Lights, camera, action: Tricks to look and sound “virtually” professional
When we look at our screens, we’re used to seeing movie stars and news presenters. They have stage make-up, lighting experts, expensive sets and script writers to make them look great and sound intelligent. So, when we see our colleagues in silhouette, reading text-filled slides, we look for other things to occupy our time.
But, you don’t have to be boring. With a few tricks, you can look and sound virtually professional.
Turn on the lights!
Lights bring you to life, pull you out of the shadows, and create a mood. Low lights and shadows make us feel like we’re watching a horror movie where the villain is hiding in the shadows. If you don’t want to be perceived as the bad guy, turn on the lights! Try the classic 3-point lighting approach. Simply place a light on either side of your computer, directing the light towards the sides of your face. High front lights can give you shadows under the eyes and glare on your glasses, so keep these lights a bit lower. Add a third light above and behind you, directed at your hair. This simple structure draws attention away from your background and onto you. A bit of light reflecting off the top of your head, and voila, a star is born. With professional lights, you can vary the intensity and play with filters. Try using natural shaded light to replace one or both of the front lights. Make sure that the back lights aren’t stronger than the front lights to avoid the dreaded silhouette.
Consider your camera.
Do you really want to show your colleagues the inside of your nose or those extra wrinkles under the chin? Or are you just trying to look down at them to show dominance? If not, then raise-up your laptop or use a separate camera. Try using the camera at eye level, or slightly higher. Push back from the camera to avoid face distortion and allow your audience to see more body language. You’ll look more attractive and keep those secrets up your nose and under your chin.
The other day, I saw a webinar where the speaker read from a paper on his keyboard, as the audience watched the freckles of his bald head. If you want to read your script from paper, tape it next to the camera so that it looks like you’re talking to the audience.
Dial-in your sound.
Feedback, echos, or static can make speakers sound like bumbling idiots and send the audience into zoom gloom.
First, let’s consider your microphone. There are several options: The computer’s built-in microphone, headsets and earbuds. The computer’s built-in microphone may be sufficient, but there is the tendency to shout when the microphone is far away. There is nothing worse than someone shouting into their computer. Headsets or earbuds help to reduce feedback; however, often headsets with built-in microphones are low quality. Make sure that the microphone isn’t blowing in the wind or rubbing on your cloths, as this sounds like static too. If you’re recording a webinar, I recommend a professional wired mic.
Always try out your system. Plugging in a second screen or changing to a new conferencing system may cause the microphone to stop working. Normally, one can choose the desired microphone and speaker system within the computer and conference system set-up, but this takes time so arrive early and test the set-up so that you’re audience doesn’t have to wait for you.
Echos ruin a well-rehearsed virtual presentation. While studios are equipped with special sound-absorbing materials, empty conference rooms (or dining rooms) aren’t. Carpets, drapes, and other fabric absorb sound, so add some if possible. For a quick fix at home, hang a duvet or stack some towels behind your computer and the camera to absorb those annoying bouncing sound waves.
Action! (But prepare first.)
The camera is rolling, but wait, are you ready? While you may feel less stressed in the virtual world, presenting on-line requires action…literally, you need to keep things moving. Expectations are high, attention spans are short, and classic public speeches will put your audience to sleep. Don’t worry, I have lots of tricks up my sleeve to keep your audience engaged while you share your important ideas. In my next blog, I’ll share ideas to turn you into a virtual star.
Kimberly VanLandingham is an international presentation and communication trainer, strategist and the CEO of European Market Link Sàrl. PresentationTrainingSwitzerland.ch offers open courses, private coaching and corporate presentation and public speaking training workshops in English, in Switzerland. Contact us for more information on our courses or coaching.