Updated: Mar 11, 2021
OK, that's not exactly accurate. I have never led meetings in my pajamas, just running shorts. Sometimes I top the shorts and running shoes off with a collared shirt and a blazer if the occasion calls for it. Not cute, right? Would I walk outside of my home like this? Never. But because I do know the importance of using a web-cam and streaming video during a virtual meeting, I create the business image for those viewing my video feed. What I've realized over the years is that any distraction can take away the focus of those communicating with you, especially if it's a more formal communication.
The increased flexibility that working virtually from home brings does not remove our responsibility to communicate and collaborate the best that we can. Studies have shown that more that 50% of our ability to communicate and understand the communication of others is through our body language and visual cues.
Three Common Challenges with Easy Fixes
Your Background "What is on the wall behind you?" I was asked this question many times over a number of virtual coaching and training sessions. I even started bringing it up as a conversation starter to make it less of a distraction. At that point I knew that I had a virtual distraction that needed attention. It showed that I was working from a home office and that wasn't necessarily good.
Suggested Fix: You've all experienced talking in a virtual session with colleagues with messy bookshelves, a furnished room, or stacks papers of as a background. From my earlier story, the images on the wallpaper in my office continuously caused a distraction. While working with a team in Denver last year, they shared a best practice that they use for formal virtual sessions with important internal and external clients. Upon returning to my office, I immediately began using this best practice with excellent results. For just under $100 dollars, you can purchase a 5 ft. x 7ft. backdrop on a flexible hoop that folds down in seconds to a circle with a 1ft. radius. It slides easily into a case and comes with a telescoping stand that is light and opens easily. This background can be easily set up in less than 60 seconds. It’s amazing to set up as this 5x7 hoop springs to its full width when you remove it from the case!
Your Look While I get that you are working from home, it is still business. While image isn't everything, it is important and conveys a message about you to your teammates and clients. You get to decide that message. Is it the unshaven look with a wrinkled flannel shirt and bed head? If this is your look, then you'd better be a genius.
Suggested Fix: Find a look that is easy for you to throw together in less than three minutes. It can be absolutely less than perfect. You won't believe what a collared shirt can do for your virtual appearance, no matter what's below the waist. For guys, a shave will definitely sharpen your appearance. For ladies, find the minimalist look for your hair and face that makes you both comfortable and powerful. One morning last month, my Russian contact turned on his video that showed him sitting in his office with a blazer and nice collared shirt. This was unexpected as, due to the time zone difference, it was very early for me and I was in my sweatpants and a hoodie not expecting to show video at 4:00 am (my time). His video created a domino effect as others started to launch their videos. As the call had yet to officially start, people were greeting each other. I sprang into action and quickly grabbed a shirt and blazer, unfolded my backdrop and then launched my video. Later, a close teammate commented that she was surprised by both my business appearance and background (see my comments on background). It pays to be prepared for anything. Test both your look and lighting to in preparation for any sharing of your video.
Your Camera Angle Looking at an angle from above your head or below your chin is unnatural and makes it hard to follow your eyes. Eye contact is the key to successfully communicating the emotions and meaning behind the words that you are saying. It's critical those looking at your image feel like you are making a connection with them.
Suggested Fix: This is simple, but important. Number one, give the appearance that you are looking at the camera when communicating. Your web-cam should be slightly above eye level. Adjust your chair height and monitor your image to get this right. If possible, I try to place the document that I am referencing during the session just under the camera. If my angle is just right, I can have minimal eye adjustment as I look at my document and still appear that I’m looking at the camera. If you are using two monitors, use the web-cam on the monitor where your main focus will be. Treat that web-cam like a person. If you must look away at the other monitor, that's fine but tell your audience what you are doing.
As more and more of the people that I coach around the world rarely go into the office, they are faced with the visual challenge of presenting themselves virtually on a daily basis. Use these suggestions to make sure you are sending the visual message that you are intending.