I've been an advocate of video marketing for years because it is often the gift that keeps giving.
But one of the challenges I often bumped up against was the fact that a significant percentage of the population has a very real aversion to being in front of a camera. When you're trying to build thought leadership and position topical experts, that ain't no small thing.
Who knew it would take a pandemic to force people out of their camera-shyness?
People are chatting with family via FaceTime, Zooming into a virtual happy hour with friends, collaborating via a Google Hangout with work colleagues, or Skyping in for media interview..
8 Video Conferencing Pro Tips
Now that everyone is chatting in front of a webcam, I thought I'd share some media training tips for the stay-at-home era.
1. Dress For Success
It should go without saying that even though you now can wear sweat pants all day doesn't mean you should look like you are.
You can, of course, look casual when FaceTiming with family and friends but when you're collaborating with colleagues, you should dress as if you were working face-to-face with them in the office.
If you are doing an interview for a job or as a subject matter expert for a media outlet, you'll want to present your most professional self by wearing formal business attire.
Most importantly, wear a solid color shirt. Striped shirts can create an oscillating effect on screen that can be distracting.
2. Scout Your Environment
Find the best place in your home from which to conduct your video conferences. These are some of the factors you'll want to consider.
You will want the source of your lighting to be directed at you, not from behind you.
If you are video chatting during the day time, ideally you can find a place where you will be facing a window so the natural sunlight falls on your face.
Avoid at all costs sitting with your back to a window because that will cause the dreaded silhouette effect, making it difficult for viewers to see your glorious face!
If you are video chatting during the evening, you'll need to experiment with your lighting to achieve the best effect. Typically, having a light source directed at you from the front on both your left and your right side will illuminate your face well enough without casting deep shadows.
If you really want to get fancy, you can add a third backlight.
This video explains how to do a basic lighting setup.
While the obvious focus will be on your face during video chats, that won't prevent viewers from checking out the room in which you are chatting.
I have a green screen that until recently I used for my Beyond Social Media Show podcast. I used it for two reasons: 1) To remove any distractions from our discussions during the podcast, and 2) so that I could later edit segments of the podcast and give me the ability to add relevant content to the podcast.
I decided to abandon the green screen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic because the subsequent widespread use of video conferencing has acclimated viewers to seeing home environments in video interviews. It no longer seems unprofessional.
Now, instead of a solid color background, I have my bookcase and a couple guitars that hang on the wall as my backdrop. It adds, I think, a nice personalized touch.
Do you have a unique backdrop you can feature?
If not, at the very least, be sure to tidy up the room.
Is there a room in your home in which you are far less likely to be distracted? Can you use a room that is farthest away from where the most activity typically takes place in your home?
3. Gear Up
Your laptop's built-in webcam is most likely crap.
It might be fine for routine video calls with friends and family and for collaborating with work colleagues. But if you are doing video interviews for a job or media outlets (or for podcasts or webinars), you'll want to upgrade your camera from the standard-issue laptop variety.
I have a Logitech C920 HD webcam that I use for my podcast and for video conferencing. Be forewarned though; webcam prices have gone up considerably. I paid $179 for my Logitech C920 back in 2013 and I see that the same model is now selling for $235 on Amazon.
I guess that's what happens when the world starts video chatting en mass at exactly the same time that the supply chain of electonrics from China is put under severe stress.
Likewise, your laptop's built-in microphone is most likely crappier than its built-in webcam.
I bought a Yeti Blue USB microphone years ago and have been perfectly happy with it. The sound quality is great and far superior to my laptop mic. I can adjust the gain and it has settings for cardioid, omni, bidirectional, and stereo pickup patterns, giving me the flexibility to use it for several different purposes such as doing my podcast and interviews via video, recording vocals for a song, or conducting a face-to-face one-on-one interview.
(Which, of course, I won't be doing any time soon while this pandemic rages on.)
It features a big ole Mute button the front for quick and easy silencing when I need it.
And unlike my webcam, it hasn't increased in price; coming in at the same $129 I paid for it in 2013.
If you don't use headphones at some point very soon you may become the cause of some busted eardrums for all the feedback you create. Don't be that guy.
Feedback is that ear-splitting squeal that is caused when your microphone picks up the audio from your laptop's speakers and feeds that audio back into your laptop, creating an audio loop that results in much unpleasantness.
The solution is to cut the loop by using heaphones so that the audio from your video chat does not come through your laptop speakers and is therefore not picked up by your microphone.
But by using a set of headphones, you may solve one problem while inadvertently creating another.
I have a very nice set of Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones that are perfect for jamming out to my favorite tunes. The speakers fit around your ears all cushiony and comfortable, enveloping you entirely in music, oblivious to the outside world. Bliss.
I used them for a while on my podcast but this weird noise kept inserting itself into the recording whenever I spoke. It sounded like I was shuffling papers while I was speaking. I could not for the life of me figure out what was causing that noise. I tried using my iPhone headphones but to no avail; the shuffling noise continued.
I finally discovered that the culprit was the microphone that was attached to the cord of the headphones. It was brushing against my shirt while I was talking and that brushing against fabric was creating the shuffling papers sound!
I bought a cheap set of headphones that had no microphone on the cord (they are not easy to find!) and I've been set ever since.
Lastly, I would stay away from wireless headphones. I have seen too many examples of Bluetooth outages causing problems during interviews.
4. The Gear Icon Is Your Friend
Sooner or later you will encounter a technical glitch you'll need to solve. The best way to do that quickly without panicking is to be familiar with your technology's settings beforehand.
The three settings you'll want to become familiar with are your video camera, microphone and speaker settings. You'll want to understand how to switch between your laptop's microphone and your external microphone. You'll want to know how to switch between your laptop's webcam and your external webcam. You'll want to know how to flip between your laptop's speakers and your headphones.
It is very likely that though you may have your computer set exactly as you want it, that once you log onto the video conferencing app you'll need to readjust.
So, of course, you'll also want to familiarize yourself with the app's settings as well.
The gear icon is your friend.
So is YouTube. If you are unfamiliar with the video app, search for it on YouTube and you'll likely find a training video for that app.
5. Test Your Tech
The foremost thing you can do to make everyone's life much easier is to connect your computer directly to the internet with an ethernet cord rather than video chatting through WiFi. This will help ensure your broadband connection is as strong as possible and minimize any connection issues.
And now that you've discovered where the settings are on your computer, you might want to turn WiFi off, to prevent your computer from randomly switching between your ethernet connection and WiFi, which sometimes happens.
Another factor that can degrade your broadband connection is cords that are not firmly plugged in. If you've run into connection issues, check to ensure all your cords are plugged in tight. The coaxial cable coming from the wall to your modem, the cable from your modem to your router, and the ethernet cord from your router to your computer.
If you haven't used a video conferencing app yet for an upcoming video chat, ask a friend to give it a test ride with you beforehand. This will give you a chance to see how it works, explore the features in real time and give you confidence for your upcoming video conference call.
6. Settle In
You've decided on the room in which you'll hold your video chat. You've got the lighting figured out. You've got the right gear and you've familiarized yourself with your technology.
Now you've got to prepare your environment.
You'll want to restart your computer to free up any memory that has been gobbled up by programs you've been running. This helps ensure your computer has enough resources to run your video chat flawlessly.
You've got your comfy chair in place. But not too comfy! Sit up straight; don't slouch. You've got your cup of coffee or glass of water.
Lock the door. Turn your phone to silent. Minimize your Tabs. Turn off notifications on your computer.
Position yourself offcenter within the frame of your video rather than at the center. This creates a more visually interesting video for the viewer. This technique can help you tell more about yourself without uttering a word If you have an interesting backdrop that includes items that highlight your personality, like the books and guitars I mentioned earlier.
This compositional concept is called the Rule of Thirds. This video illustrateds the concept in more depth.
Eye To Eye
Camera Angles Matter. Most people set their laptop in front of them, tilt the cover back a bit and look down at the camera and screen.
But framing yourself at an upward angle is not flattering. You tend to tilt your head down, which bunches up the skin around your neck and makes it look like you’ve got enormous jowls. Plus, who wants to look up your nostrils?!?
Find a way to put your camera at eye level. If you're using your laptop's camera, you might want to set it on some books to bring the camera level with your eyes.
I use two screens. I keep the video feed on my large monitor and use my laptop monitor for my notes.
This keeps me from glancing away from the camera when I refer to my notes which also gives the appearance that I'm looking directly into the camera when I'm reading from my notes. This is an especially useful pro tip when you're doing a media interview.
7. Present Your Best Self
Silence Is Golden
Know where the mute button is at all times and use it frequently.
No one wants to hear the gulp gulp gulp as you drain your forty ounce water bottle or the klackety-klack of your keyboard while you take notes. If you're using a USB microphone, it will pick up the tapping of your fingers on the desktop and you won't even notice the distraction you are creating.
Be aware of your vocal delivery. I cannot count how many webinars I have suffered through where the presenter was clearly a subject matter expert, who obviously was a wealth of knowledge in his field, but whose delivery was as flat as a Kansas plain.
Keep your audience interested in what you have to say by modulating your tone and injecting some passion into your topic.
No monotones need apply.
Mind The Pause
Be aware of latency. This is most likely to happen if you are chatting with an audience halfway across the globe or if you are the subject of a media interview.
By now, we have all become acutely aware of which of our favorite broadcast personalities are adept at navigating the pauses caused by video conferencing and which awkwardly mismanage the latency.
If you are the subject of an interview, finish what you have to say and let the host direct the next direction of the interview. That's their job. However, try to avoid follwing up a pregnant pause with a continuation of your train of thought or argument.
That will amost guarantee an awkward exchange when the host jumps in just as you continue your thought.
8. The Best Laid Plans
Remember the BBC Dad?
Professor Robert Kelly was being interviewed from his home office live on BBC News about South Korea when his daughter marched into the room. The experience was no doubt mortifying for Mr. Kelly but the video went viral and unwittingly set the stage for the new reality of our work-from-home era.
We have all become much more forgiving for the errant interrupting child, dog barks, or cats jumping onto the keyboard. So if an unexpected interruption comes your way, don't sweat it. We've all been there.
Then there are technical glitches that we've all become accustomed to as our news media adapts to video conferencing. It is usually the guest who have the technical problems. But in this case, it was MSNBC's Nicole Wallace who was booted from her own show!
The guest maintained his composure and waited till the cable outlet cut to a commercial.