As an etiquette expert, I’m often called upon by the media to share my advice and tips on a variety of topics ranging from email etiquette to dating etiquette. Since I’m on the go most of the time, I conduct a lot of my interviews via Skype or Google+ Hangout. Thanks to technology, I can conduct business with anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world.
Even if you are admittedly “old-school” and prefer face-to-face communication, chances are that you will one day have to turn to video conferencing to stay in touch with colleagues, clients and reporters.
You may think video conferencing doesn’t demand the same level of polish you would bring to an in-person interview or client meeting, but the visual impact remains the same. A Wainhouse research study found that 64 percent of us video conference weekly, and with telecommuting on the rise, a winning digital image has become a professional imperative.
Here are some tips to help you look and act more professional as you prepare for your close up.
1. Light the way
Lights and angles are just as important for video calls as they are for professional photoshoots. You may not be particularly interested in the way you look when you Skype with a co-worker you’ve known for years, but when you talk to an investor, new client, media contact or potential employee, the situation is completely different.
As a general rule, avoid fluorescent lights, which can cast unflattering shadows. Avoid overhead lights, too, as they can create dark under eye shadows.
Place your primary light source behind your camera. This way, the light and the camera point in the same direction. You could also use two light sources behind the camera, one on the right side, one on the left.
As for the angle, the camera should be placed at your eye level. If you are using a laptop, place something beneath it to raise it until your eyes are at the same level as the camera lens.
2. Choose a neutral background
Whether you are at home or in a formal office, make sure your background is uncluttered and professional. Less is more. In other words, you may be fond of all those family pictures hanging on the wall but the person on the other side of the camera may find them distracting. The same goes for anything that can make you look unprofessional — clutter, clothes, piles of boxes, and food and beverages.
Sit at your desk and take a selfie or a screenshot of what others see in your background. Remove objects on your desk or on your wall that may detract from your company’s brand. Consider designating one wall as your company wall. Invest in the color and image of that wall and keep it consistent, even if your clients know you’re a solo operation, they don’t need to be reminded that you’re working from home.
3. Dress your best
When it comes to clothing, avoid patterns, stripes and plaids. Choose solid, bold colors. Simple jewelry is best. Ladies, avoid earrings that dangle or any accessory that makes noise when you move. For most conference calls, you can wear whatever you want from the waist down — unless you think you might need to stand up for some reason.
Check your appearance one last time before signing on. Check your teeth, hair and makeup, and use powder or blotting papers to control a shiny face. Keep a brush or comb and a small mirror in your desk drawer for quick touch-ups during interview breaks.
4. Eliminate distractions
Perhaps you might remember the humorous video of the children who interrupted their dad, Robert Kelly, during his live interview with the BBC News. If you have animals or children running around in the house, close (and maybe even lock) your office door and let your family know you are on a conference call. This will help avoid unpleasant or embarrassing situations.
5. Keep your notes nearby
If you need to look at some notes during your call, jot them down on a piece of paper and tape them next to your camera. This will help you stay on track in case you get nervous. Memorize as many points as possible and keep a notepad and pen handy to make some notes with as little visual disruption as possible.
6. Maintain good eye contact
You’re sure to look like a novice if you don’t look directly into the camera or at least at the face of the person. Resist looking at yourself in the small frame in the corner of your screen.
7. Get the best audiovisual
If you do a lot of video conferences, consider investing in an external webcam with high definition capabilities. Depending on your surroundings, you may want to use a headset or earbuds during your call. However, a video chat without headphones looks more natural.
Even if you feel nervous about video conferencing, remember that practice makes perfect. Once you get the hang of being in front of the camera, you will have mastered yet another invaluable business skill.
This article first appeared in Entrepreneur.