As the on-going coronavirus crisis has shifted our interactions to video meetings, leaders we work with have become increasingly aware that how we appear on screen can have a significant impact on our presence. The BBC interview video that went viral a couple of years ago vividly, humorously, and memorably illustrated the consequences of not managing your surroundings when you’re on camera.
So how can we improve the way we show up on video? Here are five guidelines to quickly upgrade your presence on video. To help remember them, think about being aware of your “FIELD of vision” on video.
Most people tend to sit too far from the camera which makes it difficult for people to see your expression. Adjust your camera so that your head and shoulders fill most of the frame. At the top of the frame, it should appear that there’s about an inch of space above your head, and the bottom of the frame should be below your shoulders at your armpits. A good model is television news anchors.
Also, consider what’s in the background. It’s fine to have a couple personal items in view but eliminate anything in the background that could be distracting. You want others on the video call to pay attention to you, not to the knickknacks behind you. Avoid eliminating everything from view. You can also try using a neutral virtual background but be aware that parts of your image may flicker as the system works to hide what’s behind you.
To help you make appropriate eye contact with other meeting participants, position their images near your camera so that when you look at them, you will also appear to look into the camera lens. Also, many video platforms allow you to “stop self-view,” which will remove your image from your display while still allowing others to see you. Since we naturally are drawn to look at ourselves, removing this distraction will help you maintain appropriate eye contact. And, appropriate eye contact doesn’t mean you have to stare fixedly at the camera the entire time. We don’t maintain eye contact that way in person. Be aware that to look at others on the call, you must look at the camera, not at their image.
One of the easiest improvements comes from raising the camera to eye-level by putting your laptop on a stand or a couple of books. A low camera angle aimed up at your face will draw attention to your nose and chin rather than your eyes. Position the camera so you are looking straight ahead, not down at the table.
If your face is unevenly lit, the shadows will distract others. A light source in front of you such as from a window or a lamp will be the most flattering. One option we recommend is to mount a “ring light” around the camera of your laptop or other device. These are very inexpensive and easy to install and are being used by professionals including television commentators to illuminate themselves on camera.
Also be aware of lighting behind you. If there’s a strong light source such as a window or ceiling fixture behind you, your face will become a silhouette as the camera tries to compensate for the brightness. On the other hand, if the background is completely black, such as in a basement office, that is also distracting because you’ll appear to be floating in a void.
This is the flip side of sitting too far from the camera. People sometimes forget the camera and lean in to scrutinize something on the screen, such as small text on a slide. Others on the call will see your forehead looming into view, an image that is unflattering, conveys inexperience, and undercuts your credibility. If something is difficult to read, ask the presenter to increase the image size.
Following this handful of guidelines will greatly improve perceptions of your leadership presence in video meetings which are likely to be a large part of our work lives for the foreseeable future.