Zoom meetings are a daily presence in your professional life.
The chances of that changing soon are slim, especially as people start to realize virtual events and meetings are more cost-effective and time-efficient, said Dr. Laura Sicola, founder of Vocal Impact Productions and host of the podcast “Speaking to Influence.”
Once you’ve accepted that, it’s time to make sure you’ve got the tools to feel comfortable behind the computer lens.
“It’s all about what I call confidence, presence and influence on camera,” Dr. Sicola said. “Your personal brand and your organizational brand is going to be dependent on your ability to be effective on video, and as effective as if you were meeting in person.”
Dr. Sicola said being conscious of three details — camera position, lighting and sound — will give you confidence to feel professional on camera, and will also give your virtual meetings a step up on your colleagues.
The height, angle and distance of your camera matter.
If your head is only filling the bottom of the frame or if the camera is positioned at an unflattering angle, that’s distracting. A strange camera angle could cause people to question what you might be hiding or wearing, or think you look small and amateur.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘When people look and listen to me on camera, what’s distracting them away from what I want them to hear and pay attention to and do?’” Dr. Sicola said.
Good lighting helps build trust and credibility and shows you’re confident, Dr. Sicola said.
She runs a virtual training for organizations called “Confidence, Presence and Influence on Video” in which she teaches clients about mastering the three Cs: command the room, connect with the audience and close the deal — things that are all basically impossible to do with bad lighting.
If you’re so backlit people can’t see your face, you’re not commanding the room, she said. And “how can you connect with the audience if you’re not even letting them see your face?”
A ring light and softbox are both good investments that don’t cost much, she said.
Most people use the microphone that’s embedded in their device, which Dr. Sicola said is fine for a commenter or someone lightly participating in a meeting.
But if you’re presenting or leading a call, she suggested investing in a good microphone. Having a clear, crisp sound versus a grainy one immediately makes what you say sound more important.
A low-quality microphone also imposes a cognitive burden on your listeners, Dr. Sicola said.
Making listeners work to understand what you’re saying is mentally exhausting and will likely cause them to tune you out, contributing to what experts are calling “Zoom fatigue.”
Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Insead in France, recently told the BBC that being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat.
That means people are working harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language, which consumes a lot of energy, he said.
When you do invest in that quality microphone, Dr. Sicola said you should read the instruction manual to make sure you use it correctly.
Greg Hawks, a corporate culture specialist and founder of Hawks Agency, echoed Sicola’s beliefs that good technology matters.
“We're used to looking at something and it's not grainy, it's high definition, it sounds good,” he said at a recent SURGE Connect session on virtual engagement.
When on a call with colleagues, Hawks said it’s important to be mindful of those small details in your setting, and also to speak up when someone on the other end of the computer might need a little help.
For example, if a co-worker is in a dark room or sounds low, Hawks said it’s fine to politely let them know. By helping each other, Hawks said we can keep these Zoom sessions from becoming “painful” experiences.
Whether a presenter or attendee, both Dr. Sicola and Hawks said people need to be conscious of their background.
“Your background will be your brand, whatever it is,” Dr. Sicola said. “If you've got the kids toys or laundry or dishes or the bed or something else ... for many people that’s going to be the only vision of you they have. What kind of first impression (of your) brand is that?”
And don’t try hiding your mess with a virtual background, Dr. Sicola said. They look fake and like you’re in a ‘90s video game.
“You want people to focus on you and your message,” she said, which means making sure your brand and image are projected the way you want them to be. “You cannot have one without the other and really project yourself as a credible authority and leader.”
If you’re interested in Dr. Sicola’s virtual training, contact her at [email protected]
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Ashley Neal joined the Sidecar team as Community Coordinator in March of 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down life as we knew it. Having to adapt, overcome and predict the changes needed to survive in the new normal, Ashley now has the skills needed to juggle any obstacle thrown her way. A soon-to-be graduate from Southeastern Louisiana University in the field of Strategic Communications, Ashley spends her days balancing her work and education with her love of dogs. Taking her three dogs — Scooby, Pipsqueak and Moose — to restaurants, hiking trails, vacations and even participating in dog shows and sports is the highlight of her weekends.