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".