Lights, Webcam, Action: Perfecting the WFH Video Call

· Tricks of the trade ·

At Keep Left, our rule is if you’re not filling your conference calls with superhero puppers to break the internet, then you’re falling behind.

That said, we understand the conference call struggle during These Unprecedented Times™. Inviting clients into our living rooms, kitchens, or that one corner of our bedrooms that could pass as either, can feel as strange as inviting your LinkedIn followers to view your private Instagram. 

We’ve slowly adapted and are, most times, even able to pick up a video call without changing locations. But you may have heard that something is coming — it’s called ‘the new normal’ and it’s going to feature a lot more Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams. 

Instead of booking the dreaded 7am-7pm Melbourne-Sydney return flight, many of us will continue to show face via video calls, even once the pandemic is over. And these calls are going to feature much more of our personal space. 

Recently, the Keep left team has learned a lot about the art of showing our best selves on webcam, and since we’re planning to do it for a while we’ve decided to share our findings. Treat the below as your cheat sheet for adding the right doses of professionalism and personality into your next client WIP.  

Fix your Tech (please) 

1. Internet Speed

It’s an obvious one, but how many times have you heard ‘sorry, can you repeat that’ after the wifi flubbed three seconds of your prezzo? Your connection will have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your conversation, so make sure you’re at least plugged into your modem via an ethernet cable. Or fork out for an NBN connection. Clients and team members will more than appreciate the smoother ride. Plus, your accountant should be able to offset the expense. 

2. Audio

Feedback loops are great for performance reviews but not so much for audio. To ensure you don’t sound like you’re shouting quarterly insights into a cave, use headphones (preferably wired) with an in-built microphone. If that’s not an option, lower the volume on your computer when speaking and use the magical mute button when not. But really, just use the headphones. We know you have them, otherwise how are you listening to all those true crime podcasts? Pro tip: try taking your call in a carpeted room that won’t reverberate sound.

3. Video

If you’re wondering why your creative department looks angelic on team WIPs, it’s probably because they smuggled home the camera equipment. That, and they understand lighting. If you want that cherubic glow, try facing a window or similar light source. If all else fails, open up a blank Word doc and pump up your screen brightness. The white pixels will act like the light reflector your videographer nabbed, and even out the shroud of shadows on your brow.

zoom call bookshelf

Mise en Scene

1. Environment

Yes, everyone is distracted by the paintings on your wall. Choose the backdrop for your video calls based on how it looks, not whether it’s where you usually work. Minimalism is nice, but no one really lives against a white wall. Try to position yourself with a few objects of visual interest around you, rather than slightly behind. Children are a wild card here. How long have they been staring at the tele, and will their show end in the middle of your call? Only Moana knows… 

2. Furniture

During your calls, your clients will become very acquainted with your taste in furniture. A simple bookshelf is a great option here, but beware — you will be judged. The New York Times has pontificated on what bookshelves reveal about famous people’s lives, and the Sydney Morning Herald has detailed the shelving shown by some of our high profile personalities. You might not be featured on the Bookcase Credibility Twitter account, but you should still shuffle your literature to cater for discerning eyes. 

Andrew Bridgen is in an antechamber to the afterlife. A wonderful Lucasian reflection gives us a portal to the physical realm and the human understanding he has transcended, while to his left is the heavenly glow of eternity. He is a man beyond us all in a place named Coalville.

— Bookcase Credibility (@BCredibility) May 13, 2020

3. Personal Presentation

A great part of video calls is how casual it feels to be on camera in your own home, but consider the difference between carefree and careless. Stay engaged and look directly at your webcam when possible so your audience feels like you’re making eye contact. Dress appropriately; pants are optional, but it’s all about making people believe you’re suited from head to toe — even if all that’s under the desk is Uggs and a fan heater. 

Of course, if you’re struggling with the above criteria, you can always spice up your meeting with a creative background.

Written by Keep Left · · Tricks of the trade ·
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