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Give Good Zoom: Tips and Tricks to Up Your Game

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As a public speaker, coach and trainer, I used to joke that Los Angeles International Airport was my office given how much time I spent on the road leading in-person workshops. That’s all different now (thanks, pandemic!), as I’ve recently transitioned all my classes to a virtual delivery. Now I’m teaching online most days — and some nights, too — in support of my international client base.

It was a rough start, but I’m four months into this new gig and now I realize it didn’t take much to up my Zoom game, so I’ll share some of the tips and best practices I’ve learned along the way.

Set the stage. 

  • Create a pretty little nook for video calls. An uncluttered bookshelf, a lovely plant, or a piece of art adds a nice touch. Your “set” doesn’t have to be Guggenheim-ready, but whether you’re taking a meeting for the volunteer PTA or you’re leading a large conference, it looks more pro to have your space ever-so-slightly curated.
  • You’ll want to illuminate your face from the front, so place some lighting behind your monitor. Avoid the temptation to sit in front of a window as it will turn you into a dark silhouette. Blackout curtain liners can help darken the rest of the room and eliminate unwanted shadows.
  • Set your webcam at eye level. (Pro-tip: Just stack a few books under your laptop.)
  • If, despite your best efforts, your pallor looks peaked, it might be time to purchase an external webcam. I knew it was time to upgrade when my built-in computer camera developed a habit of casting a not-so-subtle shade of yellow on my face every afternoon as it adjusted to changing sunlight.
  • If people complain they have trouble hearing you during your meetings, investing in a stand-alone microphone can help (unless you need to drown out the sound of your crying toddler in the next room, in which case, just stick with earbuds).

Look alive. 

  • Pandemic stress is real, but you don’t have to show it. If you don’t already know this (and not everyone does!) Zoom has a brilliant little filter tool. You can update your video settings preference to Touch up your appearance. Voilà. Better than concealer.
  • It’s tempting to glance at your own thumbnail video but try to look directly into your camera while you’re talking. You’ll look more authentic and connected if people feel you are talking directly to them. Or just remove the temptation to judge your appearance; in an active meeting, right click on your video feed to Hide self view. To change it back, head to the top of the screen to Show self view.
  • A natural, dewy look doesn’t translate well on-screen. That said, you don’t need much. Face powder takes care of extra shine while a pop of lip-color can help you feel presentation-ready.
  • You won’t break the camera or anything by wearing patterns or prints, but solids are best for a clean appearance. (Grouping a few favorite go-to blouses in one place in your closet can help you get ready in minutes.)
  • For those days when you just can’t with getting dressed or groomed up (and we’ve all been there), replace your video with a static pic. Add your photo by going to Zoom.Us > my account > profile. You can change your onscreen name there too.

Give your senses some TLC. 

The human brain evolved to work best while experiencing novel conditions. To combat the feeling of being stuck in one spot and experiencing the same day on repeat (which is the case), mix things up in small ways.

  • Try a lumbar pillow for back support, a heated blanket under your hips, your favorite scented candle, a warm (or icy!) beverage, a step-stool under your feet. I promise you’ll feel better.
  • Ensure your Zoom meetings last no longer than two hours, tops. Plan for a 10-minute break after one hour.
  • Don’t let your sanity get hijacked by back-to-back appointments. Schedule at least a half hour between meetings to tidy up notes, prepare for your next meeting, and maybe even take your kiddo out for a quick walk around the block. The 1:1 connection, the sunlight, and the movement will do wonders for you both.

Plan to be spontaneous. 

A good rule of thumb if you’re leading video calls is: invite engagement every five minutes. Plan for it.

  • The chat feature isn’t just for side-messaging friends and colleagues. If you’re leading a presentation, prepare thoughtful questions for your group ahead of time. Then, use it as a place to react. “Isabel, I love that. Can you hop off mute and share more context for what you just said?”
  • If you spring for a paid account, you can create polls ahead of time. It helps you quickly gauge where your audience stands.
  • Embedding a fun video in your presentation? Choose share screen, then remember to click both share computer sound and optimize screen sharing for video clip.
  • Want people to loooove your presentations? Use breakout rooms! Equivalent to table discussions in traditional face-to-face meetings, you can use them to set up skill-building practice in a classroom, small-group decision making in a volunteer committee, or competitive trivia teams when gathering friends on game night. You’ll arrange these private conversations (random or assigned) from the bottom of the main screen.

Practice moderation.

  • If you notice that you’re feeling “Zoom fatigue” you’re not alone. When looking at faces, the human brain naturally takes in a lot of non-verbal cues; the brain’s endless search for information that will never be available to us over webcam leaves us feeling spent. On top of that, decoding multiple faces at once in Gallery view challenges the brain’s central vision. Try switching to Speaker view for big group meetings. Your brain will thank you.
  • You don’t have to say yes to every Zoom invitation. Opt for a simple phone call wherever possible. When it comes to video, more isn’t always better.

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Since March 13, Cricket Buchler has been trapped in her home in L.A. with her husband and four children who are learning a lot about resilience, epidemiology, and the value of being bored these days. As Coach, Trainer and Speaker, she partners with such clients as Google, Amazon, NASA JPL, Hollywood celebrities and top humanitarians in helping them to build dialogue skills, manage personal transitions and drive behavior change. Learn more about her at www.cricketbuchler.com.