For the foreseeable future, at least, it seems video communication is here to stay.
In a recent survey we conducted with HBS, 86 percent of respondents said they are satisfied with their communication via video conference, and 70 percent anticipate using video conferencing the same amount as today or more, even after social distancing guidelines are lifted.
Whether you’re taking Zoom calls from your dedicated home office or from the far end of your dining room table, chances are good you’ve spent some time experimenting with lighting, computer camera positioning, fancy backgrounds, and more to try to achieve the perfect setup for every video call. Here at Quantified, we’ve been experimenting, too, but we’ve also been talking with communication experts and conducting surveys to identify what works best in terms of engaging audiences, building trust, and getting your point across on video.
Here’s what we’ve learned about the ideal Zoom setup.
What Is Most Important?
Your Space and Background
For people who don’t already have professional video recording setups in their homes (i.e., most of us), finding the right backdrop for a video call can be a little bit stressful. At first, at least, it felt a little strange to let colleagues into our homes, even virtually. We worried about whether the bookshelves behind us made us look impressive enough, or whether our colleagues hated our hand-me-down furniture as much as we did, or whether our kids or pets would throw an important presentation off track by popping in and out of the frame.
These concerns led to experiments with virtual backgrounds — the kind that placed us in exotic locations, decked out offices, or even outer space. But here’s what we found in the research we conducted for Harvard Business Review: when it comes to video communication, you’re better off showing people your actual space.
We suggest cleaning up the area behind you, of course, removing anything potentially distracting or inappropriate, but there’s no need to go to great lengths to appear to be somewhere other than your own home. In fact, our research shows it could work against you.
If you absolutely cannot show your room, or have windows directly behind you, you can get a green screen with a mount. We recommend this one.
While most laptops with built-in cameras and microphones (or, better yet, earbuds with mics) are perfectly serviceable for video calls with family and friends, and probably for most informal team meetings, high-stakes communication events like keynote presentations and webinars, investor pitches, or media interviews may require you to up your game.
Here are a few pieces of equipment we recommend:
An external HD webcam: Even if your computer has a solid built-in camera, it's tough to get a decent angle from the top of your laptop to your face. More often than not, those angles make us look a little distorted and very distracted. And it's even worse if you're referring to documents or slides on a separate monitor rather than looking at your laptop camera. We recommend buying a webcam you can position slightly above eye level on your monitor to make you look present and attentive. Like this one or this one.
A USB mic: Built-in computer mics tend to make us sound a bit tinny or echoey and, often, they cause a feedback loop when they pick up and transmit the voices of other people on the call. A good pair of headphones with a mic, like Apple’s, go a long way to solve this problem, but you’re even better off with a USB mic designed for podcasting or video conferencing. We like this one. (Another note on sound: if you’re getting feedback that you’re still sounding echoey even with a good mic, try adding area rugs or drapes to the room, as fabric absorbs sound.)
A ring light: Lighting is often the trickiest part of the setup, as our home lighting tends to be too dark or to irregular for quality videoconferencing. More often than not, we either look like we’re sitting in the dark or we overcompensate and wash ourselves out. While you can get creative with lamps or move your desk so there’s a window behind your computer, a ring light like this one is a great way to get the perfect lighting without having to rearrange your furniture. These lights light your face from the front, avoiding awkward shadows or glares and bringing your home office one step closer to a film studio.
Whether you’ve put together the perfect setup or you’re making do with what you’ve got, it’s important to remember that the way you position yourself in the space will make a huge difference in your video call.
Start by backing up. It may be tempting to situate yourself close to the camera, whether because you’re referencing material on the screen or you’re trying to keep the frame narrow. But we know from behavioral studies that body language is a critical element of communication. The more your audience can see your nonverbal communication, such as hand gestures and posture, the more effectively you’ll be able to get your point across.
Second, remember to let your emotions show on your face, just like you would in a face-to-face conversation. Video calls can feel strange and uncomfortable, as though you’re talking to yourself in an empty room, but the more authentically you can present yourself on screen, the stronger your communication will be. Research has shown that video calls produce oxytocin — the chemical of connection — much more than phone calls or chats, and that’s specifically because participants can see and feed off of each other’s emotions.
Finally, remember to make eye contact. In Zoom language, that means spending at least 70 percent of the time looking at the camera. It’s easy, on video chat, to look primarily at yourself, but even if you’re making eye contact with the other person’s image on screen, it will look to them as though you’re looking down, not at them. So, practice looking directly into the camera during video calls. If it’s difficult, try moving the video icons you’re tempted to look at as close to your camera as possible.
For many of us, constant video communication is a new frontier. Like anything else, it gets easier as we practice, but the first step toward truly effective video communication is getting the setup just right. When you know you look and sound good, we bet you’ll feel more confident, too.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Quantified Communications can help your organization’s leaders become world-class communicators both online and off, request a demo, and one of our experts will contact you to walk you through our platform and process.