How to Improve your Professional Online Presence
Written by David Bunn
Overnight we have converted classrooms to online teaching and workshops, and have replaced high-level meetings with webinars and Zoom calls. For in-person meetings, we consider our professional attire, how we sit and pay attention to those around us. Online video communications should be no different. Our professional image is now how we look online. And it still matters that we are sitting up and paying attention. The added dimension is we now need to take care of lighting, sound and backdrop. The more common problems are online participants appear fuzzy for lack of light on their face, or they sound like they are speaking from a tunnel because they are far from the microphone on their laptop, or their laptop camera is positioned in such a way that we are looking up at their chin or looking down at the top of their head. With a little effort you can have a very professional presence, or POP, online.
Here are a few tips for presenting yourself professionally online:
1. Camera position-- Camera position is really important to give a sense you are having an in-person conversation. The conversation does not feel natural if you are looking up at someone's chin or nose, or if you are looking down at their forehead. Whether you have a laptop or desktop computer camera or separate camera, you want to position your camera at eye level. If you have a laptop this can be achieved by setting your laptop on an 8-12 inch tall box or by purchasing an adjustable laptop stand that sits on your desk. The stand allows you to adjust the height to your eye level. If you have a separate camera and laptop, you need to position them close together. Raise both to eye level. Otherwise you will always appear that you are looking away from your audience as you watch those you are talking to.
2. Lighting-- You need to put adequate light on your face for a clear picture. This can be done by carefully positioning a desk lamp, ideally a dimmable lamp so you can adjust it to provide good light but not so bright it is annoying to you. It is best to have two light sources, one positioned slightly to one side and a little higher than your head and directs light directly at your face and a second light off to the other side to provide fill light and eliminate shadows. For best results, sit facing a window, or you can purchase a pair of inexpensive small dimmable webinar lights that can sit on either side of your desk.
3. Audio-- If you are not sitting right next to your computer microphone (further than 24 inches), or have some background noise, it is best to use a separate lapel microphone pinned to your shirt or headset to produce the best clear voice. If you teach or present in webinars, you should consider purchasing a high quality lapel microphone for presentations and a headset for interactive presentations.
4. Background-- What is behind you can be very distracting, or reduce the quality of your image. If you have a room light or window directly behind you it will produce glare on camera, give you a halo and cause your image to appear grainy. You should position yourself so there are no bright light sources behind you. Virtual backdrops are ok, but they can be distracting and make your image look less natural. For the most natural looking image, it is better to have a real background such as a wall with soft colors and a bookshelf. And certainly check your background for things that might be very inappropriate for a meeting. A wall picture or item that would not be appropriate in your office or classroom should not be seen in the online video behind you.
5. Professional attire and posture -- How you present yourself in class or in executive meetings should be the same online.
6. Active Participation-- You should pay attention and ask questions if allowed, as you would if you were at an in-person meeting. Your body language should communicate that you are engaged.