A winning on-camera presentation is no longer just a noteworthy career goal; it’s become a professional imperative, says Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. That’s because doing business in the coronavirus age likely means meeting after meeting with prospects, clients, and other agents over Zoom, Skype, and other video platforms.
But this shift in priorities may bring discomfort. You’re not alone if you’re camera shy. Fifty-nine percent of consumers say they’re more self-conscious on a video call than meeting in person, according to a survey by video platform Highfive and Zogby Analytics. Some people even confess to making up excuses to avoid video calls, such as pretending their camera is broken or blaming a poor Wi-Fi connection.
But you needn’t go to such lengths if you bring the same level of polish to your video calls that you do to an in-person meeting. Plus, you have a big incentive to step up to video now. “Those who don’t use it will start to feel disconnected in their business,” says real estate pro Marki Lemons Ryhal of ReMarkiTable LLC in Chicago, who produces a video podcast, “Social Selling Made Simple.”
Whether you use it for conferencing, livestreaming, training sessions, home tours, or “vlogging” (video blogging), video is a powerful tool. A report by Wainhouse Research finds that 74% of videoconferencing users say they like seeing colleagues’ reactions to their ideas, and nearly 70% feel video increases connectedness among participants.
Lemons Ryhal and others offer 10 simple steps you can take—many of which are free—to bring your A game to video.
1. Pay attention to your backdrop. A messy background can reflect on you, Lemons Ryhal says. Stage a 3-by-3-foot space as your video backdrop. Rather than a blank wall, consider setting up a nicely organized bookshelf or a console table with a lamp, pictures, or vase of flowers. Or, consider a backdrop that displays your real estate awards and license.
“Think about your clientele,” Whitmore says. “You’re trying to sell homes so you’re selling warmth and elegance. You want your background to reflect that.”
2. Find your light. Avoid having a light source directly behind you; your image will become a silhouette. Also, avoid sitting directly under a light, which can cast unflattering shadows on your face. “You want the light to shine on your face, not your back,” Whitmore says. Position yourself about 2 feet in front of a lamp or window. Also, consider investing in a small light to click onto the front of your phone or computer to brighten your on-screen calls.
3. Clean the camera lens. “Stop filming with dirty phones,” Lemons Ryhal says. Cameras easily get filthy, and that affects video quality. She uses premoistened lens wipes before every video call.
4. Check audio levels. Find a quiet space to connect, particularly if you’re using the built-in speakers on your computer or phone. Consider a spot with carpeting or window treatments, which absorb sound better than echo-prone surfaces like hardwoods or tile. Also, plug-ins like Krisp, a noise--canceling tool that removes background sounds on video calls made from your computer desktop, may help. Lemons Ryhal recommends an external microphone that plugs into your computer via USB. (She uses the Blue Yeti USB mic.)
5. Consider add-on equipment. If videoconferencing is becoming routine, invest in tools such as extra batteries for your phone, a phone tripod, and a computer webcam. Lemons Ryhal recommends a selfie stick or tripod to stabilize your phone (e.g., the Yoozon Selfie Stick Tripod). For your computer, improve video and audio quality by purchasing a webcam. Lemons Ryhal recommends the Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam.
6. Avoid unflattering angles. Never hold your mobile device low or have your laptop camera pointed up—it’ll spotlight your neck or chin area. Instead, hold your mobile device at, or about, 1 to 2 inches above eye level. For a laptop, use stacked books to bring your computer’s camera to eye level, or even purchase a laptop lift stand. Keep your body, from the chest up, in the frame.
7. Make eye contact. Thirty percent of consumers surveyed by Zogby Analytics admit to spending more than half of their video calls staring at their own face. Instead, “always look directly at the camera lens,” Lemons Ryhal says. “Consumers need to feel like you’re talking to them.” How to find the right spot? Move your finger in front of your device’s camera lens to pinpoint where you should be looking. Keep your eyes there the entire time.
8. Improve your connection speed. Choppy or freezing frames disrupt the conversation flow over video, Lemons Ryhal says, adding that Wi-Fi tends to be slower than Ethernet lines. To ensure consistency, use wired connections. Many newer computers don’t have Ethernet ports, but you can purchase a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for about $10.
9. Send good nonverbal vibes. Psychologists say we convey 7% of messages with words; we communicate the remaining 93% through our tone of voice and body language. Pay attention to your nonverbal presence on video. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. In that position, your voice will project better and will also keep you from sitting too close to the camera. Speak slowly and confidently, using hand gestures for emphasis, Avoid fidgeting like touching your face and provide conversational feedback. Nodding occasionally will show you’re engaged.
10. Do a quick appearance check. “You don’t have to look like a superstar on calls, but put in some effort,” Whitmore says. Don’t show up in a T-shirt or pajamas. Opt for solid colors instead of stripes or patterns. And avoid wearing all black or all white, which can cause camera exposure issues. Before going live, do a quick once-over: Inspect your teeth, smooth over hair flyaways, and smile. With your new, winning video appearance, you might actually look forward to on-screen calls.