Jon Mowat, Founder and MD at Hurricane, gives us ten top tips on how to make better video calls.
There’s something we need to talk about. We do it with our partners, and if we’re lucky, we get to do it with strangers. Some of us get to do it with groups, and some have to do it in public. It’s something we all have to do whether we like it or not and like so much of life… no one tells us when we’re bad at it.
Today we’re talking about video calling. Are you a great caller, or does your technique let you down?
Why should you make your video calls look better? Who cares if your technique is poor? Well no one wants a disappointed audience. Taking time to present yourself correctly will mean people are focused on your message, not on trying to see who you are or trying to hear what you’re saying. Video calls are an opportunity to communicate more, with expressions and mannerisms backing up your message. What’s more, video calls are a window to your personal brand. You spend a lot of time getting your online and public persona right so don’t let yourself down with poor video technique. This is especially true when you’re talking to a new customer or pitching for work. You wouldn’t look out of the window or shout at people in a real pitch meeting… so don’t start doing it now.
To keep things easy I’ve listed 10 things you can do to make your video calls look and sound better, with essential and advanced tips. I’ve also included a shopping list at the end to make your life easier.
Without becoming a film bore about it, framing is vitally important to a shot. Often webcams are on your phone or laptop, which is typically held below your eyes. This is in fact the very worst place that you can put a camera. It makes you tower over the viewers like some dominating dictator, it looks straight up your nose, and it makes your face look fat at the bottom and cone shaped at the top. Just don’t do it. The best advice I can give is to get the lens level with your face. Stick the laptop on some books, get a selfie stick, put it on a shelf. Anything to get the lens level with your eyes. This in itself will make a massive difference to your calls as people have a view of your face that they are comfortable with.
Now that we’re no longer looking at the design of your ceiling, we can start to see a background, so just take a moment to tidy it up. If you’re making an internal call you may not mind people seeing the workings of your kitchen, but for external calls you want to look real and authentic… but still organised and professional. For me, a plain background is better as it stops viewers wondering what that poster says or trying to guess what’s on your fridge. Instead, it focuses them on your face. If you don’t have control over what room you do your calls in, just take down anything unnecessary from the background and remove clutter.
While you are sorting out the background, think about the room itself. You want it as quiet as possible so close the windows and shut the door. But also make sure the temperature is such that you won’t be sweating – you don’t want to have to strip off layers during a call… it’s most disconcerting for those on the other end of the screen. One big tip it to get the right chair. Avoid one that swivels or rocks as there’s nothing worse than someone moving like a hyperactive school kid in the corner of a screen.
The biggest single thing that lets video calls down is sound. Your laptop has a tiny microphone that’s three foot away from your mouth, right next to a fan. It’s the very worst way of recording your voice. Try to place a microphone as near as possible to your mouth. You can get a headset if you don’t mind looking like Madonna during her En Vouge tour, but instead look at getting a USB mic that sits on the desk in front of you. You won’t need to spend more than £30 and it will make a massive difference. Just make sure to change the settings in your audio panel before you start talking.
On another technical note, laggy and compressed video is going to take away from what you say. So, make sure you have decent reception in your room. It’s not normally the speed of internet to your home that will let you down, it’s the WiFi through your house that causes drop out. The best way to stream video is to avoid WiFi totally by plugging a network cable directly into your router. If that’s not possible, get a WiFi extender that works across the mains wiring of your house, and put the receiver in the same room that you are calling from.
We’ll talk about lighting a little more in advanced tips, but one essential is to make sure your face isn’t too dark. The biggest mistake, and one we see all the time, is to sit in front of a window, or to have a bright light in the frame. Turn to face the window, frame out the bright patches, and suddenly your beautiful face will be lit perfectly.
With the basics in place we can move onto some advance tips.
7. Eye contact
Now you have the camera at the right height and are lit well, people will be wanting to see your eyes. Look at the lens and try to maintain eye contact… and if you need notes, put them on screen near the lens so you don’t have to look too far away. Looking away from the lens when you’re talking can make you look shifty, and if you’re not talking and you look away it can appear that you’re not listening.
8. Please don’t shout
Some people seem to think that they need to raise the pitch of their voice and talk loudly on a video call. It just leads to an impression of underlying aggression and makes everyone uneasy. Instead, imagine that you are talking to someone four feet away… not at the other end of the room. Consciously lower the pitch of your voice, avoid projecting, and be as conversational as possible.
9. Overhead lighting
Overhead lighting is the worst kind of lighting for video calls – it puts shadows under our eyes and makes noses look huge. But in the real world, the lights are above us. If you can’t sit in front of a window, place two natural looking soft lights behind your cam, with one on the left and one on the right. This will smooth out the wrinkles and put some light into your eyes. You can go hardcore and buy a light or two, and I’ve put some links to suitable lights later.
Last but not least, why not think about some makeup for those high stake calls? We are all a little older than we’d like to be, and balancing work with homeschooling kids isn’t making us look any younger. Try a simple-to-apply BB cream that you can put on like a moisturiser just before the call to take out some of the bags under your eyes. Keep it looking natural… every little helps!
And there you have it. Ten top tips for better video calls so that people focus on what matters.
Lighting and tripod sets
Jon Mowat is a founder and MD of Hurricane, and author of Video Marketing Strategy. His new online video marketing course is now available, and Figaro Digital are able to offer a 75 per cent discount on the course. Just visit the link below and use the code: figaro_75%