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When It Comes to Being on Camera, Don't Be "That Person"

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We've all watched or participated in a bazillion video calls and webinars, and although few of us have had on-air training, it's not that hard to look and sound at least halfway decent. In every group of presenters, though, there's always "that person," who manages to blissfully ignore common conventions and look and/or sound awful. 

The problem is that your viewers have all watched enough SportsCenters to know what on-camera talent is supposed to look and sound like. So even if they don't know what rule-of-thirds positioning is, they know what looks wrong, which detracts from your message. 

From a video perspective, that person often positions his laptop's webcam at waist level, giving us an awesome view of his nostrils. At that angle, it's a fair bet there's a fluorescent light on the ceiling that backlights the shot, darkening his face into witness protection territory. Or that person might be sitting with his eyes in the middle of the screen, which always makes me want to shout, "Sit up! Sit up!" at my computer screen. Or that person might be using the synthetic backgrounds available with some services that produce a crumbling and distracting edge around his head and neck. 

Fortunately, producing adequate quality video is pretty simple. First, position your webcam at eye level. If that means putting it on a handy Amazon box from your latest online delivery, that's perfectly fine. Second, rule-of-thirds positioning dictates that your eyes should be about one-third the way down from the top of the frame, not in the middle. Think about this the next time you watch a newscaster on TV, and you'll see what I'm talking about (and it will forever change how you position yourself in a webcam).

Third, compositing technologies work great for weather forecasters because they have great lighting, a solid color background, and a high-performance video mixer. Unless you have all of that, subbing in a synthetic background will almost certainly be more distracting than whatever is actually behind you. When choosing your background, avoid excessive detail, bright lights, and motion, and you should be fine.

If the primary source of lighting is from the ceiling, the bottom of your face is often too dark. Fix this by pointing a desk lamp at your face or using a $12 clamp light from Lowe's. 

When dressing for an online presentation, avoid excessive detail like pinstripes, checks, or plaid, as well as very bright or very dark shirts, which present technical challenges for cameras and compression technologies. Think solid blues, grays, and browns, selecting a color that contrasts well with your background. 

When it comes to audio, that person always wants to use the microphone and speakers on his MacBook Pro (and it's always a MacBook Pro), even though he sounds like he's broadcasting from inside of a barrel. Sometimes, he seeks extra "that person" points by transmitting from a noisy environment like a busy office or coffee shop. 

Remember that audio is almost always more important than video because unless you're de­monstrating the tree pose to a yoga class, your voice delivers the critical information. That's why many online broadcasters use a huge microphone with a pop screen. While it looks obtrusive, it allows them to produce pristine audio. 

I'm not suggesting you go that route, but at the very least, use a Bluetooth headset (although they often sound harsh and mechanical). In the past, I used a USB headset, but have transitioned to a $60 Behringer USB Audio Interface and an $80 Shure lavaliere condenser microphone (SM93). When presenting by myself in a webinar, I don't need a headset; if I'm conferencing with others, I use earbuds rather than my notebook speakers to avoid echo or feedback. 

Finally, broadcast from the quietest environment possible. Use a quiet conference room, mute your phone, turn off all nonessential equipment, shut off noisy heating and AC (if possible), and put a note on your door to prevent unwanted intruders. 

No one wants to be "that person" when presenting online. With a little bit of thought and planning and less than $200 in gear, you don't have to be.

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