Can You See Me Now?

By Robert Bud James, PhD

John and Jill are starting a web meeting with 3 other co-workers

John: “It looks like everyone is here…”

Jill: “Tom, I can’t see your face.”

Tom: “It looks okay to me.  Oh wait, I see what you mean.”

Bill: “Yeah, it looks like you are in the witness protection program!”

John: “It’s that window behind you, Tom.”

Tom closes the drapes on his curtains and returns to the web call.

Tom: “Can you see me now?”

Jill: “That’s much better.  Shall we get started?”


We’ve all experienced video issues of one type or another on a web call, either with our own image or with how we see – or don’t see – other people on a call. It ranges from no video at all to darkened faces, fuzzy images, glaring brightness, and everywhere in-between.

Most of us want to look our best on a web call.  Some people don’t like the way they look on the screen, others say seeing themselves is distracting, and some want to never have their camera on if they can avoid it. Some folk are just the opposite. The good news is that as video conferencing software progresses, there are several things you can do to be productive and look your best online without overdoing it.

Getting comfortable with being in an online collaborative format can take time, but there are some shortcuts to getting there along with some subtle rules of online etiquette that everyone should know. Here are a few Best Practices to Good Video on Web Conferences.

Need a Checklist?

What if you had a Checklist that helped you prevent video issues from ever happening?

Guess what – you do!  In our Memory Spring Mastering Online Collaboration class, one of the cornerstones of our Best Practices Model is the OCC – The Online Collaboration Checklist. It is an 18-point checklist that uses three primary sections to help you be successful in every online meeting or conference: Video, Audio, and Meeting Management.

Another way to say it is:

  • As I See you online
  • As I Hear you online
  • As I Experience you online

Today we will discuss the first section, the Video Checklist.

Video Checklist

We build trust and greatly increase the quality of communication and collaboration by being seen. It starts with the Video Background Check. We are checking the basic functionality of our webcam and our background environment. Most web conferencing tools allow you to initiate a web call by yourself, so go ahead and start one now!


Video Background Check

  My image is clear and in focus. What is behind me is appropriate and not distracting. My virtual background (if used) is enhancing.

Take a close look at how you appear onscreen. Can you see yourself clearly in comparison to your background? If you are using a virtual background, try to use a contrasting color with what you are wearing.  For instance a dark background with light clothing.

If your image appears fuzzy make sure your webcam lens is clean. On some platforms, like Zoom, you can make subtle video adjustments to improve your image in the Video Settings section. Certain webcams, like Logitech, have software that allows you to adjust your image as well.  (If you have tried all those, or don’t have those controls, it may be time to upgrade your camera.)

Now step out of the frame and notice what you see. What are you sharing?  What might you be potentially sharing (like people walking behind you)?  Is it distracting? Is it appropriate? Do you need to move your camera or remove the items behind you?


Proper Camera Angle  

  My camera is at eye level, and it’s not looking up my nose. 
I am looking at the camera when I speak. It’s not bouncing all over.
My hands aren’t blocking the camera when I type.

Proper camera angle is about looking as natural as you can onscreen. People prefer eye-to-eye contact, and being on the same level if possible. If you are on a laptop you may need to raise it to get the locked-in camera at the right height. Or better, get an external webcam for more control.

When you are speaking onscreen, look at your camera as much as possible. Try to not look at a different screen on a web call. Arrange your windows so that the primary person you are speaking to is right beneath your webcam. If you are presenting something, put your notes right under the webcam.

Make sure your image is right in the middle of the screen, like a portrait picture. Sit up and directly address your viewing audience. Adjust your physical distance from the webcam for comfortable viewing and presenting.

On some older laptops the webcam is in the hinge, and on tablets or a phone the onscreen keyboard may be right next to the webcam. When you type on these devices a few things likely happen.  1) The webcam bounces around, 2) Your hand blocks the camera and looks huge. While Tablets and Phones are usually great for one-to-one calls, they have fewer controls and are often not ideal in webcasts and are typically a poor choice for training classes.


Balanced Lighting   

  There is adequate lighting on my face. I’m not sitting next to or in front of a window or bright light source.

We have a great article on lighting called 10 Easy Lighting Tips on our website. If you are having lighting challenges, start by reading that article. The most troublesome issue is when you sit in front of or next to a bright light source.  It tends to either darken your face or wash it out.  There are a few simple fixes for this.  1) Move your camera, 2) Close the curtains or turn off the light, 3) Add a soft light in front of you. On some platforms, like Zoom, you can make subtle lighting adjustments to improve low-light conditions in the Video Settings section.


Non-Verbal Communication   

  I am staying present, focused, and taking notes during the meeting.
I am not distracted, eating, reading emails, fidgeting, etc.

This is a bigger issue than most people realize. One of the core reasons for “Zoom Fatigue” is that we have to work a lot harder at reading other people’s non-verbal communication in an online web call. This can improve over time as we get comfortable with our tools and learn to focus on the key behavioral elements that provide us with a significant amount of communication feedback. It starts by modeling online Best Practices, and helping others do the same.

Most people are not used to being in a meeting while sitting in their workspace. Yet that is exactly what we are doing now. When we sit at our computer we don’t usually talk to other people – we read mail, write documents, create and fill-out spreadsheets, set appointments, and on and on. The simple rule when participating in an online meeting – is SHOW-UP. Resist the urge to multitask.

If you are “bored-out-of-your-gourd” while in the meeting, make sure you have to attend. Check with the meeting organizer. If you do and don’t want to look bad, force yourself to take notes, look at the attendees, and participate. Don’t kid yourself – it is more obvious that you have “checked-out” in an online meeting than it is in-person.

We have found that very few people seem to mind if you drink water or coffee, etc., while in an online meeting.  But food is a different issue entirely. In addition to not being able to share that delicious looking cookie with anyone else in the meeting, eating and accompanying noises are very distracting and can even be considered rude by some. We understand that people need to eat. Do us all a favor and don’t put us on a “see-food” diet – turn off your video and go on mute while you quickly grab a bite.


Personal Appearance Check    

    Am I appropriately (professionally) dressed? 

Our final item in the Video section of the OCC focuses on your personal appearance.  Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look your best. The rule of thumb is to always dress one notch better than what you think the people in the meeting will be wearing.  It may be as simple as wearing a polo, button-down, or equivalent shirt or blouse. You are likely only a few steps from your closet – at least much closer than you are in your normal work setting! So dress the part, and notice that it can actually help you feel more professional and productive.

Use these Best Practices to improve your online collaboration skills, be more effective, and inspire confidence. Next month we’ll take a Sound Dive into Audio!

Click here to gain more information

May All Your Meetings be Enjoyable!

Bud James, PhD

Robert “Bud” James, Ph.D. is a skilled orator and instructor, and in addition to teaching Scuba Diving for decades with over 4,000 dives, he is a sought-after speaker and motivational coach. He has appeared on television (TechTV, UPN, & Microsoft Learn-TV) and numerous talk radio shows on various Internet security topics.  He has been on several panels and conferences as a keynote speaker and presenter (Oracle Open World, VMworld, StorageWorld, Microsoft Summit Briefing, and others). Dr. James is a Corporate Trainer and Vice President for Memory Spring, an organization focused on enhancing people’s memories, learning skills, job performance, and brain health.

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