Seven Ways to Slay on Skype
Don’t click “join the meeting” until you’ve read these tips for looking your best during your next video call.
Not that long ago, work meetings meant filing into the conference room and indulging in some pregame office gossip (and, if you’re lucky, a box of donuts on the table). But now more of us are working from home, meetings are convened via Zoom or Skype and snacks are strictly BYO. At the same time, because of social distancing protocols, many folks are catching up with kids and grandkids over FaceTime instead of Sunday dinner.
As a travel writer who works from hotel rooms when I’m overseas on assignment (and from home when I’m not), I’ve logged plenty of hours in front of the videoconferencing camera. So if you’re new to the #WFH game or just want to spend some quality screen time with the family, take my tips and get ready to ace your next video call.
Prep your background. When you’re sitting in front of your laptop or phone, you’re focused on the screen in front of you. But don’t forget about what’s behind you because that’s what your coworkers will be seeing. Make sure your videoconferencing location is as plain and uncluttered as possible, with any not-ready-for-prime-time items tucked away. (Who doesn’t have a load of laundry waiting to be folded or dishes in the sink?) I usually set myself up against a blank wall or one with just a single piece of art. If you have good lighting and you’re neat, consider using a walk-in closet where you’ll be less likely to be interrupted or to disturb anyone else working in your home. The object is to remove anything that might distract from the star attraction: you.
Know your angles. To appear appropriately attentive and focused, put your phone or laptop directly in front of you so you’re looking straight at your colleagues. I’ve found that positioning my laptop or phone so the camera is just above my eye level and I’m looking slightly upward is the most flattering angle and reduces the likelihood of the dreaded DSC (double-chin syndrome). To get your laptop to just the right height, don’t be afraid to improvise. Try setting it on an ironing board (those adjustable legs come in handy) or resting it on a stack of books on top of your desk or countertop.
Get lit. As with photography, good light can make the difference between looking OK and looking outstanding. Lighting is even more important for women with darker skin tones, who can disappear into the shadows when the light source is behind them. Let your professional light shine by making sure you have adequate physical light directed at your face when you’re in your videoconferencing spot. The easiest way to do this is simply to stand in front of a window. If that’s too bright, pull a sheer curtain in front of it so you don’t have to squint into the camera or — gasp! — wear sunglasses. Of course, artificial lighting works as well. Just make sure the light sources are at varying heights in front of you and don’t cast downward shadows on your face.
Sit tall. When we’re relaxed at home it’s easy to fall into bad habits such as slouching and sprawling, which, on camera, can make you look sloppy. Sit up straight as you can; I imagine a string attached to the crown of my head being pulled upward. Resist the urge to hunch over the screen.
Go all in. FaceTiming with the fam? To make sure you can see all the cousins and they can see you and your crew, position your smartphone or tablet horizontally for the widest possible view.
Amp up your makeup. Sometimes the camera does lie, and insufficient light combined with a lower-resolution camera can make you look washed out. If you usually wear makeup, try using a little more to make your eyes and mouth more pronounced. No need to be heavy-handed, though. Just a tinted moisturizer to even out your complexion, a touch more eyeliner and mascara or a deeper shade of lipstick should do the trick.
Primp like a pro. You’re at home but you’re still working, so make sure you look like it — at least from the waist up. Depending on your office’s dress code, that may mean wearing a suit jacket or simply a preferably plain, button-down shirt or blouse. Either way, the aim is to look appropriate and well-groomed. If you wear earrings, keep them small so they don’t interfere with your headset. Most of us will only be seen from chest height, so it’s OK to keep your bottom-half couch casual. But if you’ll be standing and presenting during your call, dress as if you’re in the office.
Speak up. How you sound is as important as how you look, so consider wearing Bluetooth-enabled headphones to minimize feedback. If your headphones have a built-in microphone, make sure it’s about an inch from your mouth and away from your nose so your breath isn’t audible. Also, it’s good practice to mute your mic when you’re not speaking so no one hears any potentially embarrassing background noise.
Mind your movements. We all do it unconsciously, but resist the urge to touch your face, play with your hair or otherwise fidget while you’re on camera. Eating during the meeting isn’t usually appropriate, but it’s fine to have a drink by your side. Just be sure to sip from a straw or use a small glass because a large one will obscure your face when you tilt it back to drink.
Take a test. If it’s your first time using a particular video platform, it’s a good idea to give it a try before the big meeting. Download the app to your device, fire it up and then familiarize yourself with the controls. Take it from me, knowing where the “mute” and “video off” controls are is crucial.