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How to Become a Zoom Superstar

Tonhis pandemic Embed video into the workplace. Employees who had never been in front of a camera before were suddenly used to seeing themselves and their colleagues on screen every hour of the day. Executives realized they could send video messages to employees without having to hold a town hall meeting.

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There is no turning back. Blogs became vlogs. Meetings are now recorded as a matter of course so that people can’t see them later. Some companies routinely ask candidates to record answers to certain questions on video, so people can see how candidates communicate.

As video becomes more and more important at work, it pays to be good at it. Becoming a star in the video age means having the right setup, speaking well and listening well. Employees can improve themselves through their own efforts, but companies can also help.

To get an idea of ​​what the right setup looks like, just look at the range of images on your next video conference call. It could be a complete hodgepodge. Some will bask in the warm glow of ring lights; others will emerge from the shadows like Emperor Palpatine. Some will be equipped with high-definition cameras that show every pore and follicle; others will be smeared on a screen. Some are Hollywood types who obey the rule of thirds by positioning them slightly off-center; others seem to have learned their craft from The Blair Witch Project.

When living arrangements vary so widely among employees, the playing field among home offices is limited. Not everyone needs to look like an A-lister: People who give presentations or visit clients a lot are more demanding of fancier gear. Some people are very photogenic and some are not so photogenic. But this range of video quality can still be narrowed.

A study published last year by Katherine Karl of the University of Tennessee and her co-authors looked at the most common employee complaints about videoconferencing: camera angles, distance from the screen and poor lighting, all of which are frustrating. reason. Whether it’s providing decent home office equipment or simply providing feedback on how people are doing on-screen, employers can help everyone improve their video games.

Advice on how to look good in video is no different than advice in general. But video has some specific flaws. One is where to look. Staring at the camera is unnatural; some recommend pinning a picture of someone you respect next to the camera (whether you’ll actually take the opportunity to talk to Volodymyr Zelensky about your product roadmap is another question). But it’s harder to look at the camera if you’re also referring to notes on the screen. A speaker whose eyes fly from person to person fears an impending attack; a speaker who stares at a point to the left of the camera appears in “The Office.” Teleprompter software may be the right answer.

Another danger lies in the temptation to use technology just because it is there. The same rule of thumb that stops you from navigating through animation menus in PowerPoint also applies to pre-recorded videos. Don’t do jump cuts or special effects unless you really know what you’re doing. It’s not “lock, stock, and two smoking areas”.

Perhaps the least recognized skill in the video age is being good at listening. After all, one of the great things about virtual meetings is that you can get real work done in them — being able to turn off your camera when your time is wasted is probably the greatest gift this pandemic has given to productivity. On the other end of the scale, the big downside of video is that it can be distracting: in addition to checking yourself and keeping an eye on live chat, you can critique someone’s new wallpaper while watching their next tile neighbor put Spaghetti shoveled into their room mouths. It takes real effort to stay focused in this situation.

The wrong way for companies to solve the problem of inattention is to insist that the cameras stay on or use artificial intelligence to analyze the emotions of attendees in real time. As if life wasn’t unbearable enough, imagine having to nod and smile wildly all the time if the algorithm doesn’t think you’re engaged enough. The right way for companies to respond is to shorten meeting times and increase relevance. Whether you’re on camera or in a room, it’s always easier to listen when there’s something worth listening to.

Read more from Bartleby, our columnist on management and work:
The irresistible temptation of a family business (April 5)
There are risks in adopting a zero-tolerance approach to genius jerks in the workplace (March 30)
How to get flexible working rights (March 23)

Plus: How the Bartleby column got its name

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