarantine, same thing: better not to look as bad as you feel.
Here are the steps I took to get back from the living dead and avoid other common presentation missteps in a video conference. Send these tips to other unconscious zombies you know. They will thank you before they eat your brain.
Dress for success
Looking for your best starts before you start your computer – it starts with dressing yourself. Take inspiration from the people you meet and dress accordingly, experts advise.
“Your outfit should be similar to [what youâd wear to] an office meeting, says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a site that helps people find jobs with flexibility. âYour appearance should always be professional and reflect the organization you work for. My business is pretty laid back, so it’s okay to be dressy as long as you look presentable. However, if the people you meet are in costume, you should dress the same.
You can take advantage of the fact that the camera cannot see below your waist by wearing comfortable socks and shoesâ¦ or opt out altogether. (Yes, even the pants, that may be your secret!)
But avoid striped or plaid tops, which can blur and be a distraction in front of the camera. And above all a too revealing top, warns Reuben Yonatan, CEO and editor-in-chief of GetVoIP, a voice over IP review site. A strapless top might unintentionally make you look topless, he warns. Chances are, it’s not what you want your boss to think.
Consider the accessories carefully. âPay attention to your jewelry and clothing. If it reflects, tinges or sparkles, it will distract the person you are talking to, âYonatan warns.
Your hair and makeup should be similar to what you would wear to the office, although perhaps a bit more âdone,â most experts agree. The camera tends to wash people out, so you may need more blush or makeup than you normally would wear, Fell says. Yonatan notes that even men may want to add a touch of powderâ¦ especially those with a bit dull hair and may have shiny spots on their heads.
Wearing too much makeup can be more embarrassing than wearing too little, so test your on-screen appearance before the lights, the camera action. Set up your gear and see how you look good before your call, and make any necessary adjustments.
Control your environment
I made business calls while sitting in my bed, lying on the couch, and even cleaning my bathroom. But I would never conduct a video chat anywhere other than my home office, and even there, only after refreshing it.
âI tell people to make sure their space looks professional, but personal and used. I always give the two extreme examples. The first is the play which is far too personal. I always feel uncomfortable when you look at someone who is clearly in their room or can see personal items like dirty clothes or dishes. On the other hand, you have the people who try to keep things so simple that it looks like they’re doing a hostage recording in front of a white wall, âsays Dan Roche, vice president of marketing for TalkPoint, a provider of webcasting technology.
Find a happy medium, he suggests: a personal yet professional space with a bookcase or a simple wall in the background. Keep out windows, pets, children, or anything else that you may not be able to control the visuals or behavior of in the background.
If your background is not ready for the camera at all, you can set up an artificial background with a curtain or sheet. Most experts agree that such a backdrop is not ideal, unless you are filming some kind of public video and want to use a branded banner or backdrop to promote your business. If you are leading a private video call, you should only resort to a staged backdrop if your surroundings are truly unprofessional. The people on the other end of the phone will know that you are sitting in front of a sheet or curtain, and they may wonder what you are trying to hide.
Light, camera, action!
You might be wearing your best outfit, your hair and makeup can be done perfectly, and your home office can look immaculate, but none of that will matter if the person on the other end of your connection video can not see anything.
Relying on natural light can be tricky on the camera, as it tends to brighten the background and darken the foreground where you’re sitting. The solution is to use lamps to create lighting that looks natural even if it isn’t. You should avoid venetian blinds, which can cause striped shadows on your body or the background, warns Yonatan.
Instead of relying on the power of the sun, heed this advice, offered by Chris LaVigne of video hosting provider Wistia in an online video: “Lights: If you have them, use them.” He suggests installing two lights on each side of your computer. The lights should be just above your eye line and about 3 feet away.
Fresh out of the lights? LaVigne has a workaround: a computer screen placed behind and slightly above the laptop or webcam you are using for video. âTurn up the brightness and zoom in on a Word document or whatever is white,â he says. âYou’ll be surprised how much this can help. “
The camera should also be slightly elevated. LaVigne suggests placing it right above your eyes, which will force it to point at you, very lightly. It helps you look a lot more natural on camera than if the camera was below you, pointing towards your chin.
Now you are ready for action! When the video call arrives, speak naturally and look at the camera as if it were the person you are talking to. And remember: the sound may be muted, but the camera never pauses. While your video conferencing coworkers can’t hear you whispering to your coworker or child in the background, they can see everything that is going on. Be on your best behavior, or all the work you did to prepare for the call won’t matter.