Every day I talk with corporate leaders, startup leaders, and technology executives who want to be seen and trusted as technology strategy thought leaders and visionaries. Typically, we talk about your brand, your message, how to communicate, and with whom. However, today I’d like to share some pointers to help you understand how to look professional on Zoom to look like the leader you are on video. 

This applies to 1-on-1 meetings with staff, vendors, or your boss, as well as job interviews. Never underestimate the value of the impression you leave just by being on camera.

Consider the Purpose and Context of Your Video Call

Before setting up your background and deciding on your clothes, it’s important to consider the audience for your Zoom call. Are you preparing for a presentation to the executive team, or are you planning a happy hour with friends? The general rules for looking good will apply to any situation, but you can be more relaxed at a happy hour or virtual gathering than you can during an interview or meeting. 

This goes hand-in-hand with knowing your audience. You should always be prepared when you speak. This means being ready to answer questions, provide examples, and give context to your topic. It also means making sure you’ve done your research ahead of time.

Choose Your Zoom Background Carefully

Your background can greatly affect how professional you look on a Zoom call. Even though we’re used to seeing our coworkers’ cats and children walk around in the background, you should still try to keep the area behind you as neat and clean as possible. 

Many people use virtual backgrounds for their Zoom calls, but virtual backgrounds can make you appear two-dimensional, even in an ideal situation. They can make your hands disappear if you are animated when you speak or turn you into a floating head if your skin color blends in with the wall behind you. If a virtual background creates any of these issues, you’re probably better off with your actual background instead.

To level up your actual background, consider adding bookshelves behind you to create an interesting and sophisticated background. Add some plants, tidy up knick-knacks, and ensure everything on the shelves is work-appropriate for the perfect setup for any video call.

Optimize Your Lighting Situation

Natural light is best for video calls. Ensure that your light source is in front of you, not behind or directly above you. Don’t sit with your back to a window or strong light source, or you’ll be hard to see. When your light source is in front of your face, your features will appear softer, and you’ll look your best.

You may not have natural lighting available, so you may need to invest in a ring light. Ring lights are one of the most useful tools for improving your appearance in photos and videos. They allow you to focus light directly on you without worrying about shadows falling across your face. You’ll look more awake, attentive, and professional. 

Fix Your Camera Angle

Don’t skip this important step! It may seem simple, but adjusting your camera’s height can greatly impact how professional you look to others. Position your camera so it faces you directly, looking straight into your eyes.  If you need to adjust the height of your computer screen, use a riser. A standing desk can set your laptop camera at the right height.

If you don’t have a desktop computer with a built-in camera or if your laptop has its camera located near the keyboard, you might need to purchase a separate webcam to ensure the proper camera position. If you need a webcam, consider buying one with a built-in ring light for optimal performance.

Finally, position yourself closer or further from the camera until your head is 3 inches from the top of the frame and is in the mid-to-top third of the frame. 

Sound Check, 1-2-3

Just as important as how to look professional on Zoom, how you sound matters, too. The best way to hear how you’ll sound on Zoom is to open Settings, click on Audio, and start talking. The blue bar next to Input Level should peak right in the middle at a normal speaking volume. 

Wear headphones to prevent what you hear from being picked up by your microphone, which creates a feedback loop for everyone on the call. If your headphones also have a microphone, great. But if they don’t, your earbuds with the built-in microphone that came with your phone will work. Or you can invest in a USB microphone like the Blue Yeti series for even better quality audio.  

Adjust Zoom’s audio settings to set the speaker to use your headphones and the microphone to use your external microphone instead of the built-in microphone on your computer.

Choose Your Clothing Carefully

Video calls are not the time to test out your new Zebra-print top. Bold prints can disorient others on video calls, as they can blur when you move around. Stick to solid colors for video calls. Make sure your shirt doesn’t blend in with your background and limit embellishments.

Dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. A v-neck sweater is a great option if you typically wear a suit jacket. 

Blue, green, gray, and black are colors that look great on camera. Bright colors can be visually overwhelming for others. Don’t wear white, as you’ll look washed out. A quick way to dress it up a bit is to add a simple necklace and earrings. (I keep a small stash in a small box on my desk.)

Adjust Your Body Language

To project confidence, keep your hands out of sight. Sit up straight and lean forward slightly. This position gives off the impression of being confident and well prepared.

Another common mistake people make on video calls is clenching their jaws. When you clench your teeth, it makes you look stressed or angry. So relax, take a deep breath, and let go of those muscles. Smile, instead!

Finally, make eye contact. This will be easier to do once you’ve adjusted your camera angle (and is the primary reason to adjust it!) The trick to making eye contact is this: look at the camera, not the video! (As if you’re looking through the lens to a person on the other side.) If you switch your glance between camera and video, the person or people will feel more connected with you and more seen. Whether you’re using a phone, webcam, or built-in camera – this trick works.

The Bottom Line

Figuring out how to look professional on Zoom or any of the many other prevalent video conferencing tools requires experimentation and a little preparation. 

The good news is you don’t have to go through the entire process for every video call or meeting. Make note of your settings and lighting placements, especially if you aren’t in the same location every time, so your individual video call or meeting prep is minimal. 

Video calls and conferences are here to stay. It’s worth the time and effort to make these adjustments so you can be seen as the leader you are.

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