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How to look sharp for webcam meetings

If you’re like many people in business who are now confined you to your home, that doesn’t mean business is not getting done — it is, but in a different way. Face-to-face meetings have changed venue from the conference room to your bedroom, or living room, or dining area, or … if you’re incredibly lucky, to your home office. There’s been plenty of literature about how to conduct yourself while working at home — get up, shower, exercise, get dressed like you would if you were still commuting, wall off noise, stick to a schedule, don’t mix paid work with house work, and all that. But when you must attend meetings, there are even more considerations to account for — video conferencing on Skype, Zoom, WebEx, and other platforms is all about lights, camera, action, and perhaps a not-so-welcome view of your personal space. For videoconferencing to work for you, try your best to look healthy, professional, and responsible.

Professor Robert Kelly, talking live to the BBC from his home in 2017, had the right idea. The backdrop is professional and he is smartly dressed for an interview. BBC

That means attending to your lighting, clothing choices, hygiene, and background. Think of it as a privacy issue. You wouldn’t want your boss or a colleague to stop by your place before you are dressed, or come into your home before you’ve straightened up a bit — so you don’t want your webcam meeting to reflect an impression you wouldn’t project at any other time. Oh, and lock the door if you can so that kids or pets don’t barge in and upend a sensitive conversation or negotiation. Here are a few tips for looking your best for the webcam.

Robert Kelly with kids
Despite his impeccable prep, Professor Kelly forgot to lock the office door, so his kids came charging in, offering a priceless display of the perils of working at home. BBC

Clean up your look

That knit cap covering your unwashed hair, combined with a three-day beard, may be fine for biking around the neighborhood or picking up a few items at the grocery store — but attending a meeting looking like you just fell out of bed is far from optimal. If you are genuinely ill, skip the visuals in favor of audio only or postpone the meeting until you’re better, but otherwise try to adhere to some minimum standards.

videocam home setup
You don’t have to pile on the glam for an office video meeting. Just look presentable. Jackie Dove/Digital Trends

If you have a meeting planned, get dressed. Maybe you can go a little more casual than a suit and tie or elegant dress, but that depends on who you’re meeting with and the kind of business you’re conducting. For colleagues, determine the overall dress code and follow it. For customers and clients, it may be to your advantage to fully suit up in the attire you’d wear in a face-to-face meeting. Whatever you do, figure it out beforehand and be ready when you sign on. It’s better to overdress than underdress, even if your office dress code barely exceeds what gets people arrested on the street. Even if you wear a suit coat and tie or dressy blouse, you can still get away with jeans and flip flops or bare feet, because most web cameras will not capture anything below waist level.

Tops can be a deep flattering color or even white — though stark white or black is not optimal — but they should be plain without a lot of wild patterns, swirling colors, or stripes that can be distracting on camera. A conservative dress code that avoids showing too much skin works best — stay away from spaghetti straps, strapless tops, or anything transparent or translucent. Also lay off the sparkly, jangly jewelry, as it can be both visually jarring as well as noisy.

Do pay attention to hair and makeup. Wear your hair the same way you would at the office, and if you always wear makeup or lipstick, be sure to apply those in preparation for your meeting. Some matte powder may help reduce skin shine on camera, for both men and women. Webcams do not often project the highest quality video, so anything you can do to make you look less washed out on a computer screen will help. But don’t overdo it. Preview what the total effect will look like beforehand and tone it down if you need to. You want to look like yourself.

Set the background

Whether you’re conducting the meeting in your bedroom, living, room, kitchen, or home office, clean the place up before turning on the camera. You don’t want meeting attendees to see discarded clothing piled up on a chair or plates and utensils lying around. If you have a setup where the background is pleasing and professional, go for it, but a plain background works well too. If the background is distracting, it alters the tone of your meeting. Also, keep your kids and pets confined to another room while the videoconference is underway.

Webcam home setup floor
If you don’t have an appropriate background, a plain wall always works. Feel free to use books to adjust the monitor height as you set up. Jackie Dove/Digital Trends

You can use your computer’s built-in video camera or buy an extra-nice one that attaches to the top of your monitor. If you don’t have an optimal location already set up, use a curtain or sheet to block off the room, if you must. While not the best solution because it’s a bit obvious, it’s better than a sloppy alternative, and your coworkers will appreciate the effort. Some webcam apps, like XSplit or VCam, let you blur the background via image and edge detection. Zoom gives you an optional green screen backdrop to insert a photo as a virtual background.

Be aware of lighting

videoconferencing home setup
If your space is dark, brighten it up with lighting Jackie Dove/Digital Trends

In a sense, lighting is the most challenging part of the on-camera experience. Your audience must be able to see you clearly. Natural light is great, but it can be hard to set up and control, plus it tends to lighten the background and make the foreground where you sit darker. Try to sit facing the window or light source so your face is well illuminated and clearly visible. Use lamps to recreate natural lighting. Ideally, you should set up two lights on either side of your monitor, right above your eye line and about 3 feet apart. Also try positioning the camera just above your eye line so it looks down at you. This helps you look natural on camera and gives you a more flattering angle than filming from below. Look directly into the camera because that eye contact simulates the person you’re speaking to. If you wear glasses, know that there will be unpleasant reflections from the glass, but sometimes that can’t be helped. If you have an option to wear contact lenses, that would be better.

Remember that the camera is always recording, whether you are in focus while speaking or not. So while your call is ongoing, be ready for your closeup. Keep your facial expression neutral and pleasant and your hands still, do not check your phone or watch, roll your eyes, whisper to your kid, or summon your cat. Wait until the call is finished to get back to your routine.

Control your sound

Know where the Mute button is located on the conferencing application and make liberal use of it, especially if you’re not doing most of the talking. Muting your audio screens out room noise, road noise, and sundry household noise, including flushing toilets, TVs, barking dogs, and coffee bean grinders.

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Jackie Dove
Jackie is an obsessive, insomniac tech writer and editor in northern California. A wildlife advocate, cat fan, and photo app…
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