Camera work: it ain’t over until the cameras is OFF

Recently a star reporter with the New Yorker magazine exposed more than his story, at the weekly story meeting. As this is COVID time, it was a virtual meeting so this “exposure” was captured live, on camera, much to the dismay and shock of his female and male colleagues. The term we heard was “toxic masculinity”. The term my professional partner Yvan prefers is “toxic stupidity”.

This is an extreme case, a career-ending move. However, we’ve all (not quite) been there. You know what we mean, the silly fails. There’s the lady who downloaded a face disguise app and presided over her team meeting as “Mrs. Potato-head”, or forgetting the door as your better half walks wearing underwear, or deciding the kitchen counter is fine as a desk and forgetting the stack of dirty dishes being licked by the cat, on the sink counter behind you.

Amateur hour is OVER

These were excusable misdemeanors when COVID was a new thing and were simply trying to cope. We have had seven months to adjust to working virtually. Employers and employees have accepted – even embraced – working from home. Amateur Hour is over. Organizations now look to their managers and employees to look and act professionally on camera. That starts by being acutely aware of the camera. Cameras are objective technology. They automatically capture and transmit everything they see, with zero filter, pure unedited WYSIWYG.

When the camera turns on, you are no longer just Steve or Doris in accounting, you have become a TV personality, a broadcaster. You are representing your own brand, as well as your employer’s. This is a double-edged sword. It is a great opportunity to put your best face forward. It is also an opportunity to bomb. So, how do you ensure your personal image and your brand shine, rather than stink?

  1. Be camera aware: When the camera is on, either it will have a light turned on or the app you are using will show a live icon of some sort. It ain’t over until the light goes off or the icon disappears.
  2. If possible, use a dedicated device: Some organizations supply their own laptops. Not everyone is so lucky. If you can, use another camera equipped device, a tablet or another phone. Having a dedicated device for work eliminates the risk that you mix up personal and professional stuff and end up chairing a meeting as the Hulk or Black Widow. Then again…
  3. Show up early to pre-test: Twenty years of television work each has taught Yvan and I to never go live, unless we have test-recorded ourselves first. Five or ten minutes before the meeting, open the app, record a test and play it back. That way you know how you look and sound. You won’t get that awful “you’re on mute” below, from six different people.
  • Turn your picture off: The only person who’s face you are not familiar with is yours. You only see it, when you look in a mirror and only fleetingly. Seeing ourselves in a real life situation is as unnerving as it is fascinating. So turn that selfie in the corner off. You will be more focused for the meeting.
  • Hit the loo: If this is going to be a long meeting (and when are they not?), make sure you have your bio-break before you turn the camera on. It avoids having to awkwardly excuse yourself. It especially avoids the temptation of thinking you have turned the camera off, before lugging it to the bathroom. This intimate moment is one of the most common fails. Oh! And those microphones are amazingly sensitive. You may not show, but the look on your friends faces when the camera turns back on, will definitely tell a tale of sound betrayal.

Take a moment to focus on what you are about to do, before you click the “on” button. Pause, close your eyes, visualize something you like and take a couple of deep breaths, count to three engage the camera.