Sunday, September 26, 2021

On Becoming a Video Star

Do you have any tricks/advice/hacks/best practices for effective video conferencing? Please share them with us.

Brenda Chapman starting off the week.

The pandemic has made video stars of us all, whether we wanted to be or not. Our first Zoom calls had us scrambling for the right backdrop and angle, and this became even more important for book-related events. I went to the fount of all knowledge to learn some tricks -- YouTube.

1.  Camera position: The best spot is to have the camera slightly elevated above your head so that you're looking a little bit upwards. I've been on video calls where the angle of somebody's camera is way low, sometimes even knee level, and can guarantee you that this is not a good look. I personally use a tripod to get the right level.

2. Lighting: Play with lighting in different rooms until you find a spot that doesn't have glare or that is too dark or that washes you out. Position a lamp behind the laptop/computer rather than behind you. The person on the YouTube video used light from two windows on opposite sides of the space as her base - not too helpful at night though.

3. Background: Important not to leave your closet door open or have chaos going on behind you, especially if you're trying to look professional. Nobody wants to see a sink full of dirty pots and pans, or kids jumping on the bed. I've found a blank grey wall and a sitting spot in my office where I film interviews. I also sit in my leather chair for meetings and such, and sat there to do a reading once.

4. Hair and make up: (Not sure most men care about this point.) Yeah, if I'm doing something book-related, I slather some foundation and blush on and find this does perk up my face, which otherwise, would look mighty pale. A bit of colour really does do wonders. I don't wear make up otherwise these pandemic days, so enjoy getting 'gussied up' on occasion. As for hair, mine is a wild affair that I attempt to tame on days I'm filming something. (The woman on YouTube was all about putting some effort into this.)

5. Clothes: I'm not too concerned about this one, but will put on a decent top if it's a book-related event. Best to get out of your pjs and bathrobe in any event. Shorts and bare feet are not on camera so no worries about the rest of the wardrobe.

6.  Noise Distractions: Turn off the volume on your phone, especially for interviews. I also have a landline and make sure the portable phone is out of my recording room. Make sure your husband isn't hammering on the roof or using a nail gun.

Since I seem to be coming at this question from the perspective of filming an interview or a book event, I'll turn to my media relations training and will also give a few take aways from that:

1.  Prepare what you want to say ahead of time and practise saying your spiel out loud as often as necessary until it sounds natural (counter-intuitive, I know). Even if you go off-script (which I always do) the day of, you'll have a comfort level. 

2.  Do not get drawn into a conversation about anything that makes you uncomfortable or that you will regret later, such as which authors you detest, or do you start drinking wine before four o'clock? It's okay not to answer a question, but steer the conversation to the insightful points you intended to make.

3.  Keep your head still, especially when you're listening to other people talk. Try to keep your facial movements to a minimum. 

4.  Practise not using 'um' or other filler words and sounds. "Um, like, it's sorta um ...." You get the idea. I listen to recordings and watch tapes to improve on my own bad habits.

5.  Be in the moment. Listen and respond, relax and have fun.

6. Don't be worried if you pause for a few seconds before or during a response. The blank air might seem long to you, but it really isn't. On the other hand, don't talk so fast that the listener can't keep up. Find a nice pace to keep interest going.

7. Don't hog the limelight if you're on a group video chat, panel or interview. Listeners will notice and will become annoyed. Keep answers pithy and reasonably short. Be a generous guest.

And that's it! I hope never to see your knees and the inside of your closet on a call, and hope that your face gently glows in the lamplight behind your laptop...


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Susan C Shea said...

Good zoom tips although I mostly just sit in my desk chair, slightly above the laptop screen, with bad lighting . I have a tendency to lean forward with my chin on my hand, which may be comfortable for me but does zero for how I look to others! One of your tips for presentation is a gentler version of what I trainded people to do in crisis communications or other media relations: Know the 3 essential points you want to make and no matter what the question is, "answer" with one of them!

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Susan - I also struggle with that camera angle and lighting, but keep working at it.