Make sure you look—and sound—your best on Zoom.

Good Zoom Habits Should Start Now

I’m typically brought into the cohort after the nuts and bolts are in plate and it’s time for “polish”. By then, you (hopefully) know what you want to say about your startup and it’s time to focus on how you’re saying it.

We’ll dig into these items in more depth later, but here’s a good checklist/summary of items to think about in the next few weeks:

Audio

We tend to put the bulk of our emphasis on how we look and don’t really think much about how we sound. This is especially true because Zoom, without external hardware, doesn’t give you any idea what YOU sound like to other people; not just your voice, but the clarity of it based on your surroundings and the choice and arrangement of your equipment.

Avoid Distractions
Mute the notifications on the device you’re Zooming on as well as every other device around you.

Likewise, mute your pets, other humans, children, and farmyard/wild animals (if any).

In fact, start thinking about all other sounds around you. What might seem like “background noise” to you is foreground noise to a high-gain microphone. Desk fan? Squeaky chair?

Avoid “Speakerphone”
Never use your laptop, tablet, or phone as a “speakerphone” (not just on Zoom, all the time) UNLESS more than one person will be talking. (Even then, you’re better off calling in separately so you each have your own microphone and camera. If you do call in separately, it’s better to be in two different rooms. Otherwise both microphones will be picking up both people speaking.)

Microphone
Don’t rely on the internal mic in your laptop or tablet. It will pick up every sound from the desk or table, every tap on a trackpad, click of a mouse, jangle of bracelet or watch, tap from a ring on a finger, etc. Use an external microphone of just about any kind. This is, arguably, the single most important thing you can do to improve the Zoom experience for your audience.

The microphone should be as close to your face as possible. Headsets are a great option, but they tend to give you that “call center” look. Earbuds put the microphone in a great spot just below your face, but if you have a tendency to fiddle with a necklace, you’ll be smacking the microphone.

Location, Location, Location
Do your Zooming in the “softest” room of your house. Carpeting or a rug is better than bare floors, drapes are better than walls, furniture is better than empty space. ANYTHING that can absorb sound is a good thing.

Video

Never Hand-hold the Device
Never ever handhold the device or place it in your lap. Likewise, never place it on anything soft, like on a cushion next to you on a couch. Every time you move (even hand gestures), the camera will wobble. You’re effectively holding someone’s entire field of vision.

Background
Be aware of anything behind you that might resemble antlers, an outdated haircut, a halo or horns, a ceremonial headdress, or anything else on, or sticking out of, your head.

Eye Contact
As much as you can, as often as you can, look into the camera, not at people’s faces. Your camera might be here, but your zoom window is on a bigger monitor over here and you spend your entire conversation talking to empty space. Put the “people’s faces” window as close to your camera as you can.

If you find this difficult, print out the face of someone you enjoy making eye-contact with, cut a hole in their forehead, and tape them over your camera or just behind the lid of your laptop. Believe it or not, this makes it much easier to stare into that little green dot.

And, just like you would in person, don’t stare at the floor, not notes, not a tablet. Your camera represents the eyes of your audience. Make contact with it as much as possible. It’s going to feel weird. Do it anyway.

Framing
Where you are in the frame, and how much of you is visible within that frame, is important too. Most of the time, people are too low and half their face is cut off. Other times, they’re too far away and it feels like they’re being defensive. Sometimes, they’re a bit too close and you feel like they’re crowding your personal space. The “Goldilocks Zone” is when your eyes are about 1/3 of the way down the frame and there’s a little bit of space over your head. You should (ideally) be able to see your elbows (especially if you talk a lot with your hands), but aim for showing as much of your upper torso as possible. Otherwise, you look like a floating head.

Also, where you are in relation to the camera is important. Your camera, not your device, should be at eye-level; not looming above you looking down (which makes you look a bit like a lost child) and not below you looking up (which makes you look like a parent). 6–8 books, a moving box, a bookshelf speaker—anything that can raise the camera in your device to eye-level.

Lighting — The brightest source of light should be in front of, not behind, you. That means facing a window rather than your back to it. Worst case, have the light coming from the side. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than being behind you. If you have something white that can reflect light back onto the dark side of your face, even better.

Background
Think about light in your background as well. If your back is to a dark room, the natural instinct of your audience will be to keep an eye on it to make sure nothing is sneaking up on you.

Keep your background simple. A few items is okay, but a room full of random objects will distract the audience. A wall of books is okay, but people will have a natural tendency to read the spines to see what you’re reading.

Consider having one or a few objects related to your startup or your logo behind you. People’s attention will inevitably be drawn to your background so you might as well have something there that supports the problem you’re solving. If you do put your logo behind you, make it’s positioned such that people can read what it says.

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Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown

I make software things and write cookbooks