While many have been working remotely for years, the past few months have dramatically increased the number of executives talking on video chat and collaboration channels like Teams and Zoom. We know that much of the impact people make comes from how you look and how you sound, not from what you say.
As we increasingly fix video interviews with journalists, and TV interviews with people via laptops become the norm, it’s important to understand how to look your best. Andrew Marshall, deputy chairman at Cognito Media, offers recommendations that are relevant both for video interviews with print journalists, and for live TV. In fact they’re important for most sales calls (and job interviews) as well.
Bad lighting is the main reason people say they don’t look good on video calls. Don’t be too close to a window in the daylight. It’s critical to kill shadows, and for this reason lighting from overhead is not ideal. For TV in particular, you should have soft lighting, with two lights in front of you out of view to right and left at your level, and with one light behind. Alternatively and perhaps ideally, invest in a small ring light (not expensive) you can attach around the laptop camera. Remember you can test exactly how you look on your screen (though keep in mind time of day).
The camera lens must be at eye level. Far too often people are looking down at their computer. You don’t want the camera looking up your nose or exposing your double chin. Similarly, you don’t want to be looming down from above. So put your laptop on some heavy books or files but make sure this is stable. A few years back, external webcams with tripods were often recommended, to get the right height and right visual quality, but the improvement in laptop cameras has perhaps taken the impetus out of this.
Keep good eye contact
A good camera lens helps. Look at the camera, not at the screen, otherwise you will look disengaged. Beware if you are screen sharing your laptop with a larger monitor next to it: this can result in you looking at the larger screen and not the camera.
Fill but not overfill the screen
If your head takes up all of the screen, it’s overwhelming and (for most of us) unattractive. If your head is too small you look distant and disengaged. Think about the triangle of head and shoulders filling the screen with a little room on each side. And make sure you are centred – in calls I find some people purposely pose on the edge of the screen, but in an interview you’re the centre of the action.
Posture and movement
As in a studio, the adage about ‘bottom on back of seat’ holds true. Don’t slouch, sit up and lean slightly forward, looking engaged and active. Try not to move too dramatically backwards and forwards, as this is distracting as your head size in the screen suddenly changes.
Table and hands
It’s often best to sit behind at a table. Then you can place your hands in front of you, and keep gesticulation under control. If you’re sitting without a table, then make sure you think about legs, keeping them crossed, for example. Even if not in the shot, moving them can seem disruptive. One variant we see is standing up with a high laptop camera – this is fine as long as the camera angle is good, and you don’t move around too much.
The right chair
No rocking or swivel chairs please.
Don’t have too clutter or other work on your desk to distract you, and similarly don’t have windows or notifications on your screen that will distract you during an interview. Take care not to look at your watch. Don’t tap you pen. Focus on the other person.
Internet connection and testing your equipment
However good your broadband, it makes sense to close down applications you don’t need. And do test your equipment, and ensure connections and batteries are okay.
Some are investing in Zoom and other artificial backgrounds. This is an option, but in the current situation, a home background that is uncluttered and unobtrusive is fine. Be aware of mirrors and reflection.
On air and interruptions
While Professor Robert Kelly in Korea became a charming hit when his children invaded his laptop interview, take what measures are practical to guard against interruptions. Ideally this is a closed door with a ‘on air’ sign on it. But with many sharing home offices with partners and flatmates, this isn’t always practical. This is why being close to a wall is good, as it makes it physically impossible to walk behind you and onto the screen.
Use of notes
On a TV interview use of notes is a no-no. The temptation to rig up a static teleprompter with some notes should be resisted, as it’s likely to involve too much visible eye movement. In a ‘print’ interview via a video call, it is okay to have a few brief notes in front of you if unobtrusive. Looking down too often will detract from your impact.
Use headphones - with a good microphone built-in
Certainly, many are just using the speakers and mikes in their laptops. We think this is a big mistake in terms of sound quality as it produces feedback. And while TV studios will use Lavalier microphones, that don’t need to be clipped on, we’d recommend against these as an alternative to headphones. It’s simply more risky on your own.
What to wear
Avoid white, very bright or neon colours that reflects or distracts. Avoid jewellery that glares, or swings about, or clanks when your hands touch the table. How casual is up to you, and broadcast channels are very relaxed, but the main message (for men!) is look presentable. Creased and wrinkled shirts don’t look good, and since you may be cutting your own hair these days, make sure you comb it. I also pass on a piece of advice I read elsewhere – dress appropriately from head to foot, since you never know what might happen.