In the book The Inner Game of Tennis, the key to being a great tennis player is to do less of whatever is holding you back.

Videoconferencing on Zoom is similar. It is tempting to try do more and more with the tool, whether that be to find the best virtual background, share great content, or ask audience polls. But at its core Zoom is just about having a conversation, one of the oldest human traditions. You have been talking with people your entire life.

We do not need to learn how to use Zoom so much as we need to remember that videoconferencing is human conversation, only packaged differently. Yes - to know the tool is critical - but the bigger opportunity is to recognize and stop doing whatever is not working. On Zoom, one way to do that is to compare our next planned videoconference with whatever we would do in real life.

We would not let strangers into a birthday party (probably), so on Zoom we can skip posting a birthday party link publicly on the Internet. In classroom students would normally be able to see teacher the whole time, so on Zoom the teacher should avoid turning off the camera. For a morning team meeting you would probably choose a bright and cheery room if you could, so you might see if you can put your desk close to a window.

Organize and treat your next Zoom meeting as if it were in-person, using Zoom's closest equivalent functions, and you are likely to improve it. Here are four actionable suggestions:

  1. Hide self-view
  2. Facilitate the best possible eye contact
  3. Make your lighting bright, direct, and multi-angled
  4. Secure your Zoom room appropriately

Hide self-view

Normally, the only time you see yourself is in a mirror and not for long. Now, you see yourself for hours every day, which turns first person experience ("I am doing...") into a combined first and third-person experience ("I am doing..." and "He/she looks like..."). Since that can lead to a lot of self-evaluation that we are not used to and is not healthy, so consider hiding self-view. In your next Zoom videocall on your computer, right-click on your image or video feed and click on "Hide Self View," if you are given that as an option.

Facilitate the best possible eye contact

Camera placement makes eye contact hard to do when you are on a screen. When you look at someone's eyes, the other person sees you looking somewhere else (and vice versa) because you are not looking at the camera. One way to mitigate this is to move your camera physically so it is closer to eye level, as if you were speaking to an adult. How to do this will depend on your camera setup:

  • Laptops (camera on top) - If you find yourself looking down a lot, set your machine on some books so it is more eye level, and use an external keyboard or mouse for control.
  • Laptops (camera near keyboard) - Prop your machine in tent mode and rotate  your camera 180 degrees in Zoom's video settings.
  • Standalone cameras - Do your best to move it so it is facing you straight on. I keep mine attached to the top of my monitor.

Another option is to move your Zoom window on your screen, so the other person's eyes are as close as possible to camera and see if this makes a difference. I like to minimize the entire Zoom application and drag the small window up to the top of my screen.

Make your lighting bright, direct, and multi-angled

Lighting is key, and the best videocall lighting is like a sunny or partly cloudy day: bright, direct, and multi-angled. For the best indoor equivalent, angle your desk area towards a window so that you can take advantage of great outdoor light during the daytime. (And also, maybe feel less cooped up!) In the evenings or windowless rooms, consider using a ring light - there is a reason why they are flying off the shelves right now - or place a few directional lights at least a few feet away from you and angle them towards your face.

Secure your Zoom room appropriately

In real life, you might lock your door at night but keep it open and unlocked for an open house. You might want to have a guest list for your kid's birthday party but be laxer if it were a neighborhood block party. Because Zoom is just a computer model of real life, use whatever security features match best the situation you are trying to recreate. Zoom has provided these tips for enabling security features one by one, and I imagine they are working on easier ways to implement groups of features. (Say, clicking on a "classroom" button to enable settings that work for most classrooms, like how today Zoom has separate settings for Meetings versus Webinars.) One of my favorite features is the waiting room:

Conclusion

Because Zoom is not exactly like real life, it does require practice. Without it, you might find yourself sharing video or audio inadvertently or even getting Zoom-bombed.

But Zoom is closer to real-world communication than many believe, and mimicking real life can improve a video conference noticeably. Hide self-view because it is unnatural; make your eye contact realistic; lean towards bright, direct, and multi-angled lighting; and remember to choose the right level of security for your event, for example if it is a webinar use the waiting room just like you would in an auditorium. Treat your Zoom meeting like its real-world equivalent.

Good luck with videoconferencing, and please comment below or reach out on Twitter with any thoughts, feedback, or suggestions.

P.S. One final thought - on calls where it is critical that the other person know they are receiving your full attention, consider keeping your hands visible as visual proof that you are not multitasking.

Header photo by visuals / Unsplash