It's A Whole New World of Weed on Zoom!

5 Tips to Look and Sound Like a Pro...or at least, like yourself.

2020 will be remembered as “unprecedented”. A raging pandemic, a divided country resulting in a contentious election, an economy on the brink, and for many of you, a fear of being on ZOOM daily!

As humans, we are all our own toughest critics when it comes to hearing our voices recorded. (Do I sound like that? I thought I had a good voice. Yuk!)

When it comes to seeing ourselves on camera, we think we all look 10 pounds heavier. Or is it just a bad hair day? Or is the whole world looking at that minuscule zit on my face?

I’ve worked with hundreds of people, from young people to C-Suite executives who are afraid of the camera and worry about their “on-camera performance.” The toughest part of getting over a fear of anything is facing it, especially when it's facing your image!

Now that our regular commutes have moved from 30 minutes to 3 seconds, working from home has become the norm. That means you better get used to seeing yourself on camera.

So here are a few basic tips for those of you who are regular users of ZOOM, Facetime, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Stream Yard, Google Hangouts, or Web-Ex from Cisco.

First some basic lessons about “face-to-face” communication. Eye contact is pretty important, isn’t it? It’s a sign of respect. It’s the single most important connection we can make without touching each other, and since that’s been banned thanks to the “vid”, maintaining eye contact with that little camera is paramount, no matter your “connection device of choice” (smartphone, laptop, tablet, webcam, or even a studio camera). It’s not easy, is it?

When you were younger, did you ever play the staring game? Look into a friend’s eyes, try to maintain eye contact for as long as you can. If you want a visual cue, hold a rope, or string, or wire on your nose, and ask your partner to hold it up to their nose. NOW LOOK AT EACH OTHER’S EYES. How long can you hold that?

Drop the rope or wire as soon as one of you breaks the connection. Why? Because when you are on camera, as soon as you avert your eyes, or look at something else, you break your connection on camera with the person you are talking to. This is true whether you are talking on ZOOM or talking to someone face to face.

First tip: Make sure your camera is at eye level. Put your device on a shelf, or prop up your laptop on books.

Do you know how intimidating it is when you meet or talk to someone taller than you? (I once interviewed a 7’7’’ basketball player named Manute Bol and had to stand on a chair so the microphone could reach his mouth!)

In Hollywood, they shoot actors, low to high to give more of a powerful presence on screen. (Tom Cruise is 5’7” but always appears taller on screen because of this!)

Second tip: Don’t position your camera with a bright window behind you! That’s called backlighting. Since you are the subject on camera, you should have the most light on you. This is especially true if you have black or brown skin. Get a ring light or a bright desk lamp and position behind the camera facing you.

Third tip: Sound. There are some good built-in microphones in Apple computers, but even the microphone attached to an external set of earbuds is better than their built-in microphones. High ceilings are a nightmare for sound, empty rooms with no carpet or furniture will make your sound hollow and can create an echo. So find a carpeted room with furniture, and better yet, invest in an external microphone.

Fourth tip: the rule of thirds. In any introductory film or graphics course, one of the first things you learn is how to frame your subjects. Each frame in a horizontal 16:9 aspect ratio is divided into 9 cells. Where the vertical and horizontal lines meet is where your focal points should be.

On ZOOM you are the only subject, so sit back in your chair and position the camera so that you fill up 2/3 of the frame with your head and shoulders. The top of your head should be in the middle center cell (2). Your neck and shoulders and arms should be touching 4-5-6 plus 7-8-9.

Fifth tip: For those of you who don’t even turn the video on during the ZOOM call: get over it! You are human. You are not a supermodel. People will accept you as long as you can accept yourself.

Now, for those of you who are uncomfortable with their looks and don’t even put your camera on during a ZOOM call, I guarantee that at some point in the morning, you have looked at yourself in a mirror (perhaps even examined the various pores on your face), and after brushing out your bedhead hair, you’ve said….OK, good enough, and started your day.

So I ask you if you are your toughest critic, and you’ve already given yourself a passing grade, you should be comfortable enough with how you look on camera.

It’s a whole new world of weed out there, so when on ZOOM, remember, it's a whole new world on ZOOM too.