Lights, camera, action! If you’re going to present frequently in a virtual world, you need to look and sound your best to be an engaging speaker. That may require an equipment upgrade to get the right look and sound.
When the COVID-19 virus hit and the lockdowns began, like most everyone, I had to pivot quickly. I had been a public speaking coach on the move. With my rolling computer bag and MacBook Pro laptop, I went from client to client, from Starbucks to Starbucks. When my home office suddenly became my sole place of business, I tried several “do it yourself” solutions to look and sound professional. I experimented with lighting, green screens, and the built-in equipment, but I just couldn’t get the quality I needed to be an effective presenter.
Eventually, I decided to make the investment to upgrade my equipment. I wanted high-quality but budget-friendly equipment. And once I made the switch, it became one of those decisions where I thought, “Why didn’t I do this before?”
The following are the equipment choices I made for a total of $347. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no one is compensating me in any way for these endorsements.
> Lighting: After consulting with my professional photographer friend, Patrick Rapps, I chose the Neewer Ring Light. It has a dimmer control that adjusts from 1% to 100% and it puts off very little heat. It does not come with a stand, but as a speaker and musician, I had an extra mic stand. It is now mounted so that it is shining head-on at me. My Neewer also has come in handy for casual family photos elsewhere in the house. Cost: $66.
> Camera: The built-in FaceTime HD camera on my iMac just wasn’t cutting it. I chose the highly recommended C922x Pro Stream Webcam, a full 1080p HR camera. It clips on top of my iMac and also can be mounted in a wide variety of places. It has built-in light correction and a 5-foot cable, so it’s versatile. It also has built-in microphones that are better than the iMac built-in microphones, but not as good as my next choice. Cost: $151.
> Microphone: The webcam mic was better than the iMac built-in, but not nearly as good as my Blue Yeti. You can hear the difference between the built-in mic and the Blue Yeti. The Blue Yeti has settings for cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo. That makes it good for Zoom meetings, podcasts, and even recording my guitar for those random “public speaking blues” songs I post on my Instagram occasionally. The Blue Yeti also has a volume control, a mute button, and zero-latency headphone output. Cost: $130.
So, those are the equipment choices I made. I encourage you to shop around and discover what works best for you. And when you find the right fit, you’ll be well on your way to being a virtual business presenter that can turn heads, win hearts, and get results.
The great Zoom meeting debate is on – green screen vs. real background. What say you? Which do you prefer? If you’re not sure, here are some things to consider that will lead you to the answer that’s best suited for your presentation.
Green Screen Do’s and Don’ts
My $7 “green screen”
Green screens can provide a layer of privacy if you don’t have an attractive home office and they can be professional looking when done correctly. But if you want to look professional, ditch the unrealistic and distracting views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the fun but silly palm trees blowing in the wind. Instead, go with a simple background, such as a solid color with your company logo or an uncluttered photo.
I know some folks who painted an entire wall green or purchased green screen backdrops. These solutions work well and are a good choices if you’re using them enough to warrant the time and expense. However, there are less expensive options. I set up a simple green screen in my home office using an appropriately colored green blanket I bought at Walmart for $7. Then I created a solid-colored Zoom background with my company logo for meetings I was hosting and a solid colored non-logo background for meetings where I was a participant.
Although I was able to get my green screen to look good, I prefer my actual bookshelf background for most business situations.
Actual Background Do’s and Don’ts
Note empty space for head
A natural background allows you to show your audience a bit of your personality. And, of course, it’s also more authentic and less pretentious.
If you go with a real background, make sure it is framed correctly on your webcam, free from clutter, and lit properly. A well-placed book and a houseplant can add a nice touch to the ambiance of your presentation. However, make sure the area behind your head is empty so you don’t have knickknacks or plants appearing to grow out of your head.
In addition to my bookshelf, I also had a large foam board logo printed at OfficeMax and hung it on a blank wall for presentations that I deliver from a standing position. This is what I use to record my online courses and marketing videos.
The Bottom Line on Zoom Backgrounds
As Zoom meetings continue to be the way we do business meetings, conferences and even networking events, we’ll continue to weigh the pros and cons of virtual backgrounds and the actual backgrounds. Whichever option you choose, make sure your background isn’t distracting. As always, you are the star of your presentation, not your background or technology.
The bottom line is this: Choose the background option that will best connect with your audience. A virtual conference audience with hundreds of participants may respond best to a presenter that stands out with a professional-looking green screen background. However, a 1-on-1 coaching client or a small group may engage more with a presenter that has a more personal background.
As with all effective communication strategies, let the audience guide you to success.
It’s the end of the office as we know it. Yep, with so many of us working safe and sound from home these days, virtual business meetings are the way collaboration is getting done. But it’s not as simple as flipping a switch and carrying on like a typical in-person meeting. If you want to have a successful virtual meeting, you need to compensate for the inability to fully perceive visual cues and you need to adapt to technology challenges.
So, get out of those pajamas, sit up straight in that kitchen chair, and listen up. Here are five steps to help ensure your work-from-home virtual meetings are productive.
1) Be Ready. Wear a headset. Test the sound quality before you start. Eliminate distracting noises. If you’re leading the meeting, encourage participants to go on mute when not speaking.
2) Understand the Technology. Moderators and participants need to understand how to use the available technology and all of its appropriate features. Everyone should know how to mute their phone and ask questions via chat box. Moderators should know how to conduct polls and record the meeting for playback later. Participants should make eye contact by looking into their webcam and not at the faces of other participants. Remember that fast hand gestures will likely blur, so slow down. Consider using a virtual background for added home privacy (and a little fun).
3) Have a Moderator. Having a designated moderator to facilitate the session is key to the success of the meeting. The moderator should follow an agenda to keep everyone on track. When asking for comments, the moderator should avoid open-ended questions and instead call on individual people one-by-one to respond. This will keep participants from talking over each other. Participants should identify themselves and, if appropriate, state their location each time they begin to speak. If the meeting is held on a regular basis, consider rotating the moderator responsibilities to broaden ownership and engagement.
4) Be Interactive and Engaging. Use real-time polls, chat box features, and Q&As to gather useful information and keep participants engaged. Send agendas and handouts before the meeting so participants can be prepared and follow along during the meeting. If appropriate, use fill-in-the-blanks worksheets. If you’re not using video, include photos of participants on the agenda so attendees can put a face with the various voices. If you’re using PowerPoint, make sure you are using large photos and well-designed graphics. However, don’t overuse animation because it often has a lagging effect and doesn’t display well in a virtual environment.
5) Understand Virtual Etiquette. Talk in a positive tone. Be careful with humor, especially sarcasm and dry humor that doesn’t translate well in a virtual environment. Avoid interjections to show you’re listening, such as “I see,” because they don’t work well virtually. Instead, listen fully and only comment when the speaker has finished. If you typically speak fast, speak slower than you would before an in-person audience. Speak clearly and use simple words. Oh, and even if you’re not on camera, dress appropriately and sit up straight. It will put you in the right frame of mind.
When handled well, virtual meetings can be a successful way to collaborate and get work done. And, because they save travel time and money, they are likely going to continue for many of us long after COVID-19 has subsided. Yes, it’s the end of the office as we know it — and I feel fine.
WHEN you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you present with greater confidence and poise. What’s more, your attire is an important part of your visual communication. Just like your body language, the clothes you choose to wear send important messages to your audience. So, knowing how important your business wardrobe can be to your speaking and career success, our own Paul Barton asked fashion expert Mary Zarob for some advice.
Q. A business professional has a big presentation coming up that could make or break their career. They want to look their best and they come into your shop. Where would you start?
MZ: I would start by asking about their business, the event and who they are presenting to. Lawyers? Real estate professionals? Sales teams? CEOs? In today’s business world, you need to dress for your customers and clientele. Also, I would learn about their personal style and how they like clothes to fit. It’s important to me that my clients feel comfortable in their clothes and like what they wear. I wouldn’t put them in a three-piece suit when they are presenting to technology executives and should wear a jacket and jeans. You want to look professional and tailored, however, it’s important that the audience is focusing on what you are saying and not the color of your shirt or shoes.
Q. Would your fashion guidance change if the person was in their 20s versus someone like me in their 50s? Does the age of the speaker in any way influence appropriate attire?
MZ: It does! It’s important to dress for your age. However, a lot of my younger clients want to dress older and my older clients want to dress younger. An easy and inexpensive way to change an outfit for your age or to appeal to another generation is what accessories you choose. Shoes, belt, watch, handbag, jewelry, etc. can transform an outfit quickly. Pearl earrings vs. trendy hoops or loafer vs. Chelsea boot. Simple accessory changes and details can make your outfit age appropriate.
Q. What trends are you seeing in business attire for men and women? Anything in particular for Phoenix?
MZ: Overall, Phoenix isn’t a very formal town but I am seeing a lot of men and women turning away from casual (T-shirt and jeans) and dressing up more. For women, I’m seeing more and more jackets or blazers in the office. However, it’s not a full suit like the 1980s but more a stylish color or pattern. They also wear them out to dinner or happy hour. There is a feminine trend happening with more lace, florals, and ruffles on shirts and skirts. It’s still professional but with a feminine touch. Women in the office want to be taken seriously but still feminine (not sexy).
For men – (like women) – they are dressing up more. The untucked shirt is only for short sleeve shirts and not for the office or happy hour. Men are tucking in the shirts and showing off their belts and accessories. They don’t go anywhere without a jacket and aren’t afraid of color and pattern. Patterned slacks are very popular. If they own a patterned suit, they will wear the pants by themselves with a collared shirt to the office or on an appointment. Another trend I’m seeing for men is monochromatic dressing – wearing the same shade of color head to toe.
Q. What should business professionals consider when beginning or updating their wardrobes?
MZ: I always suggest going through your closet first and tailoring/altering anything that doesn’t fit how you like. If pants are too long, hem them. If a skirt is too big, take it in. If a shirt is too baggy, have it slimmed down. Often times, in people’s closets there are great clothes that aren’t being worn because they don’t fit right. Or, the style was fuller or baggy and now it’s more tailored. Simple alterations can help bring life to your clothes and it’s less expensive than throwing everything away.
Next, I suggest making sure you have the basics: a suit, a couple of slacks, shirts, skirts, dresses, and shoes in the basic colors that can go with everything. Then slowly add colors or patterns in key pieces like slacks, shirts, skirts, and shoes. Keep in mind when you shop, you don’t have to buy everything at once. The stores will always be there and offering great styles and colors. Also, watch what people wear at the office or in meetings and take note of what you like and don’t like. Ask them where they got what they are wearing or where they shop – especially if they have the same build or frame as you. It can help take headaches out of shopping because you know that store or brand will fit you. Don’t forget accessories like jewelry, pocket squares, belts, shoes and glasses can elevate an outfit. If you tend to wear the same shirts and slacks to the office, have fun with different heel weight or loafer or even belts. Simple details can change an outfit (for the better).
Q. I once worked with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who often wore a black belt with brown shoes. It drove me nuts! What are some common fashion mistakes you see business professionals make?
MZ: The most common mistake I see with business professionals is their clothes don’t fit properly. Clothes are either too tight or too loose and it makes them look unprofessional or sloppy. Many people get hung up on only wearing a certain size but each brand fits so differently that you may wear a different size from store to store.
Q. Summer is coming. How do you look professional but stay cool at the same time?
MZ: Natural fibers are the key. Cottons, linens, and even very lightweight wools breath and allow air to pass through (especially for suits, slacks, and shirts). A lot of performance fabrics or brands have finishes that whisk moisture away and I recommend them as well. If you sweat a ton, no matter what you wear, keep an extra shirt or two at the office so you can change. Sometimes you can’t help but sweat when its 115 degrees outside.
Q. Business presenters usually move around and may sweat a little. Often, they have lavaliere microphone wires strung inside their jackets. They may need a pocket for a presentation clicker. Given all of these possibilities, what do you suggest for their attire?
MZ: I strongly suggest you wear a jacket or suit that you can move around in and that isn’t too tight. A higher armhole on a jacket allows for more movement vs. a larger armhole. Wear something that is lighter weight vs. a heavy fabric – it will move easier. Also, when shopping, practice walking around or moving your arms to ensure the clothing you are buying is comfortable and not restricting.
Q. Presenters are often on-stage and this poses a unique challenge for women. What are your thoughts on appropriate dress length?
MZ: I strongly suggest wearing dresses or skirts to the knee or longer. Also, wear stockings or tights if appropriate. If you are unsure, wear slacks. You want the audience to focus on your face and what you are saying vs. a wardrobe malfunction.
Q. Speakers may need to travel. When you arrive at your destination, you might find that your perfect speaking outfit is a wrinkled mess. Any thoughts on fabrics that pack well?
MZ: Clothes will wrinkle and some more than others. Many brands advertise wrinkle free or resistant shirts, tops, and slacks. I would start there. Another option is better quality wool suits or jackets. To look good and presentable, it’s going to cost some money and investing in yourself is worth it. It doesn’t mean you have to fork over thousands of dollars, but certain pieces go a long way. I would avoid linen or lightweight cottons. They tend to wrinkle more.
Polyester or synthetic blends are great options to avoid wrinkles. One last resort would be to invest in a good travel steamer and steam your clothes when you get to your destination. It may take 15-20 minutes, but you will feel like a million bucks knowing you look ironed and polished.
Q. When a speaker knows they will be video recorded, do you have any suggestion regarding colors or patterns to stay away from?
MZ: I would avoid white shirts – they can be stark and glow on camera. I would also avoid small patterns or designs, they tend to vibrate and move on-screen, which can be very distracting. Also, keep accessories and make-up subtle. You want the viewer to focus on your face and what you are saying instead of your loud tie, pocket square, lip color or eye shadow. You want people to remember what you said and not to be known for your neon necklace.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Mary Zarob is the owner of Q. Contrary in Phoenix (3188 E. Indian School Road), which offers bespoke tailoring, image consulting, personal shopping, and alterations to help men and women look and feel their very best. Before opening her own business, Mary was a designer for Macy’s and Calvin Klein Jeans. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
Eliminating weak language in your business presentations and speeches will help you to be a more effective leader and a better public speaker. Unnecessary equivocating phrases such as “kind of,” “sort of” or “just wanted” will chip away at your credibility and sabotage your own effectiveness. Instead, use powerful, straightforward language and seek to be inclusive with your audience.
To be more inclusive, think “influence and include’ rather than “command and control” or “more we and less me.”
Compare these phrases:
“This is sort of my plan to get the ball rolling.” vs. “This is our plan to get the ball rolling.”
“I just wanted to say thank you for all of your hard work and dedication.” vs. “Thank you for your hard work and dedication.”
“In my opinion, we should take a different course of action.” vs. “Let’s take a different course of action.”
If you want to be perceived as a leader, speak with confidence, conviction, and inclusiveness in areas where you are certain, committed and need the support of your audience. When you speak like a leader, you’ll have a more powerful presentation and inspire more listeners to take action.
I enjoyed speaking to West Valley teachers at the “Teachers Lounge” yesterday. I shared tips with elementary and high school teachers on making a great first impression in a business setting. I showed them a simple but powerful formula to introduce themselves, how to stand up and stand out, and how to shake hands and make a positive impression.
They were fast learners as evidenced by the great introductions they gave when we went around the room and each put what they learned into practice.
The monthly Teachers Lounge event is organized by Avondale City Councilman Lorenzo Sierra to allow teachers to network with one another and learn new skills from guest speakers.
Interested in having me speak to your group about public speaking or business presentation tips? Contact me today by clicking below.
You will always have more energy and be able to engage your audience better if you stand when you speak.
If there’s a clear choice, and you are able, stand.
But sometimes, you have to make a judgment call. Often in business, our presentations are in conference rooms, boardrooms, or other meeting space and it’s not always obvious if you should stay seated or stand when making a business presentation.
Sitting is a safe choice but you risk having less energy and less engagement. Standing also may help others to see you better and hear you more clearly. Unless you think standing would cause others to think of you as awkward or arrogant, choose to stand.
If others are presenting before you and they choose to stay seated, don’t be afraid to break the mold.
Standing up just may help you to stand out. And in a competitive business environment, standing out can make the difference between winning the day or going home.