Dispatches from Quarantine, Part 3

How to Look Good Zooming

by Cate Mahoney

Now that we’re all working at home, giving presentations at home, and trying to stay sane at home, users of Zoom, the suddenly ubiquitous video conferencing platform, will want some tips and tricks in their digital tool belt.

I offer these suggestions as someone who recently (and successfully!) defended her dissertation virtually. (Thank you, thank you—you’re too kind.)

(1) Find your light! And by this I mean placing your light source in the right position so that you are illuminated and don’t look like a cave dweller. To achieve a well-lit face, put a lamp directly behind your laptop or computer screen. Set up two if you like! If no lamps are available, position yourself near a window, but make sure you’re facing the window.

(2) If possible, raise your computer so that your camera angle is looking down. This generally avoids what I would call Large Chin Syndrome or, worse, inviting viewers to Neck Roll Central. The easiest way to accomplish this is to rest your laptop on one or two thick books. Just make sure the computer is steady so it doesn’t look like you’re in an earthquake during your video call.

(3) Try to look everyone in the eye. This is especially true on a one-to-one call, but I think it’s worth the effort on a multi-person call as well. This means staring directly into your computer’s camera as much as you can instead of looking at the entire face or faces on the screen or at your own face mirrored back to you.  In fact, the less we focus on ourselves the better, as watching ourselves converse in real time is not conducive to conducting a “normal” conversation.

(4) Speak at a measured pace. Because you’re talking through cyberspace, you have to allow for the small glitches and catches of the virtual world. But it’s also good form in general not to rush, especially if you’re giving a presentation! But don’t speak so slowly that others think you’ve stopped talking. The small signals that allow us to gauge when to safely interject when conversing in person are often lost over video chat.

(5) Have a non-distracting background. A lot of newscasters have been choosing to sit in front of bookcases. I think the implication here is: I READ! LISTEN TO ME, KEEPER OF KNOWLEDGE THAT I AM! Bookcases are good, especially in academia, but a plain wall or a wall with a few soothing paintings/prints/images works too. Some people choose to have a virtual background, but I would recommend against this during interviews or in other formal settings.  One can accidentally disappear from the screen in whole or in part by moving too extravagantly. Your favorite beach or streetscape is fine in more casual situations, though.

I will keep adding to this list as our quarantine goes on and new tips are made available by experience. Stay safe everyone, and happy Zooming!