I’ve been on a lot of video calls this week to know that everyone could use a little support looking their best. From virtual weddings to work meetings, all of us unexpectedly have to be on camera in our homes, and as a video producer and host, I’m no stranger to having to be camera-ready at all times and in imperfect spaces.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve optimized my own video chat setup: from knowing where to sit to get the best light, to choosing the right microphone, to just staying relaxed. Here are my tips and tricks to be the MVP video call you were supposed to be.
LIGHT YOUR FACE
It’s best to start with lighting, because it’s going to decide where you’re sitting. Open your shades and let the natural light flood in, but don’t let the sun touch your back. I recommend that you have your biggest light source either in front of you or not more than 45 degrees away from you.
Also be aware that your screen can be a large source of light, so change the brightness of your screen as well, particularly if you are making a call without natural light. A bright screen will blast the highlights out of your face, making you look more like Casper the Ghost than a video call champion.
RAISE YOUR CAMERA
There is one appropriate camera angle, and only one: head-on and at eye level. Your table would almost definitely be lower than your chin, which means people will get an unflattering glimpse of you. To make sure your camera is at the same level as your feet, using a set of books, a stool or a higher table. You don’t want people to feel as though they are looking at you up or down.
TEST YOUR VIDEO BEFORE THE CALL
You want to turn up to your meeting already looking nice so that you don’t have to see anyone change their surroundings, screen brightness, stance or makeup.
Zoom and WebEx both have an option to give you a preview of your video before starting the call. If you choose this option, a preview of the video will pop up before entering a call to see how it all looks.
Skype will give you this preview by default but I open Photobooth to check my video before joining a call while using other video conferencing software, such as Houseparty.
I highly recommend that you hide your video preview from yourself until the call begins. You’ll not only be less likely to fix your hair or change the angle during the call, you’ll also be less annoying to yourself and others. You can do this in Zoom by right-clicking on your own video window and choosing to “cover myself.” However, it can be easy to forget that you are on camera without a preview of your video, so try not to pick your nose.
FIND A QUIET PLACE (AND YOUR BEST HEADPHONES)
Most of us don’t have much control over audio but if you take a call in a quiet spot, you’ll sound better. Bear in mind also that your headphones might have a better microphone than your machine. Most videoconferencing apps have a feature in their settings to check your microphone, and I suggest that you collect all the microphones in your home (headphones also have one built in) and testing them out to find the one that sounds clearest.
Please keep your microphone silenced as a courtesy to others when you are talking. You can be used to the midday thrash metal of your neighbor but no one else is. I use the function in Zoom which allows you to unmute while holding down the space bar.
As if you were in a physical meeting, you shouldn’t be getting up and moving around once you enter a call. Start with a comfortable position where you can sit or stand for a long time. I noticed that sitting crossed leg for more than 20 minutes is not comfortable for me, while I like sitting on my bed, so I shifted my video call setup to my standing desk.
When you’re using a laptop, when your battery is small, have a charger plugged in and ready. I like taking a bottle of water and a cup of coffee to my meetings too.
And lastly: stay professional, even though in two weeks you haven’t been out of your sweatpants.