If you’ve seen yourself reflected on screen with too many chins due to a bad camera angle, had a screenshare snafu like accidentally showing your personal email inbox, or had a family member wander through the background with a bag of chips, you know that pulling off a professional video call while working from home can be a lot harder than it seems.
To help you tame barking dogs in the background, poor lighting, and glitching audio or video and make sure communications go smoothly, here are some simple tips that will help you maintain a professional appearance on screen while working remotely.
1. Adjust your camera angle
How you look on screen comes down to primarily two things: the quality of your camera and having the right lighting.
Almost all laptops come with built-in cameras, but most produce mediocre results. For starters, most built-in cameras aren’t high quality. Secondly, without the ability to adjust the angle of the camera, your face is often filmed at an angle that is less than flattering and can often even make it look like you’re looking off-screen, inattentive, or even worse – that you have three chins.
Using a high-quality external camera can resolve these issues. To ensure a high-quality image, select one with 1080p full HD resolution, a wide-angle lens, and 2-way high-quality audio. Other advanced capabilities like auto-focus can also ensure better quality video and audio.
When you’re setting up your external camera, you also want to make sure to keep it slightly above your eye level. This way, you’ll be looking directly at the people on the call, which will make you seem more natural and attentive.
2. Let lighting work for you, not against you
Lighting is usually the most challenging part of setting up a professional-looking video call. While the first rule of thumb is to have the light source behind the camera rather than the subject, this can be more challenging in an indoor setting.
To get the lighting right, follow these tips:
- Use lamps. Lamps are easy to move around and angle the light source, making it easier to get the positioning of the light just right. Rather than pointing the lamp light directly at your face, try having it reflect off a nearby wall or use a lampshade to help diffuse the light.
- Triangulate your light. Try to position your light sources in a triangular fashion so that you have an overhead light and two lighting sources on either side of you.
- Close your blinds. Natural light streaming in through blinds or an open window can make it difficult for your camera’s automatic light adjustments. Use blackout shades or curtains to curtail variable or too bright natural light.
Ultimately, getting the lighting right for your unique setting is as much an art as a science, so spend some time playing around with different lighting setups and angles until you find one that truly shows you in your best light.
3. Be heard loud and clear
Even more important than looking good, is sounding good. Communication can’t happen between everyone if no one can hear, so getting your audio right should be your number one priority.
- Use an external microphone. Almost any webcam microphone, headphones, or another external microphone will be better quality than the built-in mic on your device, so it’s worth the additional investment.
- Use high-quality headphones. Headphones not only prevent feedback loops, which can occur when your mic picks up other people speaking, but they can also help mute out background noises in your own surroundings.
- Keep your microphone close to your mouth. If you’re wearing a headset, it will usually be designed to be only five to six inches from your mouth, but if you’re using another external microphone, you still want to try to get it about four to six inches from your mouth.
- Reduce echoing. Hard surfaces can create an echo effect. To reduce echoing, choose a room with soft surfaces such as carpet and drapes. If your room has hardwood floors, area rugs can also help minimize echos.
- Conduct a sound test. Most video chat platforms let you test your audio before joining. Doing a quick sound test will let you resolve any audio issues before you join, so you don’t look like a newbie who doesn’t know how to get their sound right.
4. Make your home office look professional
Besides just your face on camera, your background setting will also be visible to other participants on the call. If you can, position your camera so that you have something similar to what might be seen in an office setting, such as a wall behind you with a framed picture or a bookshelf.
If your house is messy, your walls are peeling paint, or you’ve had to set up your office in an unprofessional location like the laundry room, you can use a virtual background. There are a number of different virtual background offerings depending on the video conferencing solution you are using. The important thing is to pick a background that still looks professional and realistic (sorry, no top of Mt Everest or at the beach backgrounds).
Finally, after you pull up the conference page but before you log into the meeting, check your image on the screen to make sure your angle, lighting, and background are appropriate. Also, do a quick sound check to make sure your audio is connected and working. This way, you’ll avoid the awkwardness of needing to make adjustments while on the call with others.
5. Optimize your network to ensure a high-quality video experience
Video calls, such as Google Hangouts or Zoom, use a fair amount of bandwidth. If you don’t have the internet speeds to support video calls or are competing with other traffic on your home network during your video calls (such as your kid gaming at the same time), you may find that your calls become jittery.
Your bandwidth speed is also critical if you’re either hosting a webinar or participating in one. Webinar platforms stream data in real time, so the amount of bandwidth available determines how much attendees can participate.
If you’ve confirmed that your internet speeds are adequate, and you’re using a dual-band router with 2.4GHz and 5 GHz, another issue could be that other household devices on your WiFi are consuming a lot of bandwidth. Stationary devices like Smart TVs, desktop computers, internet security cameras, and gaming consoles don’t need to be on your wireless network.
Instead, cable them to an unmanaged network switch, which will free up more WiFi bandwidth for your video calls. If you’re unsure how to do this, contact your IT administrator, as they should be able to help walk you through it.
6. Negate background noises
If you’ve got dogs, kids, and a spouse at home, quiet can be hard to come by. While you may not be able to eliminate all background noises and distractions, there are a few things you can do to minimize them.
- Conduct your calls in a room with closed doors and windows. This may not be possible for everyone, depending on your living situation, but being in an enclosed room can reduce other household noises. If it’s an important call, a closet is better than the kitchen.
- Let everyone know when you will be on the call and ask them to be quiet. For younger children, this directive may not compute, but it might be a good time to turn on the TV to keep them quiet and in place. If you do have a door you can close, you can also lock the door or add a sign to let others know when you can’t be interrupted.
- Put yourself on mute unless you’re speaking. This is a best practice for everyone since it can minimize noise overall, but it can also help eliminate other people from hearing you take screenshots, your kid making a smoothie, or your spouse flushing the toilet in the next room.
While these tips won’t solve a bad hair day, they will guarantee that you are presenting yourself in your best light and most professional manner possible.