How to Appear Engaging via a Web Cam

Among the Measures of Success for video conferencing discussed in my last article, “on camera presence” – being at ease and confident in front of the camera – seems the least intuitive.  You are either comfortable on camera or not; there’s seldom a middle ground.  In this post, I’ll explore adjustments we all can make to improve our on screen image.

Visual Effectiveness in Video Conferencing

Getting used to being on camera – A Lesson for the Shy

I have to laugh now as I look back to a time not long ago when, surprised to find a camera built into my new laptop, I disabled the internal webcam, and for good measure put a piece of masking tape over the lens. Ultimately an introvert, I was at first reticent about being under observation. I also found it disconcerting to have a mirror of myself onscreen, and frankly, it was distracting.

The best advice I’ve had regarding webcams was, “Get over yourself!”  If you have a choice of adding a camera pod for yourself as the leader of a meeting, then DO. The payback in terms of attention and comprehension is worth it. If you hate seeing yourself on camera, you need to get beyond that; practice with recordings and no audience if necessary. You should be prepared to professionally present – the more comfortable you are with your script and the technology, the better able you are to focus and engage. In addition to adjusting your attitude, there are a few environmental adjustments that will help:

  • The room has adequate lighting. If your webcam is mobile, try different rooms and types of light sources. Be attentive to your positioning in relation to windows, skylights, etc.; notice which create more shadows and shine. If you wear glasses, check for unwanted reflections. Check your background too – what’s behind you that might distract attention?
  • The camera is optimally positioned. Put enough space between you and the camera to create a clear frame for your face. Back up a little more to include small hand gestures, making sure your movements stay on screen. If you hope to demonstrate an activity, consider the best angle to view more of what you do and less of you.
  • A headset for quality audio. An area mic or speakerphone picks up background noise. Instead, install a headset and disable the webcam’s microphone to greatly improve the audio portion of your broadcast.

Self-awareness – A Lesson in Web Photogenics

Eye contact is the element that makes it feel like you’re connecting with your video conference viewers. Make sure you’re looking at the camera’s eye in those moments when you most want to engage – locking eyes as you would in person. For a long time this felt unnatural to me, and my eyes drifted to my screen instead, even when I was presenting and facilitating. I had to work at looking at the lens just as much as I would if I were in a room full of people. It helped to think about who is in the virtual room and imagine the lens as that person’s eyes.

You should also note that the closer you are to the camera, the larger your facial and physical gestures will appear (good or bad). It turns out I’m a very expressive person in high definition, and I needed to curtail my eyebrow raises and waving hands. I reduced the drama by seating myself farther from the camera (yielding less exaggerated expressions) and I also work hard to sit still. Try adjusting your movements and body language for the camera’s screen space, and if you must move, be purposeful and graceful.

Finally, be aware of those times when your attention drifts or your less endearing tics surface. I tracked this phenomenon during a video conferenced team meeting where we were all on camera. I observed my colleagues  drinking coffee, scratching, leaning away, rubbing eyes, twirling hair, fiddling with jewelry, and eyes focused off screen. You see how distracting it can all be. A heightened self-awareness is essential to video conferencing.

Conclusion: See the Big Picture

Thinking about your own experiences with webcams at an office meeting, you may remember what you learned that was visual. Your colleagues are watching everything you do, and you in turn can see each of them.  The visual cues help confirm comprehension, agreement or dissension, and also reveal when participants become distracted or inattentive.

That much attention to the face-in-the-mirror can make anyone squirm.  I was able to learn about my on camera image by recording and critiquing practices sessions. Most webcams include software to record and view your screen presence, and in this way you can target changes. It’s easy to improve once you learn where to focus your adjustments. According to a report issued by the 1080 Group for Citrix, a 2011 survey of business leaders on how well they are using this technology yielded the following top factors that detract from on camera effectiveness:

  • lack of eye contact with the camera
  • a cluttered or distracting background
  • distracting mannerisms or gestures
  • poor lighting (too dim or bright)

By addressing these basic personal traits and environmental factors, you can make a tremendous leap forward in the quality of your video conferences.

Someday everyone will adopt webcams, making this technology as common in meetings as a flip chart.  

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  1. Ah! A short course on presentation of self 🙂



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