You may not think you’re on TV but every time you go on Zoom (or whatever platform you use) you are! With many years’ experience as a TV presenter, I’ve learned how to appear natural on camera and build rapport with my audience through an inanimate object – the camera!
1 - Look Into The Camera And Check Your Eyeline
We tend to look at, and talk to, the people on our screens rather than the camera. Some people have a smiley face with a small hole in it to allow the camera through. I have big arrows to remind me to look in the camera:
Whatever you use, it’ll remind you where to look and focus. Another tip here is when you speak, use the gallery set up (so you see lots of small icons) and place them as close to your camera as you can.
The other thing is to make sure your webcam is at eye level. This is easier with a PC but if you’re using a laptop try putting it on a pile of books so that you’re not looking down. The problem with a webcam set lower than your eye level, is that it gives the subliminal effect of you looking down at your audience.
2 – Listen To Your Sound
To create rapport, it’s important that people can hear you clearly; poor sound is just another distraction. Built in microphones are OK but a good quality external one will give you much better sound. I think the best type is a small lavaliere mic that clips to your shirt. They are inexpensive and will improve the quality of your voice.
You may have noticed an echo effect in some people’s audio. This is because their microphone is picking up the sound they’re hearing from their speakers. This is easy to solve with a set of headphones which will stop the echo and improve your personal sound. However personally I don’t like the look of big headphones, so I think the small earbud types look better, especially if you run the cable down your back. As a TV presenter, I have professional moulded earpieces which can’t be seen and you can buy an inexpensive generic version online like this one for as little as about £8
Also, when talking in a virtual meeting think about how you are using your voice. Consider warming it up beforehand and definitely have a glass of room temperature water on hand during your calls to keep you hydrated.
As with any presentation think about using plenty of vocal variety to avoid sounding monotone, and pausing is always important in any presentation, but it’s even more important when you’re online.
3 – Body Language
A really good way to build rapport on camera is to make sure you adopt positive body language. We sometimes forget that when we’re not talking people can still see us! If you’re sitting down, think about your posture; leaning in will always make you look more engaging when you and others are talking. Make sure your chair is comfortable and gives you good posture; you don’t want to look like you’re slouching as it might indicate a lack of interest.
If you’re delivering a longer section like a webinar or presentation I suggest standing up, as we always feel more confident and authoritative when we’re standing with strong posture.
Hands are a great way to bring energy to your voice, even if they can’t be seen. When I record voiceovers, I always use my hands a lot, to help me to energise and punctuate what I’m saying. Using them also help you illustrate what you’re talking about, so try it – it really works.
Treat body language as if you are there in person as it will come across in your expression and voice. In fact, I’d say slightly exaggerate your body language, so that everyone notices, and this also applies when you’re listening to others. So, if you’re agreeing, nod a little more enthusiastically and of course, remember to smile; after all, they do say a smile is contagious.
The old adage of look the part to feel the part is particularly true when you’re virtual. Wear what you would normally wear if you were there in person – and that goes for your bottom half too. Not only will it help you feel professional, you may have to get up during the call and you don’t want people to see that you’re still in your pyjamas! Do be careful of patterns as some might pixelate on camera and beware of colours that clash or blend in too much with your surroundings. In other words, avoid wearing a white shirt if you’re against a white wall. As always, if in doubt it’s always good to do a practice call first.
4 – Lighting
This is really important so that people can actually see you and feel connected with you. The first thing is to make sure the light is coming from behind the camera and not behind you. Being backlit is great if you want to look like a silhouette, but it’s not a recommended look in a virtual meeting.
Natural light in front of you is good, but of course, this can change with the weather and you may get distracted by what’s happening outside! It’s worth investing in some form of light and ideally, I’d place it at about 45degrees to your eyeline, above and behind the camera.
There are lights that can attach to your camera and provide light directly in front of you. However, these can have the effect of flattening your face and create a shadow, so a light further away and above you will make it more comfortable for you to look at the camera without being blinded, while still making sure you’re lit. A light with brightness control and colour temperature will help you look your best too; they are not expensive but do make a difference.
5 – Check Your Background
Whether it’s washing up in the kitchen, a messy office or a virtual background gone wrong, do check what’s behind you when you’re on a virtual meeting. It’s important to get the background right so that your audience isn’t distracted by what’s behind you. Generally, I suggest having a simple clean background without too many distractions. Some people use green screens which can work, but I prefer the background to look natural and professional. I’m not a fan of the virtual backgrounds on Zoom, because the edges are rarely clear and defined and this just takes the focus away from you and your content.
During this lockdown period it may be challenging to find a quiet space without the distraction of children, pets and other things going on in your home, but do try and be in a closed quiet room. Also, make sure your phone is on silent and ideally where you can’t see the screen and get tempted to read alerts.
Having rapport online will really help you get your message across and ensure your audience engages with your content. It’s not easy to keep your audiences’ focus during an online meeting or webinar, but adopting these tips will definitely give you a distinct advantage. If nothing else just remember to smile and look at the camera!