Using Video: Why Your Chair Matters!
Last month I gave some tips on how to improve your video presentation, but ran out of space, so I am returning to the topic. This month it seems as though there may at last be some light at the end of the tunnel, a ‘crocus of hope’ if you will, which could mean a return to some face to face time before too long – imagine the novelty of getting to hang out around a water cooler again?! Nevertheless, it’s be a safe bet to presume that video will still be playing a considerable role in our professional lives, so don’t hang up those Zoom backgrounds just yet.
Revisiting the Green Screen
Which neatly brings me to the first topic of this article! Many of you have been rifling through the virtual background box over the past year, no doubt to avoid projecting the reality of a cramped working environment, typified by Matt Hancock’s rather unglamorous broom cupboard office. Last month I asked whether to green screen or not which elicited some replies along the lines of ‘too late. Have one and having issues!’
So I will start by revisiting the topic of missing limbs and fuzzy outlines, particularly around the head which can sometimes take on an ominous dark shadow (or even less flattering lockdown bowl haircut look). Avoiding the need to wrap your room in green screen and replace all the lighting, a rather simple trick is to add some white to the green screen background. As unglamorous as it may sound, sheets of A3 paper strategically taped to the green screen around the problem points will achieve the desired effect of eliminating this annoying shadowing. You’re welcome!
The Rule of Thirds
Thinking like a cinematographer (without going the whole hog of thinking you are one) can also help project your image to your audience. The rule of thirds is an age old device used by photographers and videographers to give the right framing to an image for visual impact. Imagine your screen divided into nine rectangle boxes (most laptop cameras now include a grid view).
Your optimum position within this grid, when looking head on into a webcam, is to have your face in the middle box, with your eyes along the upper horizontal line. It is of course essential that you are conversing into the screen by holding the gaze of the person/people at the other end, and thus it’s worth asking the question (in the interests of revision in terms of cultivated good – and bad – habits!) is your computer positioned correctly at eye level? A laptop/monitor stand is the customised solution for this issue, however a pile of books can achieve the same effect if a hasty solution is sought.
Now you are at eye level it’s very important to keep that eye contact, the manner engaged and friendly and if you find yourself zoning out, please do give yourself a mental slap because to your screen partner/s you just look like you’re staring…
What’s Going on With the Chair?
With the face sorted you will also need to pay attention to what is happening in other sections of the rule of thirds grid. Disappearing limbs is an issue on a green screen background, and unwelcome limbs can often be an unsightly apparition in a real world background!
A great videographer’s tip is to pay attention to what is going on with your chair. It is an essential piece of office kit, but can often take on the role of a surrogate comfort blanket because we spend so much time in it. Your body will naturally seek out this comfort and you must make the conscious effort to avoid this happening. If you have an armrest for example, your arms will desperately try to find their way to rest, giving you a Captain Kirk come Bond villain appearance. This manoeuvre will inevitably also lead you to lean back and take a weight off.
Therefore you need to consciously inject some energy into your video appearance. Sitting straight, away from the back of the chair, achieves this for the sitter, but for real energy, you can’t beat a stand up desk (again, so long as your screen partner can’t see, feel free to improvise). Standing certainly helps to counteract the post lunch dip in energy levels too.
And a final note from the videographer. If your office chair moves up and down or swivels then please do give it a bit of attention to maintenance now and again. Many unwelcome background noises cannot be avoided, but one thing that can is a squeaky chair. For this reason, investing in a can of WD40 for the home office is my bonus recommendation for the day…