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Zoom has created video stars - everyone now needs to be a broadcaster


By Guy Smith, Partner

Leaders with charisma were once able to captivate audiences on stage at conferences. Post-lockdown, and everything is different.

The explosive growth in video conferencing since March has been one of the defining elements of the coronavirus pandemic. Zoom, Teams and Hangout have become as ubiquitous in our language as biro, hoover or aspirin.

With tens of millions of people forced to work, socialise and even interview for jobs online, virtual meetings are inescapable. We are all being forced to become professional “broadcasters”. Something which has left some leaders exposed.

Much has been written about the role of non-verbal communication. Business management expert Peter F Drucker once said: “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said”. Your facial expressions, tone of voice, appearance, eye contact, gestures, posture, movement all play a key part in effective communication. Although a confused, disorganised speech is a poor speech, no matter how well it is delivered.

But how do you make sure that the impact you make is Zoomtastic – rather than your teams thinking you’ve left it all hanging out?

First up is preparation. As Benjamin Franklin famously posited: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. You wouldn’t go into an important meeting without making sure you had (and had read) the right papers.  Just because you are sitting in the comfort of your own home you still need to be ready for the tricky questions.  Even more so if you’re talking to a journalist or indeed many types of interview, you need to craft talking points, and anticipate and prepare answers for potentially tricky questions.

Have you checked out your nose hairs recently?  No – me neither, and trust me no one’s properly concentrating on those crafted answers if they’re forced to look up your nose.  Decades of TV experience taught me the importance of the camera angle.  So I always ensure the camera is at or a little above eye level. (It might be helpful to place your laptop on a file or solid books, checking of course that it’s stable.) You want your face to be in the centre of screen, not too close but also not too far away.  You want the viewer to see your head and shoulders.

Also think about what’s behind you.  Best to keep it simple (or use an appropriate virtual background). Try to keep it uncluttered and be alert to items such as plants that look like they’re growing out of your head – or laundry drying on the radiator!  Also be aware of mirrors. You don’t necessarily want the viewer to be distracted by any embarrassing reflection of a family member walking past.

“Lights, Camera, Action!”  There was a reason Hollywood put it in this order.  Unless you want to look like a criminal mastermind silhouetted to hide you identity you need more light in front of you than behind. The perfect set up is one soft lamp light behind you and two in front either side of your laptop.

So once you’ve got your rooms set up – sorted out your sound so people can hear you – the clock ticking down to the crucial moment… where should you look?  Well in broadcasting, there’s an expression: “Look down the barrel of the gun”. In other words, look straight into the lens whether it’s on a desktop, laptop or smartphone. The video call can tempt us to do the opposite. We look down or up or to the side. And we tend to look more at ourselves than at the camera or even at others on the call. It can make you look shifty or uninterested.  We trust people more when they (appear) to be looking us in the eye.

All you have to do now… is remember what you were intending to say in the first instance.