Last Updated Jul 2, 2010 6:45 AM EDT
The good news is that programs like Skype, Dimdim (on the free or at least cheap end) and Telepresence ( on the very high end) make it simple for people to see and talk to each other. The bad news is that there are some common presenting mistakes that can limit your effectiveness and undermine your credibility when communicating by web cam.
Here are 8 tips to help you seize the moment, whether with customers, your remote teammates or the grandkids in Australia.
- Make sure they can see you. If you're going to use a camera they should be able to see who they're talking to. Just like taking pictured with a still camera, there should be a light source in front of you (natural light through a window or at least a lamp) so that your face is lit. If there's more light coming from behind you than in front of you, your face will be in shadow. Your audience won't be able to make out your face clearly which is boring and unprofessional, not to mention mildly creepy.
- Don't move around too much. Most plug-in cameras aren't designed for high resolution. Mix that with how hard your computer is already working and you'll find that sudden movements will cause the picture to blur or even break up. This usually solves itself when you get to the new position, but it causes a couple of seconds of useless video.
- What you wear can mess with your camera. Let's leave aside your personal fashion sense (because there's not a darned thing we can do about it in this book) for a moment. Clothes can cause havoc with your webcam. Pure white clothing can "flare" and show up very bright on camera, which can wash out your face. Also, checked patterns don't read well on camera and can look blurry. Your shirt should be a solid color and preferably not bright white.
- Just because you can hold webmeetings in your bunny slippers doesn't mean you should. People form opinions of a speaker based on what they see. Depending on where your audience is , you might be presenting during non-traditional work hours or from home. Remember it's still a presentation. Dress appropriately for the audience. Here's a hint- most webcams only show you from mid-chest up. You'd be surprised how many people wear a jacket, dress shirt and cargo shorts!
- Watch out behind you. Always test your camera positioning before going live. What is going on behind you? You don't want your audience watching people walk past your cube. Nor do you want that fern in the corner to look like it's growing out of your head. Do your surroundings look professional to your audience? In my home office, where I do most of my webinars, I have an old-fashioned bookshelf that's crowded with books. I am told it looks very impressive and professional. Fortunately, no one's asked if I've read all those books--..
- Look your audience in the eye. Just as in a live presentation, eye contact is a sign of trustworthiness, competence and confidence. The problem is that your audience isn't in the room. As a result it's often hard to remember where to look. Many presenters wind up looking at either their own picture on the screen, or if you're using 2-way video, the face of your audience. The problem is that on camera it looks like you're looking down or to the side, which is not what you're trying to do. Most webcams have a little dot of light that tells you where the camera is- treat that as your audience's eyes and speak there. Do it well and you could run for office, because that's what politicians and TV reporters do.
- Be prepared for calamity. Occasionally, the web cam will just freeze up and stop working. No one will be able to tell you why, and tech support at your provider will shrug and say they don't know either. That's okay. Just be prepared. Most platforms allow you to post a still picture of yourself that will serve as a placeholder for where your webcam video would be. Make sure you're smiling--candid shots are perfectly okay as long as you look happy and you're not doing anything incriminating.
- Don't have the camera on you any more than necessary. My clients find this maybe the most useful tip of all: Use the webcam to greet your audience, let them know who you are and establish rapport. Then, when you get into the meat of the presentation turn it off. Save bandwidth, don't worry about what you look like while you're presenting, and let the audience focus on the content of your presentation. You can earn extra "brownie points" if you turn it back on for Q and A, so they can see your confidence and professionalism. You can also look them in the eye as you sign off and leave them with a positive impression.