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Tips for Better Video Calls

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.

We’re all spending more time than ever online, in “virtual” environments.  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 your face is well-lit.  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  add a table lamp or other light source, pointed towards your face.  The pros all use L.E.D. adjustable lights designed to ensure proper lighting (you can see a selection of lights here.

DO make certain you’re not sitting with a bright window behind you.  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 top of the screen.  Recently, we purchased a very small tripod and mounted a small Logitech video camera on the tripod.  By placing the tripod right up against the middle of the video screen, it’s even easier to see what’s happening on-screen while still looking directly into the camera.

Here’s a new tip from Milo Shapiro for making eye contact: When speaking one-on-one, resize the Zoom window to only a couple of inches wide so the other person’s image is above you, not to the side. Drag the window up to the top center of your screen, right under your webcam. When the image is small and high, your gaze will be very close to the lens so it feels like you’re looking at them. I’ve tested it and even as I’m looking ever-so-slightly at their face on-screen, they say it looks like I’m making eye contact. Or, if you want to be 100% sure you’re looking eye-to-eye, you can look right at the lens but at least their whole face is only an inch away, much closer via your peripheral vision than not.

DO be sure to look at how people are interviewing virtually on 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 (though do be careful you don’t have any controversial book titles in view) 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.  And do be certain to bring your gestures close to your face, otherwise they won’t be seen on the webcam.

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.  If they’re not, acknowledge that and mute when you’re not speaking.

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.  Did you know that you can quickly unmute yourself on Zoom by holding down the SPACE BAR key while you talk?  In this way, you can quickly respond to a question asked of you or toss in a fast comment.

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.

NEW:  If you do get ZoomBombed, Zoom has a new feature called Suspend Participant Activities.  Hitting this switch pauses all video, audio, chat, annotation, screen sharing, recording and Breakout Rooms. From there, you can remove a user from the meeting immediately.  You’ll find this at the bottom of your Zoom screen by clicking on the SECURITY button.

Special Note for Attorneys

Model Rule 1.1, “Competence,” provides that ”to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology…” That means knowing your way around any platform’s security features (not just Zoom) and actually using them — or delegating that task to someone competent to do it for you — is the key to carrying out your duty of competence in this brave new world.  For more information on this, we direct you to The Law for Lawyers Today, a legal ethics blog written by our good friend, attorney Karen Rubin at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio.

More Legal Considerations (not just for attorneys)

Virtual meetings across the country are fostering situations that are concerning and inappropriate, placing individuals and organizations in legal jeopardy.  Just a few include sexual misconduct, discrimination, bullying, harassment, mockery in side chats, age bias and inappropriate backgrounds (for the latter, please see an entire section on “Zoom Backgrounds” below).  Besides making certain that you aren’t thoughtlessly crossing these boundaries, employers should be aware of situations like this.  Because we’re not a law firm and we don’t offer legal advice, we encourage you to read this excellent article by Anne Cullen written for Law360 for an in-depth look at these online video issues.


Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re hosting a Zoom meeting and you get disconnected (your Internet fails, your system crashes, your power goes out, etc.), with credit to Ken Braley for these tips.

  • The meeting will continue without you. Zoom will assign someone else to be host. Consensus on message boards seems to be that a random participant will be selected to be host, so assigning a co-host is a good idea. Zoom says they are working on an option to move all meeting participants to the waiting room if the host loses connection.
  • If you are recording to your computer, the recording will stop. If you are recording to the cloud, the recording will continue, so that is a better option.
  • If you record to the cloud, the meeting host will receive an email with links to the recording. If you are disconnected as host, you will still receive the email, even though someone else may finish the meeting as host.
  • Remember that Zoom meetings have a phone-in number. If your internet connection goes down, you may be able to get back into the meeting by calling in. Of course, you’ll have audio only.

Using PowerPoint and Zoom at the same time?  Here are some more advanced techniques:

  • Display your PowerPoint slide show in a window, not full-screen. When you’re showing slides with a projector, you want them to fill the screen. That’s the default. But on Zoom, you don’t have to show your whole computer screen, but can show the contents of an individual window. In your PPT file, choose the Slide Show tab, then Set-Up Show and select the “Browsed by an individual (window)” option. Then start the slide show and the slides will appear in a window. When you share your screen in Zoom, point to that window. Now you don’t have to have PPT fill your screen; you can move it to one side and see other windows (like the Zoom window) behind or beside it. Note: don’t make the PPT window too small, or its resolution will be fuzzy for your audience. (Ken Braley)
  • When using Zoom screen share to show your slides, here’s a very easy way to replicate the presenter view. Download your slides to another computer. Bring them up on that computer and show the slide sorter view. You can then see what comes next and give a good introduction before your transition. (Credit for this last bullet point goes to Rick Deutsch)
  • To be able to see your upcoming slide, as you do when in Presenter Mode, use “share partial screen” in Zoom.  It’s a 2-step screen sharing process to set up. Have your slides open before opening Screen Sharing. Then in Screen Sharing, select Basic and choose your slides (e.g., Keynote or PPT) — not desktop.  Click on New Share then in the Advanced tab choose Share Partial Screen. A green box will outline what part of the screen is shown, which you can move, and change the size and shape. Don’t do this yet, until you do the next step.In Keynote (PPT), under the “Play” menu, choose “Rehearse slideshow” and position the green box around the main slide. With this set up, you’re in Presenter Mode and can see the next slide, but the audience can’t. You retain all the transitions and builds, unlike if you’re only viewing the slides and advancing them by selecting the next slide in the Navigator. (Thanks to Rebecca Morgan for this tip).

Did You Know…

  1. You can display up to 49 participants in the Gallery View.
  2. You can hide non-video participants (those w/cameras turned off or who called-in by phone).

The two tips above aren’t quite intuitive to find.  Here’s how (you do NOT do this via the app or by logging into  Instead, while you’re already on a Zoom call that you’re hosting, at the bottom of your Zoom screen is the Start/Stop video camera icon.  Click on the little “up” arrow, then Video Settings and put a tick on the appropriate boxes.

Zoom Plug-In:  Grain

Grain is a relatively new plug-in for Zoom.  Once you download and install it, Grain “kicks-in” automatically every time you hit RECORD on Zoom.  Then, when you stop recording, Grain automatically creates a written transcription of everything that was said, allowing you to easily create and extract video clips that you can just as easily send via email or other methods.  From the Grain website, here’s the description of Grain:

Grain empowers you to share the most important moments from Zoom calls—with live collaborative note-taking and instant video-clip highlights.

Grain offers a better way to share vital information from a Zoom conversation. You can capture the moments that matter, take notes on calls, and share video highlights.

Once Grain is installed on your Zoom account, you can:

    1. Take notes in a simple interface that is only visible to you. Each note is synced to the exact timestamp in the recording.
    2. Create video highlight clips in a few clicks, either by designated emojis during the call or an automated transcript afterward. Each video highlight clip has a unique URL and can also be combined into a separate story.
    3. Share video highlight clips everywhere: Slack, Notion, Twitter, iMessage, Discord, email, and more.

Grain is used by teams and individuals that perform research, conduct interviews, host team meetings, support calls, and conduct any other conversation that is worth remembering.

Grain can be downloaded from here.

Zoom Backgrounds

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, 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 eleven 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.

Last year, 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.

By | March 29, 2020 | Media Training, Training

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