Video conferencing on Zoom or Skype has become a necessity for many businesses through COVID-19. Some do it well. Many of us are still learning. On the line from his beautiful home office, Peter Wilkinson, and Fred El-Harris, an award-winning filmmaker, between them over 50 years of experience behind and in front of the camera. Peter, how are you using your experience in television to make video conferencing more professional?
I would say there are four things that are really important, and the first is how you present yourself, which is why it’s really great to have Fred on the line. The second is the structure of the meeting and how you actually structure the conversation. The third is your personal skills in the meeting, and the fourth is what you do after the meeting.
Fred, any tips for people how they set up their shot, what the shot looks like in terms of framing and lighting and sound?
Okay. As you can see, I’m in a pretty ordinary room here, where there’s nothing much really happening. The sort of construction I would give is you’ve got to work with what you have. I think the most important thing is get your composition right. Headroom, eyeline should be about two-thirds of the way through. So if you look on the screen, my eyes are about a third, at least a third of the way down. Maybe even try to stick to the three quarters, depending on how wide the shot. So if it’s about this far, obviously a shot like that would work, but if it’s a bit closer, then you can sort of break that rule a little bit, but it’s roughly around two-thirds eyeline.
And also get some lighting on your face. I’ve got shadows underneath my eyes, which make me look even more tired. I don’t have a proper light where I am at the moment. But I think that is a necessity. So even if you place a light sort of on your computer monitor, not too far from the camera.
So, Liam and I are on about the same eyeline. It runs sort of across there. How would you critique our eyeline, which looks to be about a third of the way down?
I mean, Liam could probably use a little bit less headroom from the top. That’s how I would critique it. Maybe not… Yeah, like that. That’s even better because you get to see a little bit more of the person. And what we call, that room up there, up here, is called negative space.
Called what? Sorry?
Negative space. And so if you have too much of that, what you find is that it can give the wrong impression about you. It can give the impression that you’re either a shorter person in stature. I mean, it’s not a bad thing, but you know, they use that in films to take the mickey out of things.
So the other thing that we’ve done is our cameras are the same level as our eyes. That’s a critical thing, isn’t it too, Fred?
That’s exactly right. I mean, my camera’s sort of exactly eyeline. I can see that everybody else’s is. I think it’s important not to end up with a shot where the camera’s looking up or looking down on you. So it’s very hard to demonstrate with this machine because it’s a portable machine, but I’ve actually lifted it so that it’s eye level.
Yeah. When the camera’s looking down on you, it actually can convey the sense that you’re not only a diminutive person, but a diminutive personality.
That’s right. Or a very vulnerable person,
That’s right. And when it’s looking up slightly, it can convey power, but obviously, we don’t want to be looking up your nose. So Liam, the other aspect of presentation, you’ll remember there were four things, personal presentation, the structure of the meeting, your personal skills, and then the follow-up. The other aspect of it is preparation. And so really you need to be very clear on why you’re having the meeting and what outcome you want, those two things.
And then, messaging. Don’t try and get across too much information. And again, the rule of three is so valuable in when you’re doing interviews or when you’re doing presentations. If you’ve got something to get across, say, “Look…” Sometimes four. “There are three things I want to talk about today,” and just focus on those.
If I say to you, “What are your nine favourite pieces of clothing?”, you will struggle with it. But if I say, “I want your three favourite shirts, your three favourite jackets, your three favourite pairs of shoes,” you’ll give me a pretty good answer, straight up. And unless you buy new clothes, you’ll give me the same answer in two months’ time. That’s the value of that.
And then when you get to personal skills, it’s about “listen first.” “Understand first, then be understood” is very important. Sometimes people really want to get their point across at the beginning of a meeting. Sometimes it’s an ego thing, sometimes it’s nervousness, but really, hold back. And then when you say something, say it once and stop.
Often, Peter, on these calls, at the moment, for different businesses, there may be 20, maybe up to 50 people on the call. How important is it to have a facilitator that’s running the meeting?
You absolutely want a facilitator, but also the most frustrating thing for the people listening is if the speaker isn’t prepared and hasn’t structured the presentation, so it meanders.
And Fred, you’re obviously a professional. You do this for a living, most of us don’t. And you’re working with a few businesses at the moment. What expertise are you actually able to provide and help people at the moment?
One of them is try to use, where you can, if you’re not in a quiet environment, definitely use at least a Bluetooth headphone and microphone. Other things to consider is be prepared to also look at your camera more often. Looking down, if you maximize your screen, if you make the screen too big and you’ve got a large screen, then there’s a chance that you may appear not to be looking at the person you’re speaking to.
Also, your composition, don’t be afraid of adding a bit of air to your shot. I mean, I’ve done that here. I’ve added a bit of space on my right. You don’t have to centre everything if you don’t want to. The other thing to take note is the colours that you use. So I’ve got yellow light in this room, mostly. There is a little bit of outdoor light, but if the light sort of matches, I think I can see that in your shot, Liam, that you’ve got a mixture of lights. But as long as the closest light and most of the lights in that room are yellow, then you’ll find, and I think I can see that that’s the case, anyway. Yeah.
So the other thing I would say, Liam, the fourth thing is the follow-up after the meeting. There’s two things that are really valuable there. One is the follow-up email that summarizes the meeting, and I’m not talking about minutes, although you can do them if you like. Just a couple of dot points, “This is what we talked about, this is the summary,” so there’s a record. If there’s ever a likelihood it’s going to go to court, the contemporaneous records are really valuable, anyway.
The other thing is that sometimes in a meeting, there’s a bit of dissonance, there’s a bit of unsettling conversation that happens between two people, and the tendency is to let it go. No, don’t let it go. Lift the phone and say, “Look, I said this in the meeting to you. I hope you didn’t think I was being rude or I was criticizing you or anything like that. That absolutely wasn’t my intention.” The group dynamic is so important. You’ve got two things happening. One is you’ve got the individual personalities, and then you’ve got the way the group works together, which can get quite confusing if people don’t know each other.
Absolutely. Well, it’s a new normal, isn’t it? And video conferencing is the new shopfront for many businesses at the moment, both internally and externally. Some great tips. Fred and Peter, thank you very much.
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