Patrick McGowan has some hard news for you: people are judging you on Zoom.
“Amateur hour is over,” says McGowan, founder of Punch’n, a video presence company. “The days of looking like a Dateline interview of someone from the Witness Protection Program need to be behind us.”
Having to live your work life on Zoom is hard. The most popular quote of 2020 will be, “You are on mute.” And worse, making comments when you don’t realize you are not muted. As Seth Rogen tweeted, “I call my Zoom meeting look ‘laced up from the waist up.’”
Another favorite tweet, from Snarky Mommy, is: “There’s awkward and then there’s ‘the Zoom meeting is over and you and one other person can’t figure out how to leave the meeting’ awkward.”
This is no news flash: “Zoom is the top brand that people have increased usage of during the pandemic,” according to MBLM’s Brand Intimacy COVID Study, a study of brands based on emotions during the pandemic. Purell and Netflix follow Zoom and rank second and third, respectively, for increased usage during COVID.
“We need to approach our video meetings with the same level of care and intentionality as we do our in-person meetings,” says McGowan, who works with people who want to level up their video presence. “How we show up defines us and defines our personal brand.”
McGowan reminds us of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. “But a video is worth 10,000 words. At 30 frames per second, the camera doesn’t lie.”
Zoom fatigue can be remedied with a strong purpose. “When we are intentional about bringing our best self to our video events, our authentic self and our value gets communicated and we make a positive impression.”
Here are four tips from McGowan on how to improve your personal brand through Zoom:
1. Show up 5 minutes early. “Every pilot goes through a flight check to make sure all systems are go. We should do the same thing if we want to make a positive impression. I often launch a ‘New Appointment’ on Zoom to check that I have the right camera, microphone, and speaker selected. I’ll exit that meeting on Zoom and then login to the scheduled appointment. Additionally, we can all schedule meetings for 45 minutes rather than 60 minutes. Different times get different rules.”
2. Frame yourself. “We want to use the Rule of Thirds to position ourselves a little off center. Shifting to the left or right of center and having your eyes at about a third of the way down from the top positions you in a photographically ideal position. This shows you are intentional about how you appear on camera and subtly communicate that you are someone to watch. To achieve this, folks often stack a small pile of books (cookbooks work really well) and place the camera at about eyebrow-level and then angle it slightly downward about 5-10 degrees. I recommend to start with a webcam rather than a laptop camera and to put it on a small, desktop tripod which allows you to tilt the camera.”
3. Comfort = Confidence. “When I first began to use Zoom on a regular basis, I used either my laptop camera or a webcam. I didn’t feel like I could sit naturally or comfortably for either. Through this I discovered how much I contorted my body, shoulders, and neck to fit into view of the camera. This is one reason why I recommend starting with a webcam rather than a laptop camera and to put it on a small, desktop tripod with the ability to tilt the camera. Framing yourself sitting comfortably gives your team, audience, and viewers a sense of calm. It also begins to define your video presence.”
4. Let them see your eyes. “While we are biologically drawn to look at people’s faces when we can, on video calls it’s vital we let our viewers see our eyes. This means we have to become comfortable looking at the camera instead of our monitor. This takes practice and time to develop our own personal style of presenting over video. At 30 frames per second, we have to realize the camera doesn’t lie. When people can see our eyes, we are more approachable and watchable.”
A bonus tip from McGowan is to focus on viewers. He says this is actually pretty easy: 1) Shut off self-view; then 2) Stop thinking about what you look or sound like on video.
“We want to shift our focus to why we are in this meeting or virtual event,” says McGowan. “For most of us we have something to give that is of value to another human being. We want to ultimately connect with someone. It’s near impossible to focus on other people when we’re looking at ourselves in the mirror.”