Given the dire news all around us, we understand the need for levity for your backdrop on a videoconference while you’re working (very likely not by choice) at home. We’ve scanned a wide swath of articles about how to conjure up fun, quirky, and downright kooky backgrounds on conferencing apps.
But let’s cut through the clutter: If you’re meeting with clients, presenting to the CEO, or on a job interview, you probably shouldn’t have Joe Exotic looming over your shoulder. You want to present yourself in the best possible light—in more ways than one.
Many telecommuters now need help to craft a signature videoconferencing background look. For assistance, we reached out to HGTV star Tarek El Moussa for a few fundamentals on how to shine on screen.
The “Flip or Flop” guru knows a thing or two about lighting, decor, and presentation. Here are his top five tips for making the camera your friend!
1. Set the stage
Consider how you want to be seen, and tailor your background to your expertise. This creates a visual reminder to other folks on a call about who you are and what you do well.
“You want to have an interesting frame that matches whatever the context of your message is,” says El Moussa. “For me, I like to have something that showcases the interior of my house with bright colors. It’s interesting, visually pleasing, and matches my topic: real estate!”
2. Depth of field
We’ve all seen folks on calls who look like they’re trapped in a remake of “The Blair Witch Project.” To avoid the undesirable “coming to you live from a bunker” look, make sure to give yourself space and have something behind you beyond a blank wall.
“When I do a videoconference, I like to make sure it doesn’t look like my back is up to the wall and the camera is an inch away from my face,” says El Moussa. “It feels cluttered and looks bad. Try to have a background that has some depth and room behind you.”
3. Quality counts
Although we’ve all been thrown into this new video communication reality, El Moussa says your background needn’t be slapdash. Spend time to come up with a high-quality look, and you’ll be amazed by the responses from other folks on the line.
“When you do a video call with a plain white wall or a boring background, viewers subconsciously associate it with something of low quality because it’s just so boring,” he says. You don’t want your ideas and points of view to be painted with the broad brush of boredom.
And if you can’t make any of your walls work, try referring to his advice about opening up the field of vision.
“If you don’t have a great setting,” the HGTV star explains, “I would suggest having an open background so people on the call can’t exactly tell where you are.”
4. Dampen noise levels
Your co-workers and casual business associates can laugh off the occasional appearance from a diapered toddler or barking dog during a video chat. In fact we live for a moment to break up the monotony. But for more formal interactions, take the time to lock down any extra noise makers, which can knock an agenda off track.
Testing the acoustics in your designated video chat area and taking the time to make sure your audio is on point makes a difference.
Aside from appearances, El Moussa says, acoustics are the paramount issue. “The most distracting thing of all is background noise,” he says.
Don’t let your message get muffled or drowned out by the din.
“Make sure you choose a place that is quiet, allows for good audio, and helps you stay focused. If you have kids yelling, dogs barking, or a loud washing machine, for example, it’s very hard for viewers to focus on your message regardless of how good it looks,” he says.
5. We’re all doing our best!
Inevitably, there will be some mistakes along the way. Which is A-OK! Just chalk it up and move on, El Moussa suggests.
“I find one of the best things to do when you don’t have a great background or setting is to bring it up playfully. Simply call it out for what it is, and then joke about it,” says El Moussa.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t always cultivate the perfect backdrop.
“People understand it can be hard sometimes to get a perfect videoconference environment. If you just address it and laugh it off to start with, people will move on and listen to what’s important,” he continues.