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by Derek Loosvelt | April 27, 2020

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Along with (and thanks to) a global pandemic, we’re in the middle of a Zoom boom. Consider that this past December, the video conferencing service Zoom had 10 million daily users. In March, that number reached 100 million. Also consider that Zoom was born in 2013, went public in 2019 at a valuation of $16 billion, and is now worth $40 billion.

Given the Zoom boom—and that millions of people will be working remotely for the foreseeable future—you better know how to use Zoom for business meetings, and use it well. If you’re an experienced Zoomer, you might already how to properly light your face, make your apartment look cleaner than it is, and prevent your cat from making a guest appearance in your meetings. But if you're a Zoom newbie, there’s a lot to learn when it comes to Zooming properly. So here are a few ways to quickly improve the quality of your Zoom meetings.

1. Find a quiet space.

Once you’ve downloaded Zoom and made sure your microphone and camera are working properly, you want to set up your computer or laptop to make sure whomever you’re Zooming with can hear you well. This means you need to find a quiet space. Ideally, you want to set up in a bedroom, office, or other room no one else in your household will be using or able to walk through while you Zoom. And it’s a good idea to have a back-up space in case something unforeseeable happens—like dogs barking outside if you’re near a window. If it’s impossible to use a space that no one else can access (understandable under quarantine, when space is shared with family, roommates, and pets), then try to situate your camera so that, at least, the other people on the call can’t see your housemates when they’re running, walking, or hopping through the room. You can do this by taking up a corner of a room, or sitting with your back close to a wall.

2. Use a clean and clear backdrop.

Once you’ve found a quiet space, you need to find a good background, which is extremely important when you Zoom. Ideally, you want something clean and clear, preferably a white wall, behind you. The wall can include art, plants, or books, but whatever’s behind you shouldn’t be too distracting—nothing too ornate, bright, or colorful so as to attract eyes to it, instead of you. Although you might be tempted to upload a personal photo and use that as your background (which can be done in Zoom), please resist this temptation. Even if it’s something like your favorite nature shot, it will not make you (and your presentation) look very professional.

3. Look up, not down, into the camera.

Just as important as your background is the position of your computer or laptop. Best practice is to make sure your camera is at or just above eye level, so you’re looking slightly up and into it. A common mistake is to position the camera so you’re looking down. Many new Zoom users sit at a desk and put the laptop right on top of it. This will force the person or people you’re meeting with to, at best, look up at your chin and, at worst, look up your nose. So when you Zoom, give your computer some lift with heavy books (hardcover cookbooks or art books work well) or some other hard, substantial material (like short planks of wood). To test how you’re positioned on the screen, you can open Zoom, Photo Booth, or another application that uses your camera. Then adjust accordingly, adding books, until you’re looking slightly down into the camera when your chin is parallel to the floor.

4. It’s okay to get close.

Also very important, and going hand in hand with the above tip, you want to position yourself at a distance from the camera so you’re only visible from the shoulders up—think the top third of your body at most. Ideally, you want your face to be the main object of focus. You want people to be able to look into your eyes and see your facial expressions. You also want to see the facial expressions of the people you’re meeting with. These visual cues will better mimic in-person conversations, making for better meetings. Although now, in the age of social distancing, you have to keep six feet away from people when you’re physically with them, on camera you can be a lot closer (it's okay to be within a foot of the screen). You’ll feel a lot different speaking with someone who’s closer (but not nose-to-the-camera close) than someone who’s sitting or standing far from the camera—so far that you can see their pants as well as their shirt. That distance will make you feel distant from your meeting partners, and that’s not ideal.

5. Light it up.

Now that you’re ready for your close-up, you need play the part of lighting designer. This is tricky and can take some time to get right, so be patient. Ideally, you want the room you’re in to be bright enough to be able to see your face clearly. Keep in mind that too much overhead light will make your face too bright, and too much background light will make your face too dark. So don’t set up right under track lighting or in front of a window. A trick here is to get a lamp and position it just behind and to the side of your computer. This will light your face without having to rely on a ton of overhead or background light. (A certain fashion icon recommends positioning the lamp on “the side of your face you feel is best,” as well as putting, out of the frame, white paper or a tablecloth on the table you’re sitting at to “give you a bit of fill and bounce.”) Since getting the light just right takes time, set aside several extra minutes for trial and error before each of your Zoom meetings—remember, light is different at different times of the day, and depends on the weather.

6. Look into the camera.

It can be hard to remember, but this is very important: try to look into your camera, not at yourself, not at the person you’re Zooming with. When you look directly into your camera, it will appear, on the other end of your meeting, that you’re looking into the eyes of whomever you’re Zooming with. Though from time to time it’s okay to glance at the images of the people you’re meeting with, note that if someone's sitting far away from the camera, it can appear to them that you’re looking away from them, not at them. So, every once in a while, during your meetings, try to take note of where you’re looking. And if you’re not looking into the camera, refocus your gaze.

A final note

If you’re new to Zoom (and video conferencing in general), it can take some time getting used to. You might even feel hesitant to use Zoom for work meetings, wanting to stay in your comfort zone and keep using the phone, email, and Slack. However, if you give Zoom a try, you'll likely find that there are many benefits to Zoom—and even come to prefer Zooming over your old ways of communicating.

Also, it's important to remember that now is not a normal time. And so, don't be hard on yourself if you're Zooming and your son runs through the room and is visible on camera, or your neighbor's car alarm goes off and won't stop, or your internet connection is so slow that your face freezes. In the time of a global pandemic, doing your best is all that you can do, all anyone can ask of you. People you Zoom with will certainly understand any minor technical difficulties you might experience.

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