Well into the third year of this pandemic, it’s very clear that anyone could use a refresher to look their best on camera. Beautiful lighting and perfectly arranged bookshelves were once the standard for video conferencing, but now it seems like my colleagues don’t care about hiding their cluttered living rooms, bedrooms and offices. And the days of flattering lighting are long gone.
Like a roadside video producer and host, I can assure you, your cluttered background and poor lighting are still a huge distraction. So let’s decide to refresh our video chat settings: from knowing where to sit to get the best lighting and choosing the right microphone to just staying comfortable.
Here are my tips and tricks for becoming a video calling MVP again.
Light up your face
It’s best to start with lighting because that determines where you sit. Open your window blinds and let the natural light flood in, but don’t let all that light hit your back. I recommend having your largest light source directly in front of you or no more than 45 degrees from straight in front of you.
Also keep in mind that your screen can be a great source of light, so adjust the brightness of your screen as well, especially if you’re answering a call without natural light. A bright screen can blow away the highlights on your face, making you look more like Casper the Ghost than a video calling champion.
And if you wear glasses and keep your computer screen too bright, everyone in your Zoom conversation can see themselves in the reflections on your lenses. Dim your screen and put some lighting in that 45-degree angle – you’ll look a lot better.
Raise your camera
There is only one acceptable camera angle: frontal and at eye level. Your table will almost certainly be lower than your face, which means people won’t look at you very flatteringly. Use a set of books, a stool, or a higher table to make sure your camera is level with your eyes. You don’t want people to feel like they look up to you.
Test your video before the conversation
You want to show up at your meeting and look good already – not adjust your environment, screen brightness, angle or hair live for everyone to see. Zoom, Webex, and other video conferencing apps have an option to show you a preview of your video before the call begins. If you select this option, a video preview will appear before you enter a conversation, so you can check how everything looks. Skype shows you this sample by default, but if I’m using a video conferencing app that doesn’t have samples, I open photo booth to watch my video before making a call.
Once the conversation has started, I recommend hiding your own video from yourself. Not only will you be less likely to fix your hair or change the angle during the conversation, but you’ll also be less distracting to yourself and others. You can do that in Zoom by hovering your cursor over your own video window, clicking the three dots in the top right corner, and choosing “Hide Self-View.” However, it can be easy to forget you’re in front of the camera without your video preview, 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 you sound better when you take a call in a quiet place. Also keep in mind that your headphones may have a better microphone than your computer. Most video conferencing apps have a tool in their settings to test your microphone, and I recommend collecting all the microphones in your home (headphones often have one built in) and testing them to find the one that sounds the clearest.
As a courtesy to others, please keep your microphone muted unless you are talking. You may be used to your neighbor’s afternoon thrash metal, but no one else is. In Zoom, I use the feature that allows you to mute yourself while holding down the space bar.
Make it easy
Much like a physical meeting, once you join a conversation, you shouldn’t have to get up and walk around. Start with a comfortable place to sit or stand for a long time. Although I like to sit on my bed, I found that sitting with my legs crossed for longer than 20 minutes is not comfortable for me, so I moved my video call setup to my standing desk. If you’re using a laptop, make sure a charger is plugged in and ready for when your battery is low. I also like to bring a bottle of water and a cup of coffee to my meetings.
And finally, stay professional even if you haven’t gotten out of your sweatpants in over a year. May a 10 out of 10 on Room evaluator always be in your favor!
Update August 2, 2022, 8:30 a.m. ET: This article was originally published on April 8, 2020 and minor updates have been made to keep it current.