It is Time to Up Your Zoom Game
By: Sandy Saburn, CTIE

I am willing to bet that you have spent more time on Zoom this year than in any other year of your business. The current world situation means that we all have spent more time connecting virtually than we ever would have believed to be possible. Thank goodness for this technology that allows us to have these connections and actually see one another. Can you imagine the last 8 months without it? We would really feel isolated.

Virtual meetings and events have opened up a lot of possibilities to you as a travel advisor and that won’t go away when we return to traveling. You can use Zoom (and similar platforms) to connect with clients in ways that weren’t practical this time last year. Because of COVID consumers are a lot more comfortable with joining a virtual event. If you tried to host a virtual cruise night last year you wouldn’t have gotten nearly as many attendees as you would this year. There are so many ways you can use this to reach your ideal client and connect with them in ways that will help build your business! But before you get carried away with scheduling virtual events, make sure your Zoom game is where it should be. If you were meeting a prospective client or even a long-time client in person, you wouldn’t show up in yoga pants and a t-shirt. First appearances matter in virtual meetings too! Think of your appearance in a video meeting as an extension of your brand. Does it measure up?

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to make your “Zoom room” professional without spending much – if any – money. You might be able to do everything you need to do with what’s already around your house.

 

Let’s focus on the 3 critical aspects you need to get right for virtual meetings:

  1. Background/Setting

  2. Video

  3. Audio

 

Background/Setting

The background or setting for your “Zoom room” gets a lot of attention and you need to give it some thought. First, you don’t need a “room”. If you have a space that is 4’ wide you are good to go. I know someone with a very nice set up that is behind their door in their bedroom! You just need to pick one spot so you can set everything up and leave it.

I am sure some of you are thinking, I don’t need a space for virtual events because I use a virtual background, so it doesn’t matter where I am. Time for some honest talk about virtual backgrounds. Don’t do it. They were an interesting novelty to begin with, but unless you have real physical green screen behind you, they don’t work well. Parts of your body will probably disappear, and it becomes a distraction that cannot be overcome by the beauty of the background. A real background beats a fake virtual background every single time.

Now, on to finding your location! Ideally, this spot will be somewhere outside of the traffic pattern of your home. If you have kids or pets, you need to be somewhere where interruptions are minimized. We have all seen videos of cute kids wandering into the room where their parent is being interviewed on live TV, but do you really want that happening on a regular basis?

When picking a location, be sure to consider the light in that area. While windows are pretty to look out, they aren’t good to have behind you. Your video camera will try to compensate for the light coming in the window and it will be nearly impossible to see you. If you have a room with a lot of natural light, that is always best.

Think about what is going to be behind you because that is going to be what frames you in the shot. All you need in the background is something interesting, but not distracting. Just one picture is fine (if it is large enough). You can also do multiple pictures in a gallery wall. Shelves with just a few objects is attractive. Just painting the wall a color other than white is helpful too. Don’t make yourself crazy over this, but just having a blank white wall isn’t ideal.

Your space doesn’t have to be a small nook. You can absolutely use a bigger room like a living room or even a kitchen as a background for your video calls, but it has to be an uncluttered space that doesn’t have traffic. If you are an empty nester like me, that works great. If you have kids, it probably doesn’t work as well.

 

Video

Now that you have picked out the space you will use for virtual events, it is time to get your video set up. For video calls on platforms like Zoom, you can certainly use your laptop camera. That’s what most people use. If you are recording video where the quality needs to be high, you will need a secondary camera. You can use a digital camera that records video or buy an HD webcam (which you can get for $50 or less).

Most people will just use the video camera built into their laptop. The trick is to get the angles and height right. Turn your camera on and see what you look like with the way the laptop is sitting now. Your face should be framed in the middle of the image or slightly above middle. To get this right most people will need to elevate their laptop so the camera to looking straight at you. That’s where books are your best friend. Stack up as many as you need to get the height right. Or here’s another option I learned from one of our GTN agents: use an ironing board to put the laptop on. It is height adjustable and gets the laptop far enough away from you to give your shot some depth. Just play around with it until it seems right.

It is OK if the camera is set a little higher so it is looking down on you because it helps your appearance. Play around with moving the camera up and down and closer to you and farther out. The mistake most people make is to leave the laptop sitting on the desk so you are looking down on the camera. That is not a flattering angle for anyone!

You are trying to get to a place where you are looking directly into the camera and the center of your face is just above center in the shot.

Once you have the camera positioned it is time to start looking at the lighting. If you are lucky enough to be in a room with a lot of natural light, you may not need a lot of extra light. If you do need to supplement, you want to select lighting that is soft, not harsh. You don’t want anything that throws shadows onto your face.

Many people choose ring lights to supplement their lighting. I am not a fan because you can see the ring reflected in glasses and even in people’s eyes. If you can find a small regular light with a paper shade they make great light sources because the paper diffuses the light. I have several lights I purchased at IKEA that were less than $10 that are perfect for this purpose. You can often find these in Target in the section with kid’s bedroom decor. They are small (less than 12”) and can go right beside your laptop to provide a bit of light to your face. Another place you might want a light is behind you on the floor because that helps increase the depth in the shot.

Spend some time playing around with lighting and find what looks best. You don’t have to go buy expensive video lighting to make this work. You will be surprised what you can do with a table lamp without a shade placed on the floor or a small light sitting just beside your computer.

 

Audio

Even if you have the most amazing Zoom set-up in the world, it won’t matter if people have trouble hearing you. Audio is critically important with video calls. Most of the people you have calls with won’t tell you that your audio is hard to hear unless it reaches the point that they can’t hear you or understand what you’re saying. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to improve it.

Let me make one point really clear: you need some sort of headset or external mic. Do not rely on what is built into your computer. And don’t buy a webcam with a built-in mic! The audio quality will be diminished. Those mics tend to pick up more ambient noises and they are notorious for dropping in and out.

The easiest solution is to use a corded headset with a mic built-in. This is what I do for most of my videos and it works great. What I use are Apple earbuds that came with my phone and they are several years old, but they work really well. What doesn’t work well is Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth connected to computers is notorious for dropping in and out and some of what you say will be lost (typically the important part!). When dealing with virtual, corded is always better than cordless.

Just using earbuds with a microphone will help tremendously. You can pick up one of these little headsets for less than $10. Just make sure it has a mic – look for the little rectangular “box” on one of the cords.

You can buy an external microphone like a Blue Yeti (cost is about $100) that plugs into a USB port, but it isn’t necessary unless you are doing podcasts or recording video that needs to be HD. Or you just hate the look of the cords.

If you are going to spend money on a nice microphone think about what you want. Some people really like headsets rather than a stand-alone mic. Some people like the over-the-ear headphones with a boom mic because it helps block noises that are going on around them. This is great if you are prone to distractions. Those mics are also great at blocking ambient noises. Just make sure what you pick is corded, not cordless.

Once you have your location chosen, your camera set, your lighting right, and picked out your headphones and mic, it’s time to do a video call with someone who will tell you the truth about how you look and sound. You might try a couple of different people since everyone has a different opinion. Remember, your goal is to have everything in line with your brand. If you are trying to reach a luxury audience, you want your video call set-up to be appropriate for that market! It just takes a little time and very little money (if any) to improve what you have. You will look and sound amazing and will be glad you put in the time and effort!