By Bruce Hennes, CEO, Hennes Communications
Two inarguable truisms: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. And a picture is worth a thousand words.
Now that we’re all spending so much time online, in “virtual” environments, both of the above are now truer than ever. So whether you’re using Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, WebEx, Microsoft Teams or any of the other video call platforms, there are a few universal do’s and don’ts if you want to look and sound professional:
DO make sure there is light on your face. Before you start the video call, look at yourself on the screen and make an objective assessment. You may need to turn on an overhead light or even add a table lamp or other light source, pointed towards your face. The pros all use L.E.D. adjustable “ring lights designed to ensure proper lighting (you can see a selection of lights here: https://tinyurl.com/lightrings ).
DO make certain you’re not sitting in front of a bright window. You’ll be “backlit” and your face will be dark and difficult, perhaps impossible, to see.
DO make sure you are looking directly into the camera lens and making eye contact. Whether you have to adjust your chair or the camera itself, your eyes should be at the exact same level as the camera lens. Even a deviation of a few inches is unacceptable. But remember this: If you’re looking at the screen, you’re not making eye contact. Studies show that people who make eye contact increase their believability ratio exponentially. Is it difficult to look directly into the camera lens and have an extended conversation? Yes. Is it even tougher to conduct a webinar for 30 or 60 minutes or longer, looking into the camera lens the entire time? You betcha. Suggestion: partially cover the screen with a piece of paper so you’re not tempted to look at it. Even if you’re on your mobile phone using FaceTime or Zoom, remember: the camera lens isn’t in the middle of the screen – it’s on the edge of the screen.
DO be sure to look at the television news programs and pundit shows. Especially these days, so many more of those interviews are taking place with people in their home offices rather than in the TV studios. Turn the sound off so you concentrate on the “performance,” (what you’re looking at) rather than what’s being said. Notice, too, who’s making eye contact with you and who isn’t.
DO be aware of what’s behind you. A simple background is always best. A neat, but busy bookshelf can work or perhaps some art work, too, are OK. But clutter is just that. Zoom, by the way, offers a way to change the background, though if you’re using one of their backgrounds be sure not to make any sudden movements, otherwise portions of your face or body will pixelate in an unflattering manner (see below for more information).
DO be aware of your body posture. Sit up straight ! And don’t forget to smile, or at the very least, look pleasant.
DO be animated. A little body movement or moving your head just a little makes you look interesting instead of stiff. Be sure to talk with your hands, too. Sitting with your hands folded – stiff. Using one or two hands to make small hand motions punctuating your important points from time-to-time make you appear to be animated and interesting.
DO be sure that your mobile phone is set to vibrate or off. And if you have a landline, be sure to unplug it or otherwise make certain it doesn’t ring.
DO make sure the dog and kids are quiet.
DO make sure you have enough bandwidth. If you have a number of people in the house all actively using the internet, you might need them to stop while you’re on the video call. If you are having bandwidth problems, call your internet service provider. We recently upgraded our internet connection from 128mbs to 1000mbs, surprisingly for literally just a few dollars a month.
DO mute your audio when you’re not speaking, especially if there are more than a few others on the video call.
DON’T use a room that’s “hard.” If you’re in a room with many hard surfaces and without drapes, carpet or other sound-absorbing materials, you’ll sound like you’re in a warehouse.
DON’T sit too close to the camera. Don’t sit too far, either. You want to be in the “Goldilocks Zone,” where you’re just at the “right” distance.
DON’T check your email or play with video games while you’re on a video call. You think you can do so without anyone noticing your head is down or that your eyes are moving around? Wrong !
DON’T wear professional clothing from the waist up and sweat pants or shorts waist down. If you want to feel and act professional, then dress in a professional manner. Plus, what happens if all of a sudden you have to get up? As well, avoid clunky jewelry, loud, clashing patterns or anything that’s distracting.
DON’T ever do a media interview without being prepared and knowing what points you want to make. If the answer to a question is legal, moral and ethical, answer the question, but be prepared to pivot over to your “key messages.”
DON’T get ZoomBombed. That’s where someone tries to disrupt a Zoom meeting by interjecting inappropriate or offense sounds, pictures and videos. Some steps you can take to protect your in-progress Zoom meeting include assigning at least two co-hosts, muting all participants and locking the meeting once all attendees are present. To prevent Zoombombers from even entering your Zoom conference: Disable autosaving chats • Disable file transfer • Disable screen sharing for non-hosts • Disable remote control • Disable annotations • Use per-meeting ID, not your personal Zoom ID • Disable “Join Before Host” • Make sure your “Waiting Room” is enabled.
If you’ve used Zoom lately, you’ve noticed the fake pools, sunsets, palm trees and views of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. We’re all starting to envy the Pottery Barn-like kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms used more and more often as Zoom backgrounds. And how about those libraries full of unread books, empty but cool-looking coffee shops and mountain tops where we know the internet connections are spotty or non-existent. One of my personal favorites is that guy on the internet who’s selling “custom Zoom backgrounds for lawyers and law firms.”
You’re not kidding anyone by using one of those fake backdrops. We all see the strange things popping out of your head, missing limbs and unnatural movements as the picture pixelates.
Like many of you, I find myself using Zoom every day, often for far too many hours, either in meetings or doing my presentations and CLE’s on crisis management. If I weren’t concerned about outing my friends, acquaintances and clients, I’d love to show you my rogue’s gallery of bad Zoom calls featuring poor lighting, backlighting, incorrect angles and the dreaded lack of eye contact.
C’mon everybody – you can see yourself up there in the corner while the camera’s on. Can’t you tell just how awful and unprofessional you look? And then you go and use one of those hokey Zoom images, making things even worse.
Instead of using a fake background or simply ignoring what’s behind you, instead consider “curating” your background. For advice on Best Practices in this regard, we turn to the real experts: the news people, talking heads and pundits who are now opining from the comfort of their homes, instead of rushing to the TV studios at 4:30 in the morning. In this article from TVNewser, an industry publication, you can see for yourself why Al Roker, Gayle King and others look so darn great on TV.
As an example, here I am, webcasting live from my office at home (not).
Bruce Hennes is CEO of Hennes Communications, one of the few firms in North America focused exclusively on crisis management and crisis communications.
Now in their 31st year of business, the firm serves scores of law firms and other professional service firms, government agencies, large nonprofits, colleges and universities, education K-12 and manufacturing operations across the U.S. and Canada that find themselves facing the Court of Public Opinion. The firm has a particular specialty working with health care and senior living communities spanning the entire continuum of care.
Active in his community, Hennes has served for ten years on the executive committee of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association . There, he chairs the bar association’s Governance Committee and, notably, he is only of just a few non-attorneys in the country serving on the board of a major metropolitan bar association. He is also an adjunct professor at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs.
This past spring, Hennes Communications was selected to be the exclusive crisis management partner for the Ohio School Boards Association.
Hennes was recently named to the 2020 Lawdragon 100 Leading Consultants and Strategists, the definitive guide to the financiers, recruiters, marketing and communication gurus on whom the legal profession relies. According to Lawdragon, “These are 100 of the most trusted advisers to the legal profession.
For those who want more information or wish to take their game up a few notches, virtual media training via Zoom is available by calling Hennes Communications at 216-321-7774.