In this blog post, we will talk about improving the quality of your Zoom presentations. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, courts and civil litigators have relied heavily on videoconferencing to conduct depositions, arbitrations, motion hearings, and trials. As a faculty member for one of the nation’s leading trail advocacy training programs, I teach young lawyers how to adjust their public speaking styles to account for the unique features of online platforms. The tips I will share with you today were developed for attorneys based on input from accomplished trial lawyers and jury consultants, but they are readily transferable to other occupations.
1. Talk to the camera. Listen to the screen. When speaking, look directly into the camera to maintain eye contact. When listening to others, look at the screen. It’s important to maintain eye contact, even when you are not in the same room as the other participants. Think of the camera as a person you respect and value. Experts recommend giving the camera a name and speaking to it as if it is your best friend. This can help you to connect with the camera and convey your personality more effectively.
2. Position your camera at or slightly above eye level. If needed, use a stack of books or a box to raise the height of the computer. Avoid looking down at the camera, as this can make it seem like you are looking down at other people online. To determine the proper camera angle, check if the ceiling and overhead light fixtures are visible in the frame. If they are, you are looking down at the camera.
3. Aim for the “newscaster look” where your shoulders and arms are visible. The ideal proximity to the camera is one that shows the bottom of your rib cage up to just a little bit above your head. This creates a more natural and professional appearance. Sitting too close to the camera can be distracting and may make those watching you feel uncomfortable. Choose a comfortable, stationary chair that promotes good posture. Avoid chairs that rock or swivel, as this may cause you to move around during the call. Adjust the height and distance of your chair so that you are not able to lean on the desk or table in front of you. When using gestures during a video call, make them purposeful. If the shot goes from the top of your head to just the bottom of your ribcage, it will give you plenty of room to gesture on camera.
4. Choose a clean and organized background for your video call. Avoid busy or cluttered backgrounds that may be distracting. Make sure there is enough distance between you and any bookshelves or artwork behind you so that they are not in sharp focus. Remove any elements that do not give a professional impression. Keep in mind that the camera may pick up on details that the naked eye does not. Remove any items from your desktop or browser that you do not want others to see. It’s generally best to close any other programs running on your computer during the call and disable any audio or visual notifications that could be distracting.
5. Make sure you have good lighting. Most professionals use a ring light to ensure adequate lighting during online presentations. If you don’t have access to the lighting equipment, experiment with opening and closing curtains, shades, and blinds to adjust the lighting in the room. Side lighting from lamps and windows tends to look better than overhead lighting. Wear solid-colored clothing when participating in a video call. Prints, especially small ones, can appear to move on the screen and be distracting to those watching.
6. Smaller rooms tend to have better audio quality for video calls. If you have to work from a larger room like a dining room or kitchen, try to face away from the largest open space. High ceilings and large rooms may cause your voice to sound hollow. Some people who work from home and record podcasts set up makeshift studios in their closets to help absorb sound, similar to the way foam is used on the walls of an audio booth.
7. Cameras and microphones can amplify movement and sound. We are used to having some physical distance from others when interacting with them, especially in a large courtroom. However, in a video call, your face is in close focus and all sounds are more noticeable because the camera and microphone are so close. Keep in mind that all of your facial expressions will be highly visible. People pay more attention to how you speak online, and every “um” or “ah” is more noticeable. Be aware of any muttering, smacking your lips, or clearing your throat, as these will be amplified by your microphone. It’s important to speak clearly and use simple language. Pause between sentences.
8. Take more breaks than you would during an in-person presentation. Both you and the other participants will be limited in their ability to move around. Pausing periodically will allow everyone to shift in their seats and stretch. Organize your demonstrative documents ahead of time to avoid uncomfortable delays.
9. Practice listening courtesy. It’s important to practice good listening habits during a video call, as lengthy sessions can be challenging for both focus and attention span. Movement and sound can be distracting, so try to be as still and quiet as possible when someone else is speaking to avoid drawing attention away from the speaker. If allowed, turn off your microphone while not speaking.
10. Test everything before your video call. Many people are working from home and may not have easy access to IT support. Go online well before your session to allow the first 10 minutes to be a test run to ensure that everything is working properly. If possible, exchange cell phone numbers with the other participants, so that you can communicate if there are any issues with your internet connection.