Looking sharp in virtual meetings

By Matthew L. Moseley

Now that a lot more meetings are happening online through various platforms, such as Zoom, Skype and others, there are some that come across much better than others. We’ve had a chance to facilitate and participate in a lot of virtual meetings and webinars lately where some come across very impressive and others leave you wondering if they prepared or did a test run beforehand.

It’s key to remember we are making impressions from virtual meetings as much as we would in person, making it more important than ever to put our best foot forward.

Think of the virtual meeting experience more like being on television. Online meetings are a different medium and communication styles need to be subtly shifted. Speak in direct, concise terms and make your point with brevity and clarity—then be quiet. Here are a few pointers:

Elevated Camera Angle: An unlikely source of good advice is from my favorite New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, who consulted designer Tom Ford before her Zoom call with Larry David, for an article, “Master of his own Quarantine.”

Ford told her that the camera should be slighted elevated, at least even with your eyes. Many people have the camera looking up from below, which lets all be honest, makes a double chin look like a triple chin. A lower camera angle also emphasizes an exaggerated torso (aka the infamous addition of 10 pounds). A higher camera squares the shoulders and is a better vantage point for the head, which projects authority.

Lighting: Ford also suggests placing a lamp behind the computer with a white cloth in front you. That way you’ll appear crisp and fresh, not like you are in a dark tomb in your basement—even if you are. Avoid a light or window behind you. A bright light behind you is just like taking a picture behind the sun. The bright light washes out the screen and blinds other viewers.

Staging: Have a clean, simple and well-ordered background. An unmade bed, dirty dishes or laundry don’t make for a confidence-inspired backdrop. There are even some fun ways to play with virtual backgrounds (but be careful about various halo effects).

Sit Still: Don’t move around, especially when talking. Don’t rock in your chair. Excessive movement is distracting. A few small hand gestures will suffice. And certainly, as with in-person meetings and presentations, keep your hands away from your face. If you need to scratch your nose, shut off the video or just power through the urge.

Look Good: Dress is more important than you would think. Stripes and complex patterns can distort the speaker and create a busy screen. Avoid old rock band t-shirts, tank tops and baseball hats. While a blazer or dressing up isn’t necessary, a crisp, simple outfit with sharp lines can go a long way towards projecting professionalism. The ‘touch up my appearance’ feature is also very helpful in making you look like you have a personal stylist and somehow shaves off a few pounds in the process.

Get On Early: To set up and get ready for these virtual meetings are never as easy as they sound, especially with slides or images. Get on a little early and be prepared to work through any technical glitches. The new water cooler conversation is the small talk before the meeting convenes. Know who is saying what and when. Nothing destroys the continuity more than confusion and silence. Just like live television, have the entire program scripted and planned.

These kinds of virtual confabs are going to be a more common way of doing business in the future. While nothing beats personal interaction, digital platforms are how we will continue to increasingly connect with our colleagues, friends and family. Consider the optics of self-presentation and the impression of your environment. Coming across as a sharp professional is easy—even if you are wearing sweatpants with a suit jacket.