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Smile For the Camera

Posted by Ilise Benun on

In the last year, I’ve started appearing on video a lot more often…though not in the way you might think. I’m getting a growing number of requests from creative partners to replace phone conversations with videoconferences. I have several clients who regularly communicate this way, and have also used it to keep in touch with friends in Germany and Belgium.

Videoconference technology isn’t new, though until recently it’s mostly been seen in corporate boardrooms. In the last few years it’s become more common among creatives as video support has been added or improved in applications such as AIM, iChat, and Skype; and with the spread of inexpensive or built-in video cameras for computers. It’s free, doesn’t use minutes of my cell phone plan, and allows me to have a face-to-face confab with some of the folks I regularly interact with.

Yet at the same time, I’ve also noticed that it’s causing insidious changes in the way I work.

For example, even though I spend most of my on-the-job time in a home office, I’m finding that I’m less likely to skip shaving in the morning. I’ve become more careful about how I dress, how I arrange my office, and how often I clean my desk (or at least push clutter off-camera). Just this week I rearranged my desk so that my computer camera now faces a bookcase instead of a sunny window that I had to close whenever someone came calling on video.

I’ll be frank: as a recovering introvert, there are times when I resent people looking into my world this way. Didn’t I become a freelance creative so that I could have more control over my work environment? Yet I’m also finding that I enjoy the face time. I feel like I have a stronger working relationship with the folks who visit my computer screen. And while I’m not one of those people who goes bonkers from working alone all day, I’ve learned that the occasional video call can be very refreshing.

Though I’ve only been doing video for a few months, I’ve already realized that it requires a different approach than talking on the phone. Here’s a few tips:

• The other person can see you. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I’ve found that many people subconsciously treat video calls like regular phone calls. They’ll multitask, doodle, pick their noses (yes, I’ve seen someone do this), and do other things they would never think of doing if you were actually there. Be sure to interact with the other person as if they were sitting in the same room with you.

• Look at the camera regularly. Would you sit sideways and talk to a wall if a client was in your office? That’s what many people unconsciously do on video. This is often because their camera is next to the computer or on a nearby shelf. While they’re looking at you on the screen, they may not realize that from your perspective they’re staring off into space. You have a bit of an advantage if your computer has a built-in camera, since you can look at the person you’re talking to and be looking in the general direction of the camera at the same time. Even if I’m on a machine with a built-in camera, I make an effort to look directly at the lens every few seconds. This felt a bit strange at first, but I made myself develop the habit because it’s the only way I can give my caller the kind of eye contact they’d expect if we were face-to-face.

• Smile. Any professional telephone salesperson will tell you how important it is to smile when you talk on the phone. Guess what? Now that your callers can see you, it’s even more important.

• Talk into your microphone. Many computers and cameras have limited microphones that only pick up sound from one direction. Just as it’s important to look at the camera, you’ll probably get better audio quality if you directly face the microphone. You should also avoid covering your mouth with your hand or anything else when you speak. 

• Be aware of what your clothing and your office say about you. What your callers see should reflect the image you want to project. One of my clients recently did a video call in a track suit because he had just returned from a morning hike. That’s fine with me, because we have a long-established working relationship, and it lets me know that I don’t have to stress about what I’m wearing if he pings me for an unscheduled video call. On the other hand, if I know a hot prospect will be calling on my screen, you can bet I’ll dress the same way I would for a face-to-face meeting. Think about what’s behind you too. Do you do posters for jazz bands? Hang a few of them on the wall the camera sees. You don’t have to make your workspace look like a newsroom, but try for something more interesting than a white wall.

• You don’t have to go on camera all the time. Last week I was recovering from a bout of bronchitis when I got pinged for a video call. I sent a quick instant message to the caller, telling him that I was getting better but had a face made for radio, and asked if we could stick to audio. We had a good laugh about it and just did an audio chat that morning. If you’re working in your pajamas, get a call when you’re not fully dressed, or are just having a bad hair day, don’t be afraid to tell your caller that you can’t do video right now…it’s your decision.

Is video calling becoming a bigger part of your business? Let us know how and if it’s affecting the way you work.

Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy for green businesses and the creative agencies that serve them. Learn more about him at You can chat with him by video once he knows you a little better.

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