At Polycom, we use video constantly – it’s part of the culture. (Read my colleague Cameron Craig’s account of his first 30 days at Polycom to learn more about that.) In that time, we’ve learned a thing or two about optimizing video – like things to think about when you’re doing something really important, such as interviewing for a job or making a big pitch to senior management. Video is excellent for breaking down barriers and connecting people from all around the world. But, just as you can make a cultural gaffe in person (don’t show the soles of your feet to business partners in the Middle East), you can mess up with a camera. Bad video is, in our opinion, worse than no video – and if you can’t be heard, why bother? You want to be there like you would be in person!
So, based on our experience, here are the top ten things you can do to improve the quality of your video collaboration.
10. Don’t wear those pinstripes! When you are doing a video conference, your camera – whether on your laptop or on a purpose-built device, like the Polycom RealPresence Debut (at left), is working hard to track your facial expressions and your movements. Throw some narrow blue and white stripes in there – and the camera can’t tell if that is movement or stripes, which makes the system work overtime to try to resolve the confusion. This has two implications: one, your viewers on the other end of the video session are seeing vibrating stripes that make their eyes burn, and two, if you are trying to share content - such as a movie, a PowerPoint presentation or your desktop - the camera is working too hard on bringing you into focus to put any effort into the content. The same principle applies to checks – leave them for the picnic table. Wide stripes are okay, but take some cues from newscasters – there is a reason they lean toward solid colors.
9. Keep in mind what you get complimented on. Is there a particular color you wear that results in more “you look greats” than others? Some colors wash you out, while others make you look more alive. Again with the newscasters – there is a reason you see a lot of jewel tone colors. I always think of a solid royal blue as “video blue,” which is almost universally flattering. Bright red, on the other hand, tends to vibrate on screen. By all means be yourself, but keep in mind that via video, not everyone will see the entirely of that logo or slogan emblazoned on your chest – that can be awkward.
8. Remember, you are on camera. This might seem obvious, but if you you’ve been accustomed over the years to audio-only calls, you’ve probably developed a keen ability to multitask while simultaneously losing your ability to keep a poker face. On larger video conference calls, you may not always be speaking, but you’re still visible – so forget the playing Words with Friends on your smartphone, personal grooming, grimacing, or rolling your eyes. The positive outcome is that people on video are more focused – and meetings go faster when you don’t have to keep saying, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that,” which we all know is code for “I wasn’t listening but I just heard my name . . .”
7. Look around. Checking the self-view for what is going to show on camera to others in your meeting is the best precaution against a potential employer discovering your, ahem, recreational hobbies by accident, or inadvertently sharing your “geniuses embrace clutter” philosophy. Make your surroundings professional, just as you do yourself.
6. Practice before the big time – you don’t want the big interview to be the first time! A dry run will help you identify the right lighting to make sure the far end is seeing you, and not a shadowy figure with a blinding halo -- keep the light in front of you, not behind, and if you are using the webcam on a PC, most of the time you’ll look better if you turn the brightness down just a bit. Being too close to the camera will exacerbate any eye movement away from the camera, so sit back at a comfortable distance and use the camera zoom to make sure you are well framed. And, if you are going to be sharing content, have it ready – nothing worse than watching the top of your head while you dig through your files trying to find that presentation.
5. Test the technology. If you’re joining a meeting through a web browser, make sure to try it out if it is the first time you are using it. Some technologies require plug-ins, and they may not be compatible with all browsers. You don’t want to be late because you were futzing around with downloads – and you won’t be at your best when you do arrive.
4. Sound matters. Think about how hard it is to hear in some restaurants – they often don’t have sound absorbers in the form of carpets, tablecloths, wall coverings, etc., so all those conversations bounce around and intensify. The same thing applies to video conferencing. Polycom, of course, is known for the quality of the sound in our video conferencing solutions, but even if you don’t have access to our technology, you can improve your situation by making sure you are in a quiet location that has enough stuff in it – furniture, carpeting, plants -- to absorb the echoes.
3. Don’t be that person – you know, the one with the barking dog, or the one typing while someone else is talking, or the one crackling the potato chip bag during a working lunch, or the one whose cell phone keeps ringing (btw, silence your cell phone). If you aren’t talking, put yourself on mute if there is any background noise.
2. Of course, if you put yourself on mute, remember to take it off when you start talking. “I think you are on mute” is the new “can you hear me now,” and after the 8th or 9th time in a single meeting, it gets annoying.
1. Be yourself. Remember to look at the camera, not just at the screen – if you’re on a laptop, rest it on a stack of papers or books to put the camera closer to your eye level. The best thing about using video is that you get to see the each other with all your natural expressions, smiles, body language and non-verbal cues that help drive deeper connection and understanding. Take full advantage of the opportunity!
Shirt and chip images are courtesy of Google Image search results and were labeled for re-use with modification.