This is part of our Remote Work Guide. Click here for more.
Video calls are much easier than you think!
I promise you this: it’s worth taking the time to know exactly how to look good on Zoom, Skype, or any of your webcam videos.
So, you may be asking…
Should I Hop on Zoom, or Send an Email Instead?
Zoom calls are inevitable—these days we are spending more and more time on them! In fact, a 2019 study by Lifesize showed that:
- 48% of business professionals are using more video calls than they did 2 years ago.
- 25% of 19- to 29-year olds are using videoconferencing daily for work.
And Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins even said that customers spent a staggering 5.5 billion minutes in virtual meetings in the first 11 business days of March this year! That’s a TON of virtual screen time.
There’s no doubt that Zoom calls are only going to get more popular.
So if you are working remotely you should be using video calls for:
- Team check-Ins
Here’s the problem: people tell me all the time that they think they look horrible on Zoom, that calls are too much work, or that they are too awkward—so they opt for a phone call.
Whenever possible, you should ALWAYS opt for a video call.
- You connect better—a 2017 Forbes Insights study found that 62% of executives agreed that video calls significantly improved the quality of communication over phone calls.
- You can read body language.
- You have deeper, more productive conversations (and fewer awkward silences than conference calls).
So how do you make sure you look great, sound great, and get your message across?
Here are the exact steps you need to conquer your Zoom call the next time you turn on that webcam!
First up is essential—you need the right gear! You do not need a professional set-up to have a great video call, but some basic gear helps.
- Webcam: Using your laptop or computer’s built-in webcam is totally fine… but if you can, get an external webcam like a Logitech to create the perfect angle and image quality.
- Headphones: Try to always wear headphones. If you use the built-in speakers and microphone it can create some nasty feedback on the call.
- Microphone: If you are really doing a lot of Zoom calls, I really like my Yeti Microphone or a Snowball microphone.
- Software: I like using a software like Zoom. It is so easy to use… And the best part? It adds a filter which softens you up and makes you look 10 years younger (turn it on in your settings)!
- Internet: If you can get a faster connection at home, do it! It’s worth it! But also turn off your other applications or backups on your computer so you have a faster connection. Oh, and try to make sure your roommates aren’t watching Netflix or something.
And most importantly, HAVE BACKUPS! I can’t stress how important it is to have an extra pair of headphones… a backup device (laptop or phone, even!)… or even a mobile data connection you can switch to in case your Wi-Fi goes AWOL.
Pro tip: if you love using Zoom like me, there are a lot of apps out there that boost your experience. Here are some of my favorites:
- Krisp is an app that lets you cancel the background noise. Yes, it even works for crying babies and traffic!
- VirtualOffice lets you create a professional-looking background in your Zoom calls.
- Fireflies.ai lets you record, transcribe, and search across your Zoom calls.
- Snap Camera brings a little fun by offering different overlays for your Zoom calls.
This Zoom call tip is a simple one to boost your charisma. That’s because one of the most important nonverbal cues for charisma is your hand gestures. Push back your computer or phone or camera so your hands and upper torso are showing!
The reason your hands need to be visible is so people can see:
- your wave hello (yes always do this, see Step #2)
- your explanatory gestures while you are speaking
- visible hands while you are listening.
Think Lights, Camera, Action
You do not need to set up a full-blown movie production for each Zoom call, but I do want you to think a little like a producer. Here’s how:
- Light your front. One reason many people say they don’t look good in a Zoom call is actually due to bad lighting. To look better on Zoom calls, you’ll need a light source that brightens your face, positioned in front of you. If you can, have a light IN FRONT of you. And avoid sitting in front of a big window, as that can make you look dark. Whatever you do, DON’T have the light behind you. The last thing you want to do is appear like you’re on the set of a horror movie!
- Keep the background basic. We all love our fluffy pillows sitting on our beds, but that doesn’t exactly scream, “I’m professional!” I frequently use a Japanese Screen behind me to keep it professional and clean (and to keep me from having to clean up every time). See it looks nice and clean…
You also want to avoid the dreaded plain-white wall if you can help it. I know it LOOKS clean, but sometimes it can be just TOO clean and lacks that personal touch. That’s why I also love sitting in front of bookshelves or shelving with some of my favorite books and items. Like this one…
Focus on Substance, NOT Appearance
In a survey by Highfive, a video conferencing service, nearly half of the respondents said they were more worried about their physical appearance during a Zoom call than the actual content they were presenting.
They were self-conscious of their:
- bags under eyes
- overall facial expression
- double chin
- and more!
And the real kicker is that many people are more self-conscious on video than in real life!
The survey showed that:
- People rated themselves less attractive when they appear on camera.
- 30% of respondents said they spent half the Zoom call looking at their own face.
Sure, you should probably be a little concerned about your appearance (see the next step). But remember…
What you can bring to the table is more important than your appearance.
Instead of perfecting your appearance (remember, NOBODY’S perfect!), aim to perfect your content:
- Prepare your outline and goals for the conversation. I like to keep a little notebook next to my laptop with all the notes I’ve filled out.
- Make your own teleprompter! I like to put important facts on my laptop screen just under the camera so I DON’T forget.
- Brainstorm a couple questions AHEAD OF TIME. When your client/boss/coworker asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” the last thing you want to do is draw a blank in the moment!
- Review, and review, and review… And do it again!
The most confident I’ve ever felt in video calls was when I knew my content by heart. So when you’ve mastered your content, the next step is to focus on your appearance…
Avoid Zoom Awkwardness
Zoom calls have their own social etiquette. Your biggest goal is to avoid what I call…
Zoom Awkwardness. Ask yourself if you’ve ever experienced the following in a Zoom call:
- Talking over someone else
- Not knowing who should talk next
- Wondering what to do with your face while you are listening
- Being distracted by an insect buzzing in the room or a car passing by
- Having the doorbell ring/dog start barking/kid barge into the room without pants. Reality check: It does happen! Check out this video and prepare for the cringe…
There were a lot of tough times where I didn’t know what to do to AVOID this awkwardness.
But as odd as it sounds, there was ONE thing that pushed me through to tame that awkwardness and make it my strength…
Here’s the answer: Preparation.
The best way I found to prevent awkwardness in Zoom is to be prepared for all the awkward moments. Here’s what to do before your next call:
- Tell everyone in your house you are going on a video call. There is nothing more awkward than having someone barge into your call. Tell everyone and let the dogs out. Who? Who? Who? Your dogs or any roommates. That was a joke, but telling people is not.
- Quickly do a spot check with your webcam BEFORE logging in (hair check, teeth check, light check). I also like to use an online webcam test to test my camera.
- DO sweat the small stuff. Go to the bathroom. Grab a cup of coffee. Have a pen and paper on hand. Make sure all the little things are taken care of!
- Look at your software settings. Some software (like Zoom) has a lovely filter. Some software requires you to choose a microphone. Other software is clunky and hard to download. Do this early and look at the settings.
- Prepare for Your First Impression. Wave hello and smile, and use the right vocal tone (more on that later).
- Know WHO will be on the call so you can confirm the right people are on and when to start.
- Gather links you need ahead of time to pop into chat (so everyone doesn’t have to watch you scroll through your inbox).
- Be ready for some positive small talk. This might sound odd, but most likely someone will be late to the call or someone will need to restart their computer, have a positive chit-chat conversation starter at the ready. Like “How was everyone’s weekend?” or “It’s so sunny today! Anyone been working outside?”
- Create an agenda and send it out ahead of time, AND post it in the chat. It will keep you on task! (See Step #1)
- Turn on your listening ears. Make sure you’re fully understanding everyone and tuned-in 100%. Otherwise you’ll have to keep asking people over and over… and over… and over… which leads me to the next point.
- Ask questions! Part of being a great listener is to ask questions! Just try to ask questions that contribute to the overall conversation!
- What’s your listening face? Do you have Resting Bitch Face? It’s a real phenomenon. Know HOW you want to listen. I have a face I use to listen attentively and it has DRASTICALLY improved my Zoom calls from people asking “All ok?” to “So good to see you!”
Give Yourself a Social Boost!
So you’ve got everything ready? Great! But, wait! What if you’re:
- feeling tired?
- drained of all motivation to talk to people?
- trying to think of any excuse to avoid the video call?
If you’re anything like me, this happens more than you’d like to admit. And it really does matter—a study by Dollar Shave Club showed that 83% of those surveyed felt more positive toward someone who seemed confident.
So to gain that confidence, you need to do a little something I call…
This means you need to get your social juices flowing… BEFORE the call even begins! This means socializing beforehand, relaxing your nerves, feeling more confident, and just feeling good.
Social charging is especially important if you’re an introvert… or even if you haven’t done much socializing recently!
And there are many ways to prime your social skills before a video call. Let’s take a look at some things I do to give myself a social boost:
- Hang out with friends. Because nobody makes you happier than those you’re closest to!
- Watch a funny cat video! Laughing always helps before a video call.
- Listen to your favorite tunes! Yes, music has even been proven to reduce your levels of cortisol and ease stress. Ahh, nothing like a little Mozart to blow the stress away.
- Say hi to strangers! Go to the grocery store, walk your dog, whatever! Along the way, say hi to at least five strangers to make yourself feel über confident!
- Get your blood pumping. A quick run outside or a trip to the gym can do wonders in calming your nerves (just be sure to take a shower afterwards if you’re really sweaty!).
- Meditate a little… or at least take a few deep breaths.
Phew, that was a lot of preparation! But luckily, now you’re socially-charged and finally ready for the Zoom call. Let’s see what we can do during the call to make it FANTASTIC!
Look at the Dot
The biggest mistake people make on Zoom chat is to look at themselves. Research shows video calls actually produce oxytocin, the chemical of connection.
According to a 2014 study by researchers from the UK’s Medical Research Council:
- People who receive direct eye contact with others appear to activate a certain part of their brain called the “social brain” network.
What is the “social brain” network? It’s the part of the brain that allows us to have genuine social interaction. When the social part of your brain lights up, you can tell jokes, have fun, and smile without faking it.
But this only happens if you look at the camera… NOT at yourself.
Wave and Smile
This might sound silly, but video calls can be awkward at first. But they don’t have to be! The best way to encourage trust and connection is to start with a wave (and a smile if that feels natural to you). This is how I start EVERY SINGLE ZOOM CHAT. And it immediately helps bring warmth.
Watch my TED Talk for the full explanation:
Start With Your Happy Voice
Saying hello is obvious. But this video call tip may not be: did you know HOW you say hello matters?
Here at Science of People, we did a fascinating experiment on vocal power. We have some incredible tips for you on how you can make your voice sound better and how to benefit from every single video call.
We asked participants to record themselves saying “hello” in six different ways:
- Normal Hello (This is the control.)
- Happy Hello (Thinking of something that made them happy and holding a Happiness Microexpression.)
- Sad Hello (Thinking of something that made them sad and holding a Sadness Microexpression.)
- Angry Hello (Thinking of something that made them angry and holding an Angry Microexpression.)
- Power Posing (While adopting a Power Pose.)
- Normal Hello (One more control once they were warmed up.)
We added these recordings to our website and asked our readers to tell us how much they liked (or didn’t like) the person in the recording just based on the “hello” they heard. Readers listened to each clip and selected one of the following answers:
- I like this person a lot.
- I like this person a little.
- I do not like this person.
Which version of the “hello” do you think was the most likable?
….the winner was the Happy Hello!
The data revealed that the happy recordings received significantly higher approval ratings than any other hello. This is a huge finding as it shows people can hear your mood.
So make sure to start your video calls with a happy, cheerful tone!
Bonus: Want to know which “hello” did the worst? Read more about our study from our article How to Be More Confident: 11 Scientific Strategies For More Confidence!
Designate a Driver
There is nothing worse than logging onto a call and not knowing who should speak.
Here’s the key:
Be the designated driver or assign the designated driver.
When I get on a call I either claim the driver spot or assign the driver spot:
- “I’m so happy to be here with you all. Let’s dive into the agenda for today.”
- OR “Hi everyone, Rob, you are spearheading content, so why don’t you lead us through today’s Zoom call.”
This Zoom call tip also works within a discussion. For example, I was on a virtual call yesterday with my team and I asked a question to two of the participants. Here’s how it went:
Me: Allison, Rob do you have any questions?
Allison: I’ll let Rob handle that question first since he is tackling that project.
BOOM! Allison had a great anti-awkward move because she avoided that dreaded “Who will speak next?” And she acknowledged Rob’s hard work.
Become One With the Hand
We’ve already covered the importance of backing up your camera so you can show your hands.
But let’s say you DON’T use your hands…
Maybe it’s just not natural, or maybe you’re a little hand-shy. That’s okay!
But it might hurt you.
That’s because we analyzed the most popular TED Talks and found that viral speakers used an average of around 465 hand gestures—nearly twice as many as the least popular TED speakers!
Studies show that people who use their hands are even seen as more warm, agreeable, and energetic compared to those who remain still or have robotic hand gestures.
So how do you use your hand gestures in a video call? Try these 3 tips:
The easiest and most basic hand gesture is numerical. ANY time you say a number, do the corresponding gesture–this makes your number easier to remember for the listener, adds movement and warmth to your body language, and serves as a nonverbal anchor in the conversation.
A Tiny Bit
Any time you want to emphasize a small point like something that they shouldn’t take too seriously or a small addition–show it! This is my favorite itty bitty hand gesture:
This is a very strong gesture, so use it with caution. It is a “bottom line” hand gesture or “listen here” movement. The sound and motion draws attention and lets people know: “What I am about to say is important!”
Want all 20 hand gestures? These tips come straight from our article: 20 Hand Gestures You Should Be Using, and Their Meaning.
So if you can, use your hands to gain the upper hand! Pun fully intended.
Learn to Decode Facial Expressions
Research has found that you can decode facial expressions and there are 7 you should look for. This is one of the greatest benefits of video calls — you can see someone’s face! Use that to your advantage. This helps you tap into what is being said between the lines.
I have a full face reading tutorial here.
Most importantly, just be yourself! Do not worry about looking perfect on camera. Know that a video call is WAY better than a phone call and almost as good as in person…almost.
And when you’re almost done with the call? Don’t forget to say thanks!
Dress to Impress
Did you know people judge you within milliseconds of seeing you? Researchers at Princeton University conducted a study:
- Participants saw images of people wearing different clothing. The types of clothing worn were categorized as either “poor” or “richer.”
- They found that when people wore clothing perceived as “richer,” they were rated as more competent.
And here’s the crazy part… Regardless of the person’s facial appearance, the results stayed the same! So the old saying is actually true—the clothes do make the man (or the woman)!
But luckily, you don’t need to buy a tailor-made suit or the fanciest tie. Just simply wearing a nice outfit can help you:
- boost your confidence
- help you make an amazing first impression
- get the respect you deserve
- how your employer that you pay attention to small details.
What’s important is dressing appropriately for your audience:
- Big business? You’ll probably want to dress to impress. Wear a collared shirt (nothing says “I mean business” more than a crisp collar!) and consider wearing a jacket and tie as well.
- IT company? You might consider wearing a simple button-down shirt and a pair of trousers.
- You’re part of a creative team? Consider dressing up more fashionably to connect with the artistic crowd.
- How about a small startup? A plain, solid-colored t-shirt and long pants might be more suitable.
Still uncertain? Dress up rather than down! I can’t remember the number of times I saved myself the embarrassment by dressing up professionally rather than throwing on an old shirt in the closet. Don’t take this video call tip lightly. Do yourself a favor and look sharp!
What you wear speaks VOLUMES about your personality!
Here’s what to AVOID wearing for a Zoom call:
- Patterns or stripes: They never look good on camera.
- Large, bulky shirts: They can fold over one-too-many times and make you look bigger than normal.
- Clothing that blends into the background: Floating head syndrome, anyone?
- Big, dangling earrings or necklaces: Nobody likes unnecessary distractions… Especially if your earrings are taking up half the screen.
Want more awesome tips on how to dress? Check out 11 Incredible Clothing Hacks Everyone Should Know.
Send a Letter of Thanks
Wait, you’ve already said thank you, so why do it again? Because it turns out…
We underestimate how much joy others get by just saying thank you!
A study published in Psychological Science was conducted to find out how writing a thank you letter would affect people’s happiness:
- They asked people to write and send a letter of thanks to others, and measured the recipient’s level of awkwardness as well as happiness.
- The researchers found that those who received the letter were even happier than what the senders expected.
One more amazing part of the study is that the recipients actually felt less awkward than the senders thought they would. Amazing, right?
You don’t have to be super old-fashioned and send a letter (although that would be cool, too!). You can also:
- Send a quick “thank you” in the video software’s chat.
- Follow up by sending a thank you email to those involved in the call.
- If you have their phone numbers, you can send a short text for added personal flair.
Just don’t be afraid to say thank you more than once! A little gratitude does go a long way.
Ask yourself which category you fit in:
- Piece of cake! The video call was a walk in the park.
- Good, but could be better. You had an awkward moment or two, or you didn’t feel completely comfortable.
- Do second chances exist? Maybe it just wasn’t your day…
If you answered A, congrats! You’re officially a video conference wizard.
If you’ve answered B or C, then there’s still hope! Don’t be hard on yourself, but ask yourself if you could improve in any of these categories:
- Appearance: How were my clothes? Did I have good lighting and positioning?
- Interpersonal skills: Was I able to connect with others? Did I make good body language and eye contact?
- Technical: Did I experience any technical glitches? Could I improve my gear for future Zoom calls?
- Preparation: How can I better prepare myself? Did I seem knowledgeable and confident?
Find the most important category (or categories) you need to work on. And remember: everybody starts somewhere!
Hint: You can record yourself using a program like Loom to see where you can improve for your next Zoom call!
Bonus: To Background or Not to Background?
Have you ever went into a Zoom meeting and used a fancy virtual background?
Take the quick poll below to see what others think!
In a Harvard Business Review survey, most people said they actually preferred a normal Zoom background rather than a fake one.
However, if you DO use a virtual background, the type of background you use can change how you are perceived.
For example, in a test of 6 different Zoom backgrounds, those who used a background with plants were viewed as more trustworthy, approachable, and intelligent than other backgrounds. Take a look at the chart below to see how the backgrounds stacked up:
Zoom fatigue is real—I know how hard video calls can be. Want to reward yourself for having a call?
Here’s some fun little dopamine treats you can reward yourself with:
- Head on over to Overdrive.com and read a free book.
- Play with your dog/cat, or visit a pet store and play to your heart’s content.
- Take a walk in your favorite park.
- Practice the Japanese art of “forest bathing”
- Dance and sing to your favorite tunes
- Go see a movie all by yourself
- Play a game with a friend