• Courtney Kirschaum

Turning your video on? Read this first

Is video really better?

Requests to click the “video on” icon are ticking up as leaders and “leaders” scramble to recover lost face time caused by pandemic-vacated offices.

Whether on a Zoom, Google Hangout or other platform, you may be asked (or asking others) to work on-camera, from home.

Isn't video more of an awkward variation on real life?

Rather than capture the nuance and potential warmth of daily interaction (if you work at an office like that which most of us don't.) it's an awkward replacement. Anyone who’s been on one can tell you that

At your in-office meetings a full-face view of your co-worker at such close range would constitute an HR event. Seeing your entire team in “Brady Bunch boxes” can be distracting.

There’s only so much face time a person can take. Even newscasters have cutaway moments.

Here seven things worth considering before clicking “video on” or asking someone else to

1 You could not hope for a more stressful time to mandate (or “volun-tell”) your team to take the lens cap off

Many people never wanted to work from home.

Now that they’re forced to, they don’t want an audience. And when the camera’s on, that’s what it is: an audience.

If your logic is, “Desperate times call for desperate measures…” consider what we’re all going through a tsunami of uncertainty. Not everyone wants to play Candid Camera.

2 Most people don’t have good on-camera skills

If you’ve been on a few video calls, you know it can be awkward. It’s a skill most people aren’t born with and few get on-screen training, and all too often it shows.

3 No space

A lot of people don’t have a free room and even if they did, now it’s full of toilet paper and boxes of wine or it’s been converted into a one-room schoolhouse.

4 You’ll get valuable body language cues. (Don’t make me laugh.)

Body language is not face language and that’s usually all you see. Knowing you’re on-camera makes it hard to relax and we all tend to put on our “interview face” and mute expressions.

What makes it even worse

Most laptop or PC cameras are too low. You’re looking up at someone and they’re looking down at you. Nine out of 10 people don’t look into the camera and make eye contact.

The result is semi-voyeuristic, making it harder to connect, not easier.

Some people are painfully uncomfortable when the camera’s on. (And it’s never the colleague you want to see in pain.)

5 There’s nothing wrong with not wanting your colleagues in your house.

Privacy concerns are real.

Not everyone can quarantine themselves inside the existing quarantine to have enough privacy to go on camera.

6 It’s not uncommon for leaders to lose face when they show face

Turning our video on does not magically convey gravitas and might diminish it. It’s unlikely your subordinates or even your peers are going to share that feedback with you.

Agree with all this but still can’t get out of on-screen work?

Here are those pro tips to get you close-up ready.

“Have a pleasant background,”

says Scott Simon, CEO of Video Marketing World. “Stage a corner of your house or office or look for a location that has a pleasing background. Your background should be visually stimulating, but not distracting.”

I know you’re proud that stuffed Smurf collection, but think twice before showing it on camera.

Audio matters more than you think

Simon also offered, “We have all been on that conference call where one of the participant’s microphones is either difficult to hear or has an echo or odd feedback. Having a high-quality condenser microphone will solve that problem and give you a rich full sound that is easy to listen to.”

Better sound will do more than video to raise the quality of the experience. You can get a good mic for under fifty bucks.

Light it up

Producer and Technical Emmy Award winner Chad Newman says, “It’s all about the lighting. The secret is soft, even light. Soft light tends to wrap around the face making you look good. Never use a “hard” light source (meaning a naked light bulb or focused light).

Get back

People are almost always too close to the camera. Think post card, not postage stamp.


Set your camera at eye-level or slightly higher is even more flattering. Look into the camera when you talk.

What can you do to get this right?

Let people choose and respect their choice.

— Consider people’s daily meeting load. Being on camera is more tiring.

— Start small. Invite people to opt-in to video for smaller meetings of three to four people.

Need an escape hatch from forced on camera time? You can use these old standbys:

Insufficient bandwidth or “my camera’s not working.” Both happen to everyone at one time or another.

Take care of yourself first and if you’re not up for a performance, leave the camera off.

Like it? Share it.