You’ve been told you need to be “camera-ready” for a meeting. But you’re working from home or someplace you don’t want people to see. What do you do? Many of the most common web meeting platforms allow you to use backgrounds that will hide your real surroundings. Should you use them? What works best?
Glad you asked.
There are several reasons you might want to use a background:
- You are streaming from a place you think looks unprofessional. Could be a bedroom, the north end of the dining room table, or a hotel room.
- There are distractions in the background of your streaming screenshot. There could be people walking past your work space, or the dog won’t leave you alone.
- You want to create a tone (professional, informal, friendly) that your normal circumstances don’t reflect.
Some people prefer formal, extremely professional backgrounds that reveal nothing personal. Yet many people say they enjoy seeing people in their natural habitat. That’s a choice you need to make for yourself.
If you decide you need a background visual, here are some tips:
Choose a clean, non-distracting visual
When Zoom first came out, you could get all kinds of backgrounds. There were looping GIFs of tropical beaches and pictures that appeared you were floating through the Milky Way. We quickly realized that they distracted the people on the other end. Besides, nobody believed you were broadcasting from Tranquility Base.
Set the tone you want to achieve
Not all meetings are created equal. If you’re trying to create a collegial, informal tone, it’s not a bad thing to let people into your world. Personal glimpses help build relationships. Many of us enjoy seeing the books on your shelves and the art on your walls. We want to meet your dog and see what your backyard looks like. Other times, you may not want a customer to know that you’re operating out of your basement. Be conscious of the impression you want to make.
Use high-resolution visuals
Most of the web meeting platforms have several backdrops you can choose from, which all look alike and limit individuality. Some allow you to upload your own. If you’re uploading a photograph, make sure it’s a high-resolution picture. The color and picture quality of low-resolution photos will be less than great. You’ll end up with halos of light around your body and head. And if you tend to “talk with your hands,” your hands will seemingly disappear mid-gesture.
Also, make sure you test any photographs you upload as they often appear in a different size on-screen. Don’t set yourself up for unpleasant surprises.
Contrast is important
Dark clothing, light background and vice versa. If you are using a green screen or other background, avoid wearing clothing that matches. Otherwise, you may look like a floating head.
Consider just blurring your background
Sometimes, you are in a position where it’s hard to find the right visual, or you’re just in a hurry. Consider blurring the background. You don’t have to fake your environment to reduce your viewer’s distractions.
Lighting still matters
Nothing is as important on a webcam as clearly seeing your face. The lighting should be from in front or slightly beside you so your face is not in shadow. It should also come from high enough that you don’t see ring lights in your glasses or pupils.
What your use for a background reflects on you and your organization
Some companies have decided it’s best to have a unified and defined approach to how employees appear virtually. One best practice I’ve seen is taking professional photos of several locations in the office (a conference room, a corner office). These photos legitimately show the working environment and create a common look and feel to external customers. The rules about color and quality all still apply.
As with so much in the world of communication, outcomes are first. Once you decide on what you want your message to achieve, you can think of the best way to communicate it. When choosing a background, always start with the end in mind.