In this article, we've gathered some best practices for hosting video calls. We talk about getting your lighting right and mention some tools you can use.
Thanks to Covid-19, it’s now become normal for workplaces to hold important meetings via webcam, which can be bad news for those who have never had to be “camera-ready” before. If the previous statement applies to you, don't worry. In this post, we’ve compiled a few essential guidelines for looking and feeling your best during online video calls. Whether you’re running a webinar or hosting an online video conference, these tips will help you spend more time focusing on the conversation and less time anxiously checking your appearance in the corner of the screen.
The lighting — both of your environment and your subject (you) can make a huge difference in creating a clean, professional video. Below are some of the simplest yet most oft-overlooked tips for proper lighting.
If possible, place your setup near natural light. This can help to brighten your skin, accentuate your features, and give your video a flattering, movie-like quality. The best (and only, really) way to gain natural light is to set your camera near a window. Easy!
Next, you’ll want to make sure that the light is aimed towards your face. If the light is coming in behind you, it will usually turn you into a mysterious (and frankly, kind of creepy) silhouette. In other cases, backlighting can cast dark shadows on your face, making you look tired, ill, and unenthused — not exactly the type of perky, happy go-getter your workplace or clients want to see. So, to help form a more favorable impression, be sure that you’re facing the light during your video call. If you’re forced to conference in a windowless room, try placing a tall lamp behind your laptop, with the light aimed towards you.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of video conferencing in the near future, it might be a good idea to invest in some professional lighting tools. A small investment in equipment can usually give your video conference lighting a big boost.
One of the most affordable and effective lighting tools you can buy is an LED ring light. Beloved by photographers and Instagram influencers worldwide, these circle-shaped lights create diffused, even lighting around photography and video subjects without casting harsh shadows or altering facial contours in the way that uneven lighting does.
Another good option to consider is purchasing a high-quality webcam. Once again, you shouldn’t have to break the bank to get a decent upgrade. Even a low-budget option should be able to drastically improve your resolution, frame rate, color, and much more.
After lighting, camera angles are the second most crucial thing professional photographers and models have to keep in mind. We can learn from the experts to keep everything in perspective during your video calls.
The last thing you want to do during a professional call is give viewers a VIP-access view of your nostrils. To prevent this, keep the camera at eye level. Be careful to avoid going too high; a camera that’s aimed downwards might draw attention to things you’d rather not illuminate, like a bad hair day.
There’s also a psychological aspect to consider, too. When the camera is angled downwards, your viewers are literally looking down at you (and, presumably, what you have to say). As filmmakers have long known, an upwards-pointed camera can make the subject appear heroic and inspiring, or imposing and menacing, depending on the context (think Tom Hardy’s Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.) Finally, an eye-level lens suggests an equal footing between speaker and viewer, which is probably the best option for professional video calls (though if you want your coworkers to think you’re Bane, that’s entirely up to you).
Of course, setting your camera at a precise angle is a lot easier said than done if you’re conducting your call via a built-in laptop camera. Essentially, this means that you can’t touch your laptop for the duration of the call, as any accidental jostle could cost you the angle that took so long to get right. One great way to ensure that your camera stays put, even if your laptop doesn’t, is to buy an external webcam and balance it on a tripod. This will allow you to double- or triple-task (take notes, pull up essential documents) during the call without disturbing the image quality.
You’ve got three basic choices when it comes to your video background: A) a nice, tidy room in your actual living space; B) a green screen background; or C) a virtual background created by your video calling platform. Keep reading to learn the benefits and drawbacks of each option.
As obvious as it might seem, the best place to hold a video conference is generally an office-type area or a space that can be suitably passed off as an office. Even if it’s neat and tidy, your kitchen is still a place where you cook, eat, and wash the dishes; activities that are personal, not professional. You want your viewers — whether they be coworkers, clients, or leads — to see you as a capable thought leader, not a human who enjoys pizza rolls (even though, of course, it is possible to be both).
For the same reason, you should also make sure that your bed and/or couch aren’t included in the shot; things used for rest and relaxation don’t brand you as the energetic, raise-deserving go-getter you are.
Maybe you’re checking in from a particularly grim-looking hotel room, or you just aren’t comfortable with people seeing your home, regardless of its condition. For these occasions, one option is to use a green screen to replace your background with an image. The best green screen background for a professional setting is usually a plain color or a mild, inoffensive pattern. You could also choose a branded background or one that illustrates projects you’ll be discussing during the call. Whatever you choose, just remember not to wear green during your call, lest you end up with the classic “floating head” effect.
While traditional green screens are a fun option, they also come with a few issues. Firstly, you have to find a place to store the screen when it’s not in use. While this isn’t an issue for those with offices, for work-from-home employees, it can be just another thing taking up valuable living space.
The second issue is that, if you travel, you will have to make a mental note to bring the green screen with you, and who wants to make more mental notes these days? The green screen can also take up room in your suitcase, which can be an issue for frequent flyers.
One good way to solve these problems is to use a virtual background app like Mmhmm, ManyCam, or ChromaCam to project a virtual surrounding behind you. Some apps have other functions, too, like a “blur” tool which places the speakers’ surroundings out-of-focus. You can learn more about virtual background app options here.
So, you’ve got natural, front-facing light illuminating your face. You’ve got your camera adjusted to the perfect angle. The stage is set for all eyes to be on you, and you alone. And that means that, if you have concerns about your apperance on camera, now is the time to resolve them. The good news? You don’t need to be a professional beauty vlogger to pull off these simple tips.
For professional video calling, you don’t have to look perfect; you just want to make sure you’re looking as presentable, prepared, and confident as possible. One way to do this is to apply a little makeup before going live. If you’re not the makeup-wearing type, keep in mind that everyone you’ve ever seen on camera, from late-night talk show hosts to professional sportscasters, wears an imperceptible amount of makeup. A little bit of tinted moisturizer, mascara, and powder can help you appear clean, alert, and shine-free on a high-definition screen.
If you just don’t have the time to prepare in real life, another option is to use a “beauty app” or “beauty filter” during your call. These filters, increasingly pre-set features of many video conferencing platforms, can give you a polished, fresh look, even if you’ve got that just-woke-up, still-surviving-a-pandemic look. (Sadly, developers have yet to invent an app that will turn pajamas into work clothes).
Last but not least, you’ll want to make sure that you have minimized all possible distractions before starting your video call. By this, we don’t just mean locking the door so pets can’t get in, wearing solid-colored clothing, and asking your spouse to hold off on the lawn mowing (all though all of these are good ideas, too). No, by “distractions,” we mean things that happen when you use low-quality technology or a low-quality streaming platform. Keep reading to learn more.
Just as a webcam will enhance your visual quality, an external, standalone microphone will provide you with much better sound quality than the one that comes embedded in your laptop. There are two basic types of microphones you can choose from: dynamic microphones, and condenser microphones. We’ve written a little bit about them here, but to summarize, dynamic microphones are a cheap “beginner” option that are good at picking up loud sounds in live settings. Condenser microphones, on the other hand, are designed to capture complex sounds, and work best indoors. If you’re determined to get great quality at any price, a condenser microphone is your best bet.
You don't want to buy a microphone? There’s an app for that. Popular tools like NoiseGator (Noise Gate), SoliCall Pro, and Krisp can give your video calls clear, clean audio while reducing background noises from appliances, pets, and lawn care happening outside.
Finally, if you really want to maximize your video and audio quality, be sure to invest in high-quality video conferencing software. Professional remote meeting platforms come with a robust suite of audio conferencing, web conferencing, and video conferencing tools to help you look and sound as professional as possible. Even better, many platforms allow users to record video or audio calls for later viewing, so all the hard work you put into applying the tips in this article can be appreciated again and again!
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