During the past year, many of us have gotten used to (for better or worse) remote work and being on camera. If you’re ever feeling self-conscious on video conferences, you are definitely not alone. According to an article in Slate, even before the pandemic, 59% of survey respondents said they were more insecure on camera than IRL, while 39% said they didn’t enjoy being on camera, period. Imagine how people feel now, after a full year of Zoom calls and Google hangouts. You’ve probably also heard about the boom in plastic surgery as a result of constant camera interaction. The desire for a better on-camera look is real! So if you’re looking to up your Zoom game, whether it's for important interviews or meetings, we’ve got some tips on how to structure your space, get your lighting right and maybe even start to like video conferencing. With a little effort, you’ll have created the ideal space for important, ongoing meetings and potential interviews—no plastic surgery necessary.
- Choose your space wisely
Think about which room makes you feel super calm and offers a well-lit place where you can think and be creative. It’s probably because this space also has a lot of great sunlight during the day, which makes all the difference (we’ll get to why next). This room would be our number one choice for great video conferencing. But let’s say you live in a basement. Opt for a room that’s both calm and quiet(ish). Maybe this room also contains your favorite objects or art and overall has great vibes. Once you’ve picked your space, bring in a table or desk and a comfortable chair.
- Make use of great lighting
There’s no need to go out and buy one of those pro ring lights that Instagram influencers use (unless that’s your thing, you know. You do you!). For the rest of us peasants, we’ll want a big, soft, bright light source. We’re talking about indirect sunlight coming through an open window or a somewhat diffused lamp placed in front of you. Steer clear of backlighting (when the light is coming from behind you) and make sure your back is to a wall. This will also remove any possibility that other people could walk through while you’re in a meeting.
Take a seat in your chosen space. Let’s say you’re a clock, where your line of vision is at 12 and your back is at 6. Light yourself from the front or side, somewhere in between the 1-3 or 9-11 positions. Avoid extremes in either direction of bright spots and dark spots in lighting. Pro tip: your computer’s camera is going to adjust on its own, splitting the difference between the extremes in the room’s lighting. This adjustment can leave you looking either like you’re broadcasting from inside a cave or being lit by a stadium floodlight. Try to light everything uniformly and recruit table lamps from other rooms if needed. Again, indirect sunlight that lights you from the front or side is your best friend, regardless of cloudy days.
- Organize your background
In creating a setting, you want to keep things interesting while eliminating distractions. It’s ok to have some personality staples, like great art, a shelf of inspiring books or fun musical instruments. In fact, maybe start your background tableau with one-to-three of these objects. Just make sure nothing in frame could be deemed offensive or is even remotely questionable. Apart from objects, healthy plants add life to your scene and keep the space from seeming dismal or claustrophobic. Add some! Organize your objects and/or plant life in a pleasing way without anything looking too cluttered. If you want to get really nerdy about it, the old rule of thirds method from the photo and design world can help you balance the scene like an artist.
- Get yourself set
First—and you probably already know this—choose and wear comfortable clothes that complement your skin tone. Since you’re the centerpiece for your meeting, build everything around you. Depending on how busy your fave shirt is, for example, factor this into your background. Make the setting a little sparser so you shine more. If you wear makeup, keep it natural and apply it using the same lighting you’re going to use while on camera.
When you’re ready, start a fake meeting in order to position yourself and all your objects in the frame. Place the computer’s camera at a good angle that’s level to your eyes, using books or a riser. Ergonomics are still important! You’ll want to be comfy while putting your best self forward. Make sure your seat is comfortable and you can be seen. Be aware of how you are cropping yourself, too. Out in the world, you look great in that tank top but on camera, at certain angles, it could look like you’re not wearing much. It’s also a good idea to keep a cardigan or suit jacket at the ready, just in case. Last, but not least, have a real (cute) glass of water on hand and leave your hefty Nalgene off camera.
- Get your screen space ready
20 to 30 minutes before your meeting, get your computer space cleaned up, prepared to present, even if you don’t intend on it. Make sure your background is pleasing and set it to a landscape or abstract colors. Steer clear from anything too personal or edgy. You also might want to spend a minute or two organizing items into folders—clutter is distracting here, too! Save and close out of any tabs you were working on. Open up necessary websites and documents you’ll want to access during the meeting. Turn off notifications for at least two hours so no one interrupts your meeting and you have some mental space to process afterward. Have a notepad open, whether physical or digital. You’re now ready for your interview or important meeting. You’re gonna nail it, BTW.
We might have started off talking all about the discomfort of being on camera, but a lot of that discomfort stems from a lack of confidence and preparedness. Hey, few of us have ever had to prepare our own interview rooms! The benefits of these tips actually help you create a new, constant space that’s sleek enough for everyday use and professional enough to share with future employers. It removes the too-personal setting of your home from the equation and offers a little privacy while preserving your authentic image. When you feel comfortable in your surroundings you’ll be able to rest assured in how you’re presenting your true self, too.