Thursday, March 26, 2020

Be an Online Meeting Rockstar

It’s a pandemic… and I’m not talking about COVID-19.

But it is related.

We are in a cycle of more and more people meeting online. Along with that, we are in a cycle of more and more people hurting their “brand” through bad video.

But help is available… and it’s easier than you might think!

A quick side note to my friends and colleagues in the engineering community: a big part of my life outside of engineering and metrology involves live production video.   Here’s a shot of me video directing a multi-camera event.. 5 cameras, music video-styled shots and pacing.  It's a blast!

So, let’s take a few, quick lessons from the production video world to help make you look like a rockstar in your next WebEx, Skype, Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting, TeamViewer or whatever kind of online meeting you wind up in.

First off, let’s get the camera on your eyeline.  In fact slightly above your eyeline is even better for a web meeting.  (More on the “slightly above” in a minute.)
Basically, don’t be this guy:

Even if you just cleaned your ceiling fan… WE DON’T CARE!!!  

This is a bad image and it conveys a bad view of you to those in the meeting.

There are three problems with this image:  

1. You will look short and insignificant.  This gives people that perception that you are small. It can subtly carryover to the notion that your opinions and your value is small.

2. You are in a slouched position and your voice box will be affected.  Have you ever seen an opera singer slouch while singing?  No! Vocal projection comes from posture.  To have a strong voice, have strong posture.

3. People are often self-obsessed with their chins.  I personally have several.  Slouching makes this worse.  

So, let’s get our cameras up high so that we can sit up high.

Have you ever noticed how TV cameras are always at eye level?  Yeah, that’s on purpose.  It gives the appearance of confidence and importance.  Check out our friend Lester here on NBC…

Now that we’ve got our cameras in a good position… please don’t make the ultimate rookie move.

In video production, there is a thing called “headroom”.  It separates the rookies from the pros.  Headroom (or lack thereof) is what makes Lester (above) look important.  Unfortunately, many cameras put a visual “target” in the middle (see the yellow square above) and it can drive you to make some really bad images.

A bonus tip:
Put your online viewing window near your camera.  

Putting the window here will draw your eyes toward the camera (even though you aren’t looking at the camera).  I have a  two monitor setup for my desktop system and this is how I roll.  This has the added bonus of making me look up.
Remember the “slightly above” comment I made way back at the beginning of this blog post?  That’s the key thing to taking a good selfie… holding the camera high and looking up.  It makes chins and cheekbones look good.  It opens your eyes wider.

A high viewing window (by the camera) puts us into the position of a good selfie.

If the stakes are really high, think about some other things as well...

Lighting:  Does my skin color look natural?  Are there bright/dark spots?  Is there something too bright behind me?  

Background:  Great movie directors put interesting things in the background of a scene.  These things bring context.  Have you ever noticed how many politicians and professors have books in their backgrounds?  What message is your background sending?

Sound: Get a headset.  It's only a few bucks and it will not only make you sound better, but it will help remove some background noise.  In the last few days, I've heard dogs barking, babies crying, and people talking.  Don't get me wrong - I like dogs and babies and I even like people.  But these can be distractions in an online meeting setting.

And before I go… 
If you haven’t already done so… put on some pants!  It will get you in the right frame of mind and be one less thing to worry about.

I once wore shorts and a nice golf shirt in an important video conference.  Those in the meeting saw the nice shirt.  Midway through the meeting I needed to get a file out of the cabinets that you see in the above pictures.  Instead of presenting the file information and along with it my legs - I told the people that “it would take a while to find that particular item” and "I'll get back to them later".  

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Working from home? How to do it like a Rock Star!

This week as COVID-19 precautions are looming - many of you are learning to work at home.

To you I say:  Welcome!  This really can be great.  In fact, it can be highly productive.

As someone who’s been doing this for nearly 21 years (when not travelling) I often hear this from people:    “I’m not sure I could ever work from home.  How do you do it?”

Here are my top 5 tips for working from home like a pro!

1. Focus isn’t as much about determination as it is about passion.
Yes, sometimes I have to just suck it up and do hard stuff.  For me that the administrative stuff.  I’d much rather develop math and software.  I love creating.  I love thinking of how my products and projects are going to help people.  If your job was your hobby - would have have a problem doing it all day?

Go watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk called “How great leaders inspire action”.   After you’ve watched it, figure out your personal “why”.

2. Get the tough stuff out of the way first.   
In the words of Pink Floyd: “If you don’t eat your meat, how can you have any pudding?”

For me, this means dealing with overnight international support first.  Ugh!  This way I go into the day with a clean plate and things only get better.  It also means that the fun work is just around the corner – like dessert.

3. Find your background.  For me, I’m somewhat of an extrovert.  I need humanity around me.  (You’ll probably notice this based on all of the coffeeshop and restaurant pics I post with my laptop open.)  Thus, in my office, I need a radio or TV (in the other room) around me.  I can’t tell you a thing that I’ve heard, but I know that it’s there.   Try some different things that might work for you.  It might actually be silence.  Note: for me, the TV has to be out of sight as I’ve found myself to be easily distracted visually.

4. Ergonomics, ergonomics, ergonomics.   (Does that count as 3 things, or just one?)
One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to work “comfortably” on the couch, the floor, the bathtub, etc.   DON’T FALL FOR THIS!   Comfort when working is different than comfort when lounging.  Get a good chair and sit in an ergonomic position. 

Google “Office Ergonomics” and flip over to the images tab.   One of my favorite office investments is a Herman Miller Aeron chair (which are on a massive sale right now).  It’s an amazing chair (used throughout Silicon Valley) that has served me for more than 15 years with no signs of quitting.

5. Reward yourself but stay in the frame of mind. 
There will be times when you need to come up for air.  My advice here is take a break, but “don’t commit”.  For example, take a walk to the mailbox, but don’t start watching a Netflix movie.   Perhaps check social media (if you can keep it under control,) but keep your email open on the other window.  The principle is to stay somewhat connected rather than commit your brain to something else.  See this blog post for some ideas.

Many times I’ve found solutions to problems by getting away (perhaps the trip to the mailbox – or even the bathroom for that matter).  I’ve released my brain just enough to solve a problem I was wrestling with.

6. (Bonus Tip!)  Make a phone call.
(Or perhaps schedule one if your friends are busy people too.)  I often use lunch as my social outlet.  But the phone/Skype/Facetime/etc. is almost as good.  I have a couple of guys that are in my field and they provide me with that (dare I say it?) karma that recharges me.  These guys are great… and after reading this, they may now question my motives.   Really guys – I do appreciate you!

Rock on!