In today’s COVID-19 reality, videoconferencing has become the best alternative to in-person communication. And although virtual meetings are inherently a different experience, there are a few things you can do to look your best and appear as professional as possible.

I probably shouldn’t give anyone tips on how to use Zoom or any other videoconferencing system, but I’m going to anyway. I’m not an expert, guru or consultant on the subject. I’m just a business owner who has been exposed to the best and the worst of online business meetings. (I’m sure I’ll experience even more of those meetings in the future.)

Just because we can’t meet in person right now doesn’t mean that business meetings don’t need to be at least a little business-like. People will judge you just like they do when you meet in person.

There are people who attend video meetings from their cars while they’re driving. They place their phones on the seat next to them and leave the camera on — perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. We get a view of their midsection and maybe the side of their heads and the steering wheel, and if we look closely enough, we can spot some movement through the driver’s side window.

There was one person in a meeting who drove for about a half-hour and then unloaded groceries from the trunk, walked up a flight of stairs and put them in the refrigerator. The screen remained black after that for the rest of the meeting. I think the phone got put away with the food. That’s all I remember about that particular meeting, but I’m sure it was an important one. We wouldn’t have set it up otherwise.

You can change the settings so that when you join a Zoom meeting, the video is off by default. If you want everyone on the call to watch you drive, it’s easy enough to turn the video on (but really, don’t).

Did you know that you can put your phone, computer or tablet in “do not disturb” mode when you’re in a video conference? In doing so, you’ll no longer share every ding, ting and beep your computer makes.

Typically, when we meet in a group in person, it’s standard practice to set our phones to silent mode. When people are on a video call and are not using their phones, shouldn’t they silence it?

People who have home offices are using them for meetings, which makes sense. But the offices are a mess, with piles of paper scattered everywhere and old dusty things in dark wood cabinets with dirty glass. Maybe the mess or the camera could be moved?

Having the webcam pointed directly at a light source doesn’t work too well, either. Some people use those ring lights, but they don’t really know how to aim them. The rest of us just have to sit there watching the light reflecting off their reading glasses and into the camera.

Getting a little more light on your face is fairly easy. Just bring in a lamp, and place it close to your face, but not directly near your eyes. It isn’t a hard thing to do. The dark room will kind of fade into the background. If you wear glasses, pay attention to the angle of the light.

Where you sit matters, too. In one of my meetings, I sat in a chair that was too low (or maybe my monitor was too high), and all people could see was my neck and head. I didn’t like the way that looked, so I made some changes.

A lot of people are new to working from home, and that’s fine. I’ve been doing it for 14 years, and early on during this pandemic, I promised myself I wasn’t going to add to the chorus of advice about how to work from home. So, I’m going to call this a “pro tip” instead.

If you’re attending a business meeting, at the very least, you should be wearing business-casual attire. A change of clothes may even make you feel like a grown-up or a working adult again. For a small, casual-type meeting, how we look doesn’t matter much.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to up my video meeting presence after seeing myself on camera. I created what I now call my “Zoom room.” It takes up a corner in a guest bedroom, which we no longer use. I think we had our last overnight guest for the year in January.

I took the small writing desk that was facing the wall, turned it around, and moved it a couple of feet from the wall. I hung a piece of green fabric on the wall using green thumbtacks.

Did you know that you can easily make a green screen from paper, cloth or paint? I made my first one with green tissue paper that I stuffed in holiday gift bags, and I used painter’s tape to attach it to the wall.

The green screen makes it possible to use almost any photograph as a background on Zoom.  Even though I’m in a small room with my back half a foot away from the wall, I can make it look like I’m anywhere in the world, and wherever I am is well-lit and uncluttered.

I put a couple of books on the desk to raise the level of my laptop or tablet so that I appear as if I’m sitting at a conference room table. Also, that way, my green screen fills the entire frame.

I brought up a work light from the basement and attached it to an old lightweight tripod. I put a paper towel over the light to serve as a softbox and diffuse the light. (Search Google for a clamp-on work light. They cost less than $12.) If you’re using a flammable diffuser, choose a light bulb that doesn’t give off much heat.

My new setup works well for meeting with anyone, even clients. I look like a pro. Putting it together kept me busy for half-hour or so and gave me a sense of accomplishment, which is always a plus. Using it gives me that feeling of putting a little distance between my professional and personal life.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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