A covidea

Covid-19 is among us and it is rattling every organization and everyone. The pandemic has spawned its own new buzzword, social distancing. A fancy piece of jargon for, ‘stay home!” If it has not happened yet, you will no doubt get a memo asking you to keep your business trip minimal and work from home.

That means you will be using Skype or Facetime a lot more. So, make the most of it. Here are five quick tips to help your on-camera performance really shine.

1- Camera angle: Typically, most people just pop the laptop and turn on their app. The problem: 90% of the time, the computer is set on a desk or table that is lower than our chest and the camera ends up pointing up, sometimes almost straight up. The image people see at the other end is one of menacing giant looking down at them.

No need to lift your camera to eye level. However, if you can, set the computer on a slightly higher base. I have an adjustable desktop that I am able to raise slightly to soften the camera angle. You can even use books. If you are using your smartphone, there are desk-tripods available for less than $75 and desktop webcam/tripod combos for less than $100. The important thing is that your audience should have the feeling you are roughly at their level, not looming menacingly over them.  Ideally, they should see you, down to where the desk or table cut you off.

2- Beware backlighting: Backlighting happens when the light behind you is so bright, it overpowers the camera’s ability to counteract it. You end up a silhouette, a black apparition, scary. That’s because natural light, streaming in through a window, is always “hotter” than indoor light If you are sitting with your camera facing a window in daylight, you will be batman, minus the piercing eyes. Find a place where you can face natural light, the back of the camera facing the window. My desk faces the window and allows me to be instantly lighted. Avoid light coming at you at right angles. You will look like the Yin-Yang symbol. Have lighted, have dark.

Evening and night: You will have to light yourself. Some of my friends have invested in cheap and cheerful lighting kits. Go ahead if you want, but I am amazed at how light-sensitive and efficient laptop cams have become. I manage to look good with a couple of ordinary 60-watt lamps. Whatever you do, keep the light source either in front of/or beside you.

3- Design your set: Your background tells the viewer something about who you are. My office is lined with bookshelves and some paintings. Plants work too. The point is, your background should fit the occasion. For the office, think of your organization’s culture and find something that fits.

4- Dress the part: I once had a Skype call with someone in Hong Kong. It was 2:30 AM there and he was in business casual. I was impressed with his sense of professionalism. Remember that people see you before they hear you. When they see you on camera, they will size you up. What impression do you want to make? Tip: colours should neither be too loud, nor to pale, and they should allow your face to stand out and be easily seen.

5- Non-verbal language: Viewers should be able to, at least, see part of your chest and occasionally some hand movement. As viewers, we instinctively use hand movement to gauge the emotional investment you make in what your saying. If all can see is your head and face, then we are partially blind. Keep your gestures smooth. Signal compression is still an issue in the digital world and, when we move too fast, the picture freezes for a few seconds and the visual support for your idea is hampered, if not completely lost.

Now you can “social-distance” with the best of them.