Many of you are now experiencing working from home for the first time. Perhaps you’re finding yourselves having more conference calls with people you can no longer meet in person. This means a blowup in Zoom, Skype, and Messenger use. You’ll probably have noticed that you can pick up subtleties in your colleagues’ backgrounds that you wouldn’t normally notice, simply because it’s being framed in the picture that you see on your screen.
As you speak, you probably noticed that you don’t look the way you see yourself in your mirror. You may have even flinched a bit when you looked at your colleagues or yourself and realized that lighting really does make a ton of difference! After all, if you were having a photo-shoot, or a professional portrait made, you’d want to look your best, and rely on the photographer to take good care of the background and lighting, right? Well, when you appear in a conference call, it’s all on you, and like it or not, it’ll all pop out simply because it is framed and in focus. So it’s a good idea to pay attention to a few details in order to avoid giving the wrong idea.
Regretably, you’ll look like you don’t care if you don’t pay attention to these details, even if the reality is that you’re working hard at home and didn’t think of all these small things because it simply didn’t occur to you.
I’ve worked online, teaching, learning, having interviews, and have picked up a few tricks over time, but I’ve also learned more from many professional YouTubers who have been sharing their expertise lately. I’ll try to briefly summarize some of this wisdom with you below. I’ve linked three above, the last is a bit old, actually, and is more about pre-recording, but she does have some great advice that might help you. Here are a couple more that I don’t actually follow, but they do add a couple of tips that others haven’t, so I’ve included them.
Probably the most important aspect about appearing in a frame is lighting, and the best lighting is to be found in front of a window. As you check your best angle (we all have one) take a second to scan your background: are there clothes hanging behind you? Unless you’re a fashion blogger, it’s probably a good idea to remove them from your background.
If you have pictures hanging on the wall behind you, are they work appropriate? Some of us don’t like to show our family members online, but have a family portrait right behind us, it might be a good idea to take it off the wall and replace it with something more appropriate, and make sure they’re alligned. If that creates a bigger problem than you’re trying to fix (say if the gap stands out, or you don’t have anything to cover it), change your angle a bit. I’m lucky that I have light coming in from three different angles in the room where I do most of my conference calls, and my walls are bare, but I do have a tall dresser, so I try to position myself in an angle where it’s out of the frame. If you don’t have natural light coming in, use a desk lamp and put it at an angle that’ll make the light shine on your face (not from above or below, but straight ahead). Avoid extremely bright lights, though, as they’ll make you look ghostly, especially if the rest of the room is shaded.
The most flattering angle for your camera to be is at about hairline height, just above your eye level. Most definitely avoid holding the camera on your lap, as that is universally unflattering and will move each time you do. You can hold up the camera on a stack of books, a window sill, or a tripod if you have one. What you use to prop up your camera doesn’t matter, as long as it’s stable and secured, because nobody will be able to see anything under or behind the device anyhow.
As you pick up anything that might be lying around and shouldn’t be, remove all clutter from your background, so everyone can concentrate on you and not be distracted from everything behind you, including the wall, the floor, and people or pets.
Close your doors and windows, so as to mute out distracting background noises, and make sure to let your family members know you’re going to be on a live online call, so they don’t drop in to inquire about their socks… Mhmh…
Once your area is clear, you found great lighting, muted out distractions, and found your preferred angle, choose what to wear. I know you’re probably glad you don’t have to iron your clothes to go to the office every morning, but a distance conference call still is, technically, work. And even if it’s not work related, if it’s for a charity you volunteer for, a family member or friend that you haven’t talked to in a while, it’s still a good idea to put in the effort to look presentable. Would you like it if you told someone you were dropping by and found them in their PJs, the house a mess, and they didn’t even bother to brush their hair (or teeth)? I don’t think so. You’d probably feel awful and wonder if you had given them enough advance warning. Even if you’re chummy with them, you’d feel bad, like an intruder, or worse, you’d feel like they couldn’t have cared less about you showing up. That’s not a nice feeling to have or to give, so take a few minutes to polish your appearance.
Obviously these are unusual times, and you don’t have to prim yourself up all the way as you would to go to the office, or wherever your job would take you. But at least take care of your upper half: wash your face, wear make-up if that’s what you’d normally do, brush your hair (even just the front if you’re in a pinch), or wear a nicely draped hijab, and wear a flattering blouse or shirt. If you haven’t ironed your shirts since you had to stay home, you can simply wear a t-shirt and blazer or cardigan. Layers are a good idea regardless, actually. Try to avoid shirts with playful prints and logos, unless you’re trying to make a very specific statement, it’s not very professional. You don’t have to use monochromatic looks, but keep in mind that the more you have going on in your clothes, the more it’ll drive the eye away from your face. If you’re trying to connect at a personal level, distracting from your face isn’t necessarily the best policy.
Jewelry is a good idea as long as it’s not too noisy, if it dingles and dangles it can be just another distraction, and might even make it hard to hear your voice, so keep it simple, tasteful, and flattering.
The good news is that you don’t need to worry about your lower half (pants/skirt)! Nobody is going to see it, unless of course you are planning on getting up from your seat and show people what’s below screen level, in which case you’ll have to consider top and bottom, and your floor.
In my Finding Your Style and Undertone blog posts I explain how to find the colors that flatter you most. Choose a color that flatters you and wear a top that is both nice on you and professional looking. If it happens not to be a professional meeting, then choose a style that compliments you and is appropriate to the circumstance, always in keeping with your own personal style.
If you struggle with fidgeting, moving around too much, or playing with your necklace or hair, cross your fingers in front of you to remind you not to gesticulate too much, as it can be incredibly distracting. Try to keep your focus on the camera, don’t look at yourself too much, try, as much as possible to make the people you’re talking to feel like you’re really listening and connecting with them. Look at them, and look at the camera. Please avoid doodling, checking your phone, or watch, tidying your desk, or rolling your eyes, giggling and engaging in other body language that you wouldn’t normally do if you were in a face-to-face live meeting. Although there’s nobody physically there with you, they can see everything you’re doing! It’s hard enough to keep focused on a screen as it is, don’t make it more uncomfortable on everyone else by disengaging in such a visually apparent way.
If you wear hijab normally, it’s a good idea to wear it in your conference call, even if it’s all women, because not everyone will know all this, and you will have, inevitably, people not taking all or any of these precautions. Their teenage kids or their husbands might show up unexpectedly and see you. Unfortunately, there might also be people who will screenshoot the conference call, and use the pictures without photoshopping you a covering. If you’ve never met in person, they might not even know that you normally wear hijab, and have no qualms about sharing them with colleagues, friends and family, or even publicly. So do keep this in mind.
Last but not least, about half an hour before the meeting is scheduled, make sure you familiarize yourself with the app you’re using, so you know how to turn off the camera, mute your side, share files, and anything else you should know about the conference call. Make sure you have your time and password handy so you can show up on time and be prepared, and not fumble around while everyone else is waiting to begin.
Do go over to the links provided above, and watch what some very experienced youtubers had to say about this. They also include a few details and links that I didn’t share with you here, simply because I haven’t tried them out myself yet.
I hope you’re all staying safe, taking this time to get closer to what and who is really important to you, and reconnecting with people all around the globe who might appreciate a kind and considerate hello.
Take good care, and I’ll be back again with a basboosa recipe I just discovered that has been making my kids’ days a bit sweeter these weeks!