Master the arts of creating and performing talks

How do you look on Zoom?

These images are from digital meetings I have “attended” in the last year:


  • Did you look past the speaker? What was your first impression when you noticed what was on camera with them?
  • Did any background impress you? Distract you? Seem silly?
  • Which people do you think put some thought into the background?
  • Would it matter what the situation was? Conference presenter? Attendee at the staff meeting?

Judging a book by its cover

Why do you pick up a book at a bookstore? Because the cover intrigued you. Booksellers know they have a fraction of a second to make you stop and take notice. “This looks good!” or “Eh, not interested” happens quickly. Similarly, viewers assess your “cover” instantly. Most people know how to make themselves look good, and few people show up at an interview looking less than their best. In the online world, however, it isn’t just your appearance that matters, it’s the appearance of what’s on camera with you.

Think of the motion picture industry. Before the actors ever show up, set designers create the perfect scene. For the scene at the command center of the spaceship, great care is taken to make the set look like a futuristic vessel. It would be absurd for the actors to walk onto a set that looks like a modern kitchen, right? The audience would not be impressed. Similarly, it is absurd for you to dress for success and be on a “set” that diminishes our impression of you.  

What does your audience expect? You should think about that. When I am Zooming with the family, being in the kitchen with the cats walking by is expected and desired. When I am presenting via WebEx to educators around the world, I’m in my office and the cats are locked out. No, viewers don’t see all of the office. I move the mess on the desk off camera. I make other adjustments, too. I set the camera at eye level, so I am not looking down or up but rather looking straight at the viewers. I pay attention to the lighting to make sure that all of my face can be seen well not just the half of my face lit up by light coming in from the window.

We don’t have access to the talented set designers in the film industry, but we can learn from their example. When the camera comes on, make sure your first impression is a good one.