It’s no secret that COVID-19 has altered the way businesses convey their message to prospects, clients and partners. What was once a personal, face-to-face meeting, has turned into a seemingly distant Zoom call. Many of us have been working with Zoom for a month or two, but are still dealing with occasional difficulties and are ready to make our Zoom meetings more professional, personable and fine-tuned. So how can businesses convey the same feelings of trustworthiness, confidence and reliability through the lens?
The key is to treat your Zoom calls like productions. Just as preparation for an important in-person meeting includes detailed preparation and assuring the proper technical setup, it is important to take the same meticulous approach and apply it to your Zoom calls. The goal is a smooth virtual presentation, void of technical disruptions and distractions, and ultimately a positive prospect or client reaction.
It is believed that the majority of what constitutes a first impression is visual input. This is why business professionals wear attire that fits the formality of the meeting. While dressing appropriately is still an important factor in creating a virtual first impression, there are now many additional visual factors to account for when preparing a Zoom production.
Principally, there is an added emphasis on facial expressions and eye contact. Unlike traditional meetings, virtual meetings project a close-up of all participant’s faces. This means every micro expression and movement becomes more clear to the viewer. It is important to try not to look away, or down as you may be perceived as uninterested or distracted. When presenting, look directly at your camera (not at your computer screen) to be more inclusive with your presentation. Just as with traditional meetings, movement should always be intentional and add value to the presentation. Avoid fidgeting and any unnecessary expressions that distract from your message.
Another important visual factor for virtual meetings is preparing the lighting. Natural lighting is your best option. Prop your desk to face the window so light is coming from directly behind the camera. If you don’t have a desk near a window, use a lamp or inexpensive professional studio light directly on your face for even, steady lighting. Finally, it is very important to ensure there is no backlight or side lighting. Backlight will make you difficult to see and side lighting will make half your face look shady.
An additional visual consideration for Zoom meetings is the positioning and angle of the camera. Don’t fall victim to “wide-angle face.” This happens when a meeting participant’s face looks abnormally wide from being too close to a wide-angle lens like the ones used on computers and smart-phones. Scoot back from the camera so your head is framed with room above and below your head. Additionally, your camera should be at about eye-height. The most unflattering camera angle is when the camera is looking up at you.
Perhaps the most debated visual Zoom topic is the background. Many experts recommend a simple and subtle background. A blank wall is preferred, but something professional like a neat book shelf can work as well, while staying away from anything that looks too busy. The key is to create a background environment that keeps the focal point on the presenter. Some companies are opting to utilize the Zoom background image feature. If choosing to go with this option, it is important to use a subtle, on-brand color that allows faces to show clearly, along with a small company logo in one of the corners.
The next category of Zoom production techniques focuses on auditory professionalism. Audio input is vital to conducting an effective meeting. Everyone has experienced meetings where a microphone is muted when it shouldn’t be and vice versa. Additionally, we understand the frustration of feedback, or background noise coming through on a virtual meeting. This is all distracting and defocuses participants from the meeting subject. There are many ways to refrain from being a culprit of such virtual meeting sins by working on the following.
Testing, testing 1, 2, 3.
Just as any musician tests their microphones prior to a performance, anyone planning on participating in a Zoom call should do the same. Simply schedule a check-in meeting with a coworker prior to meetings to verify your microphone is producing clear sound without any background noise or feedback.
One way to prevent extra background noise or feedback is utilizing a pair of small headphones with a localized mic or purchasing an external mic. Both of these options can help localize the sound to your voice while excluding distracting transient background noises from entering the chat. These are great investments for those who present often in a virtual setting.
Finally, it is vital to never commit the cardinal sin of virtual meetings. Whether you are an active participant or a listener, there is no reason to have your microphone active when you are not speaking. Become very familiar with the mute button and use it frequently. Additionally, if you are the meeting organizer on Zoom, you have the awesome power of muting anyone in the meeting. This is a great way to subtly reduce distractions without having to call anyone out specifically during the meeting.
Overall, it is important for businesses to look at virtual meetings as a way to reflect their organization and communicate their unique identity in an authentic way. The same professionalism and detailed planning that went into in-person meetings must translate to virtual meetings. Above all, people aren’t looking for perfection; they are looking for a positive, genuine interaction. Make your Zoom productions authentically reflect your company and serve as stepping stones to building or maintaining trust.