By Ken Nahigian 

As social distancing has forced a shift in communications practices, one such practice is the explosion in the use of video conferencing technologies. If video conferencing is the new normal, we can all agree that there is room for improvement.

We have all witnessed the very public and, in some cases, mortifying gaffes of those who may not quite be ready for primetime in transforming their living rooms or home offices into television production studios. A lack of familiarity with these technologies by users can lead to embarrassing moments — like commenting while not on mute, taking a trip to the restroom while thinking nobody could see or just really poor visual setups that make the viewer concentrate on just about everything other than what is being said.

Our clients have asked us for our best practices to improve and standardize their use of video conferencing, so in the spirit of accelerating this evolution, here are nine ways to create consistency in video conferencing so that your message — rather than unwanted vantages of your face or the favorite books behind you — can capture the attention of your audience:

  1. Technology: Determine in advance if the desktop or laptop computer being used is able to perform the video conference and that your home or office Wi-Fi signal is strong enough to avoid disruptions during the conference.
  2. Camera Setup: Be sure to set up your laptop or camera at eye level. This can be done by placing the camera on a stack of hardcover books, on a shelf or on a steady music stand. Having the camera at eye level will enable you to look directly into the camera and avoid an awkward angle. Place a sticky note next to the camera hole with an arrow reminder to focus on it so as to avoid the tendency to look at yourself on the screen.
  3. Your Setup: Be sure that you are sitting up straight on the edge of an armless chair or, preferably, standing with at least three to five feet of space between your back and the nearest wall.
  4. Background: Make sure the background is not a distraction by eliminating family photos, books that stand out on a bookshelf or anything moving.
  5. How To Look And Dress: Eliminate all things about you that may distract the viewer, like dangling jewelry or clothing that is solid white or patterned that may make you appear washed out on camera or clash with the background. Be sure to dress appropriately for the event, be it an employee meeting or a news interview. For example, if the interview is about rescue and recovery, avoid a tie, and look more like you’re ready to get to work.
  6. Lighting: Avoid sitting in front of any window or other light, and avoid desktop lights or lamps that cast light on one side of the face but not the other. For best results, direct lighting against the walls of the room until there is balanced lighting on your face. Turn off ceiling fans, which reflect the light and force computer cameras to continuously refocus.
  7. Sound: Be sure to quiet your environment, including letting family or co-workers know you are on a conference call. Turn off all email and computer notifications that could pop up, and mute all cell phones and other digital devices. Be aware of the acoustics; choose a room with carpet and lower ceilings to avoid an echo or feedback to low-quality computer microphones. Use an earpiece or microphone, if possible, for the same reasons.
  8. Voice Delivery: To ensure the microphone picks up your voice consistently, place both feet flat on the ground to avoid movement of your upper body, and speak with a steady and slightly slower cadence. There is no need to raise your voice; speak at a normal volume. Be conscious of a possible delay in audio, and avoid interrupting or speaking over other conference participants. Maintain a pleasant facial expression while being cognizant of the topic.
  9. Be Prepared: Make sure that your points are succinct and memorable. A lack of preparation can lead to the drifting of eyes away from the camera, poor posture and distracting body movements.

New realities present new challenges, and none of us can be blamed for not nailing our first video conferences. But by following these best practices, any organization will be able to establish consistency and standards for conducting business or interfacing with the media.

Ken Nahigian is EVP, Policy and Communications, for both Nahigian Strategies, LLC, a leading Washington DC-based PR firm; and Big Whig Media.  His tips first appeared as a post on Forbes Communications Council.

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