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Whether you’re working on Zoom, Webex, Teams or Slack, improving the impression you’re making on your boss, colleagues and clients can make a big difference when it comes to being taken seriously.

After too many years to think about on live TV, I’ve learnt a lot about how to look good on camera. So now that everyone’s on ‘TV’ virtually every day,

Here is some expert advice and 9 top tips to help you look your best and participate more effectively:

  1. Keep your hair, including beards, clean, trimmed and tidy.

If you’re having a bad hair day, tie it back off your face.  You don’t want to look as if you’ve just dragged yourself out of bed to go on the call.

  1. A little make-up makes a big difference.

Unless you have really good lighting (I’ll be coming to that), the screen shows up all manner of bumps and shadows you didn’t know you had.  Having said that, too much make-up can look silly in a remote working situation. I suggest a light amount of everything you normally use, to enhance your face, not distract your audience.  Be consistent, if one day you have full make-up and the next none, what might your audience think?  You might wear none each day for internal team meetings, but add some for non-team or external meetings.  Or maybe keep some powder, blusher and lipstick near your laptop for unexpected meetings.

  1. Keep your clothing simple.

When working from home you only have to worry about the top half, be as comfy as you like on the bottom.  Plain colours work well, avoid all white.  Keep it smart but casual.  For women, keep your neckline simple, it’s less distracting.  Colours work well.  For men a collar looks more professional than a T-shirt, depending on your line of business. A suit and tie might look odd when your dog strolls past in the background. So what’s acceptable to wear for virtual meetings? I asked some influential executives what they thought. VP Public Sector at IBM UK, Janine Cook  says “no tie or jacket, just smart if on Zoom or Webex”; whereas Marion Broughton VP Operations at Thales, Paris, thought “shirt but no tie for internal meetings, tie and jacket for external meetings”.  So decide for yourself depending on what’s appropriate for your company, the importance of the meeting, and how your clothing makes you feel.

  1. Keep your background neutral.

Like your clothing, simple is best.  Look at what your audience can see behind you.  Think about the impression you’re making.  What kind of person are you?  Does this reflect in your background?  Do you want it to? Again, if you don’t want to distract your audience, keep it as neutral as possible.  I had to completely change the configuration of my room to get it right, experimenting with different lighting and backgrounds.  You might need a rug if you have wooden floors, to dampen the echo.

  1. Get your lighting right.

Face natural light (avoid sitting with your back to a window).  This might mean moving your desk.  If it’s dark, then make sure you have a light, either side of the screen.  Overhead lights can help light the background but you’ll still need one to light your face.  If necessary buy a small, professional one from the internet. 

  1. Your distance from the screen is important.

Ideally frame yourself so your eyes are in line with the camera, and come about a third of the way down from the top of the screen.  There should be a small amount of space above your head and we should see your neck and top of your shoulders.  You might need to lower your chair, or prop your laptop up on books to get the best position.  Looking down into your laptop is very unflattering, likewise no-one wants to see up your nose!

  1. Smile, and be yourself.

Try to think of the screen as a person, and talk to it with plenty of energy, like you would your trusted colleague. When you’re making a point, be sure to look directly at the camera lens.  When not speaking, keep an eye on your ‘relaxed’ face – you still want to look interested, energised and present.

  1. Stillness is good.

I’m a great fan of stillness, however, if you’re too still when listening, your audience might think you’ve ‘frozen’. When you’re speaking, using your hands is good, it helps reinforce your message and keep your audience energised. However, seeing them moving a little is fine – just not too much, they can be distracting.

  1. Give a final check before you start.

Check your appearance, background, lighting, position in the screen, long before your meetings. Go onto the virtual meeting platform and look at a preview.  This is important.  You should also practise speaking to the camera at the top of the screen, so you feel as confident as you look.

I know this all sounds obvious, but remember your audience is sitting staring at the screen looking at these things.  Why not get it right?  Then you can relax and participate more effectively and professionally in your meetings.

Contact Working Voices for more expert advice and info on our ‘Looking Professional Virtually’ Course.

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