When people hear you’re a ‘remote worker’ – they automatically assume you’re working in some elevator-music-filled coffee shop or sitting around the house in your pajamas taking conference calls. They also, unfortunately, think you’re less professional (which obviously isn’t true). But if we want to truly make remote work mainstream – we need to change these perceptions and up our ‘remote work’ game. We need to start with how they ‘see’ you. In a remote worker world – that is via video conferencing. Here are 5 ‘advanced’ tips on how to improve your video conferencing professionalism.
Note – I’m skipping the ‘basic’ video conferencing stuff. Yes – have enough bandwidth to do great HD video. Yes – audio quality matters. Yes – use Zoom or some other provider. No – don’t use your phone as the endpoint. No – don’t have your cats jumping on your lap. There are plenty of blogs out there with basic tips – this blog is for the advanced class.
Advanced Tip 1: Camera orientation
First – it’s important to discuss the end state of what you’re trying to accomplish – a video conference that feels super professional and feels as close to an ‘in-person’ meeting as you can. To do this – the #1 consideration is the orientation of the camera.
I do video calls with 50-300 remote workers a week – and I can tell you that it’s in the single digits on how many of them get the orientation right.
The key to a correct orientation is the camera angle is parallel to your eyes. When the camera is ‘straight on’ – you look like you would if you were meeting in-person. Angles are everything here – and if you’re off by even a little bit – you lose the feeling of in-person.
Take a look at the images below – and you can see the huge difference between the right angle (first image) and wrong angles (all others)…
Advanced Tip 2: Laptop camera
Note the middle ‘wrong’ image above – this is a typical ‘laptop’ camera angle. What often occurs (since the camera on the top of the angled screen) – is that you get the ‘up the nose’ angle. You lose professionalism – and it doesn’t matter who you are – nobody looks good from this angle.
To use your laptop effectively for video conferencing – you have to eliminate the angle of your laptop screen and have it positioned at 90% instead. But for the camera to then not point at your neck – you need to raise it by putting 5-6 books under it. This puts the camera at eye level and brings your orientation back to the right position.
The only problem now is that you’re actually too close to the camera – and you look huge on camera to the other side. So to solve that – you’ll want to move your chair about 2 feet away from the desk or table you put your laptop on. This will feel a bit weird at first – but it’s the right distance away for the correct amount of torso to be seen in the video and for you to look closer to the ‘correct’ image above.
Advanced Tip 3: Background
Another big mistake that I see remote workers make is not paying attention to what’s behind you in the video conference. It’s hard to take you seriously when I see your Luke Skywalker bedsheets in the background.
The ideal background is a blank or wallpapered wall (like you see in my image above) or a professional area such as a neat bookshelf or lamp. You should basically ask yourself – if I were closing a $1M deal – would the person believe I’m in a corporate office? If yes – you’ve got a good background.
There are also apps that have built-in background blur or green screen. I find those largely distracting and don’t often work well (particularly around the edges of people). I wouldn’t recommend using that option to hide your background.
One trick that I’ve used in the past is to ‘make’ a professional background using a photography setup. You can pick up a stand kit on Amazon for under $40 and a variety of different backdrops for only $10-$15. So for ~$50 – you can have a truly professional background – that’s super easy to put up and down – and you’ll fool everyone that you’re not in an office. So if you’re stuck with your Luke sheets and have no other options – get this setup.
Advanced Tip 4: Noise-canceling
There is nothing more annoying than tons of background noise from a participant in a video call. I’ve heard it all – from the noises of being outside to dogs barking to children crying to the flushing of toilets (this happens too often actually). I know there is a mute button – definitely use it – but also do us all a favor by getting a noise-canceling microphone.
Noise-canceling microphones are different than noise-canceling headphones. Noise-canceling headphones are to block out external noise for you (the listener). These are also great for video conferencing (such as my favorite – the Jabra Evolv 75e) – but they don’t do anything for the microphone (for us on the other side of your line).
Noise-canceling microphones, on the other hand, actively cancel out noise for the receiving side. There are many hardware mics that do this – and I highly recommend them. But the latest innovation is software microphone noise canceling. I’ve been super impressed with the Krisp.ai software guys. For $3/m – they have an amazing product that all remote workers should use to eliminate background noise. One of my favorite products of all time.
Advanced Tip 5: HD Option in Settings
I’m not sure how I discovered this option – nor why it’s not ‘on’ by default – but there is a setting in Zoom (and other video providers) to turn HD on. I’m assuming they want to either conserve your bandwidth or reduce their compute requirements – but who in their right mind wants to do SD video? Have you tried going back and watching a non-HD TV? Can’t do it.
The setting in Zoom is under Preferences -> Settings -> Video -> Enable HD. Turn it on…
Okay – enough tips for now – but I’m excited for the day that everyone follows all 5 of these. And if you have more – please let me know and happy to pass them on…