They say you should always put your best foot forward, whether you’re at an event, on a job interview, meeting a significant other’s parents for the first time, or asking for money. With in-person meetings, we as humans are pretty well rehearsed in that. Dress nice, comb your hair, act polite.
But with the move to virtual meetings, we’ve lost a step. If you’re not always on the internet, or you don’t work for a remote company (pre-March 2020 that is), you may not know the ways to put your best foot forward. Let’s gain back that step! Looking and sounding good on conference calls or virtual events can go a long way towards achieving your fundraising goal. And you can with these 7 tips.
1) Always Have Your Camera On
Before we get into the main tips, here’s a freebie: always have your camera on. I know you might not feel like it’s the best given your environment, but don’t worry – the following tips will give you the confidence you need!
Keeping your camera on shows the people you’re talking to that you’re engaged in what they’re saying, and you’re not just doom-scrolling social media.
In an in-person meeting, it’s pretty obvious when someone’s not paying attention. In a virtual meeting it’s not, but having your camera on helps.
Aside from that, it helps all people on the call react to what you’re saying. They can pick up on normal social cues and you will have a better conversation. When I’m podcasting, I always ask my guest to have the camera on for that reason, even though I don’t release the video.
If you need to turn your camera off…
“Always” is a little strong. Perhaps a better qualifier is, “always have your camera on when you can.” If you do need to turn it off, mention it in the chat, stating the reason why and that you’ll turn it back on as soon as you can.
Use your discretion – it’s all about being polite. If you have to leave a lecture hall with twenty people you probably wouldn’t announce you’re leaving. But if you’re meeting one on one with someone, it’s a little strange to get up while they’re mid-sentence and leave.
With that out of the way, here are some helpful gear and techniques to help you look and sound your best!
2) Upgrade Your Mic from the Built-in One
Perhaps the clearest way you can sound better is to upgrade your mic. The built-in mic on your computer isn’t great, it picks up everything and it’s subject to fan noise. Given the choice between upgrading your mic or your camera, I’d recommend mic first.
That doesn’t mean you need to spend $500 on a mic. A $40-90 USB mic will do well. You want one that you can move closer to your face and that is forgiving of your environment (since most of us aren’t recording in a sound booth). Generally, you’ll want to look for what’s called a “dynamic” mic. Here are a few recommendations:
- ATR2100x (I recommend this most often)
- Shure SM58-LC
- Blue Snowball
- Or if you prefer a headset, the Sennheiser PC 8 USB Headset
Any of these will dramatically improve your audio without too much work.
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3) Upgrade Your Camera from the Built-In One
If you can afford both, you might want to consider a better webcam as well. They are more flexible to place and deliver a better quality picture.
Again, you don’t need some giant ultra high definition rig. Something HD (a resolution of 720p or higher) is good. This will deliver enough detail so people can see you clearly, without slowing down your connection, breaking the bank, or frankly, using a picture quality no one will see anyway.
Logitech is basically the cream of the crop for webcams. I’d recommend either the Logitech C920x Pro HD Webcam (which is 720p) or if you want an even crisper picture, you can get the Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam, which is 1080p.
4) Get Better Lighting
All cameras work harder in low light, whether it’s the one on your phone, or the $2000 one your hobbyist photography friend has. That means they strain to get the best picture possible and usually end up blowing out parts of your picture. This makes it look grainy, especially if the only light source is your computer screen. Just look at poorly-lit smartphone photos.
There are a few ways you can approach lighting without taking up a huge amount of space. The most approachable solutions are the Neewer 2 Pack, which is a set of 2 repositionable rectangular lights on stands. Ideally, you’d have two lights in front of you on either side of your camera, and one behind you. This is called 3-point lighting.
If you don’t have enough room for that (many don’t), the Lume Cube for Video Conferencing is a perfect solution. It sticks right to your computer and is USB-powered.
There are endless lighting solutions, depending on your needs and budget. But for small changes, something like the Lume Cube or similar will go a long way in improving how you look on camera (even with the built-in camera).
5) Frame Your Shot
Have you ever been on a call where you were completely distracted by what’s behind the speaker? Maybe it’s a bookshelf, or maybe it’s an open room where people walk in and out of the shot. Either way, it takes away from what the speaker is saying.
To prevent that, frame your shot. Having an external camera is super helpful for this, because if your computer is stuck in one place, your camera doesn’t have to be. You can attach your camera to a small pole or tripod and move it to a more ideal spot.
Your background should ideally be a blank wall, maybe with some accents, or a bookshelf far enough away that you can’t read every title (more on why later). Mine includes some stuff on the wall, but it’s usually glanced at in the beginning and then forgotten about.
The goal here is to make sure the background doesn’t distract or look unprofessional. So no unmade beds or pile of clothes either!
6) Try to Look at the Camera When You Speak (or as close to it as possible)
Once your gear is set up, there’s a habit you should form when you speak: look at the camera. While it might seem weird to look at a camera instead of the people you’re talking to, it will look MUCH better to them. It’s the closest you’ll come to actual eye contact, plus it will prevent you from hunching over or getting distracted by the screen when you speak.
One thing I try to do, because my camera is on an arm, is move the lens as close to my monitor as possible, then move the video window to the side of the screen. Then I can at least see reactions in my periphery. If your camera is mounted on the top of your screen, you can do the same.
The main takeaway here is that if you can, look at the camera.
Your points will land better, your posture will look better, and even if you don’t think so, you’ll form a stronger connection with the people you’re talking to.
7) Do Some Simple Sound Treatment to Your Recording Space
Finally, there are a few ways you can improve your sound outside of getting a better mic, and that has to do with sound treatment. Some simple adjustments, like moving your mic to the side, can reduce echo and make you sound better.
Your goal is to make sure that sound is absorbed and diffused. Without getting too much into the science of it, if you say something, it will bounce off a surface and back at you.
Moving your mic to the side instead of directly in-front of you ensures sound doesn’t bounce off your monitor and back into the mic. This, as well as having that bookshelf mentioned earlier, will do what’s called diffusing the sound. It makes the sound bounce in other directions instead of directly back into the mic.
Getting a rug will absorb sound, so less bounces back up. The same goes with blackout curtains, or that acoustic foam you sometimes see.
Treating your recording space can be the hardest of the tips to achieve because it’s highly dependent on your environment. It’s something I know a lot about because I podcast, and teach podcasting, for a living.
But being aware of it will help you sound better. If you notice a lot of echo, for example, you could try adjusting the mic position.
These are Just Suggestions!
I know it can feel overwhelming to read this article and think you could be doomed to bad audio and video for eternity. But doing just a few of these (especially the first 3) will greatly improve how you look and sound. And that will go a long way to making a good impression when you meet, speak at an online event, or anything else you might do on camera.
If you want to learn more about how to interview like a pro, check out these media interview tips by Drew Griswold from Team Give.