How to Zoom Back to The Future

Picturephone 1964

Lights . . .  Camera . . .  Zoom!

Zoom, with a capital “Z”,  has become a verb in the American English language, almost as quickly as the word “pandemic” became part of our daily vernacular. Overnight and out of nowhere, “Zoom” the app became a fixture in the “new normal”, even after social distancing guidelines disappeared.

Zoom achieved catch-all status to describe video meetings taking place on other platforms such as Cisco WebEx, FaceTime, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and the like. The Covid-19 pandemic quickly transformed many of us into a work-from-home life-style that required an immediate shift in how we communicate. The concept of one-to-one video calls conjures up images of The Jetsons and traces back to the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadow Park where fair goers got their first chance to make a video telephone call on AT&T’s Mod I Picturephone to a complete stranger at a similar Picturephone exhibit at Disneyland in California.

Internet based video connections are and will continue to play a vital, primary role in our communications beyond the time of staying home. As such, you need to be armed with the know-how to maintain your executive presence and edge in this not-so-new, but now commonplace practice. Here is what you need to know to successfully make the transition to professional looking video communications.


  • Type: The ideal camera is an external one that can be placed on top of your computer monitor or laptop screen. Such a camera gives a better quality image and is more flexible in the adjustments it allows versus one built into your smartphone, tablet or monitor. For roughly $50, an external camera is a relatively small investment to assure that you get the “look” you want. Ideally, your device and program can send a landscape (16 x 9 mode) picture. img-1
  • Placement: Your camera should be at eye level, or just a bit above, directly in front of you. If, like many people, you are using a work laptop, you can achieve this by positioning it on a steady pile of books on the table or desk in front of you. Position yourself three to four feet from the camera for an optimal image.
  • Don’t use a camera or angle that looks up at you revealing a full view of your nostrils and a distorted image of your face.
  • Do keep your distance. Cameras on smartphones, tablets, and webcams tend to be wide angle, so if you get too close you will look out of proportion.
  • Do practice using the camera in the chosen program before the actual meeting to see what you will look like to other meeting members. Move around so you can see if you stay in focus and how your movements affect the image quality.
  • Do look directly into the camera just as you would look into the eyes of the person you are talking to if you weren’t doing so virtually.
  • Do frame the shot from just slightly above your head to your waist. This allows a broadcaster, or editor, to put your name or other appropriate information on the bottom of the screen.

The “Set”

Where you set up your call will say a lot about you — some of which you may not want to reveal to others in the “room.”

  • Do keep the background as simple and non-distracting as possible — you don’t want meeting attendees to be trying to figure out where that family photo behind you was taken or what’s outside your window.
  • Do consider using the Virtual Background feature in Zoom that allows you to use any digital photo as your background image. There are several built into the program and hundreds are available online. Alternatively, Skype allows you to blur the background.


Lighting can be tricky. So again, be sure to practice before presenting to a client or doing a media interview. The best option is to be in a room that’s evenly lit.

  • Do have a source of light in front of you, not behind you including windows. This will give you a soft, pleasing look.
  • Don’t have a “shady face,” meaning half your face is shadowed or blocked in some way. This will happen if the source of light is behind you or to one side. Placing a ring LED light in front of you can brighten your appearance on camera, reduce facial shadows, and hide imperfections.
  • Do avoid sitting with your back to the window as the light from behind will drown out your face. Instead, face the window, so you are lit from the front.

Wardrobe and Makeup

  • Do get out of those sweats. To maintain an executive presence, you must look like an executive. Even in a meeting with “just” colleagues, dress as if you are in the office. Wear business img-2attire typical for your office environment. This will help you to avoid getting caught with your pants down, literally, should you need to stand up.
  • Do choose solid colors for your top and accessories. Opt for strong, bold hues that pop on video, such as cobalt blue, red, or navy.
  • Don’t wear patterns, plaids, stripes, or black and white (alone or in combination), so your audience can focus on you, not what you are wearing.
  • Do consider the contrast of your clothing against the background colors when choosing what to wear.
  • Do wash your face with a non-abrasive cleanser and pat it dry if you don’t use makeup. Everyone can benefit from dabbing their face with a tissue or an oil absorbing pad to reduce shine.
  • Do use daytime makeup to maintain a clean, professional look — this isn’t the theater! Beauty expert Bobbie Brown recently suggested to Katie Couric that “women should wear a good blushey bronzer while keeping hair healthy looking, groomed and colored.” Brown also recommended Color WOW Root Cover Up, a popular powdered formula you can brush directly onto hair to camouflage roots while unable to see a professional colorist.

Movement and Sound

  • Do use purposeful movements within the camera range. Sit up straight in a chair—avoid couches and swiveling in your chair.
  • Do select “use my computer” for audio on Zoom. This will provide the best quality audio experience.
  • Do choose a quiet area. To further enhance the sound, use ear buds or an ear headset along with your computer microphone.
  • Do speak from your diaphragm to avoid projecting a tinny or breathy sound.
  • Do put your phone on speaker instead of holding it up to your ear if using it for audio. Be sure the computer mic is turned off to avoid interference.
  • Do keep your energy high, be conversational, and smile.

Multi-Person Meeting

  • Do use mute when you enter the meeting and stay muted unless you are speaking. This will avoid disruptive extraneous background noises such as a telephone ringing, the dog barking, or a visitor popping into your space unexpectedly. It also prevents others from hearing the click-clack of your keyboard should you need to type.
  • Do turn off your video when distracted. If you need to check emails, your phone, or whatever else grabs your attention, your name will appear on a black background so others don’t have to know that you aren’t 100 percent in the meeting.
  • Don’t switch to a different app because other people may know. For example, Zoom allows the host to know if you switch away from the Zoom app for more than 30 seconds.

Make Sure You . . .

  • Look at the camera! It’s too easy to be distracted by other things happening on your screen.
  • Smile and be enthusiastic. It makes your voice more pleasant to listen to and disguises any nervousness. You also appear more friendly and approachable.
  • Test everything in advance so you appear as the confident and positive expert that you are.
  • Prepare what you want to say. Make certain that your main talking points are expressed clearly and concisely.

A bit of preparation goes a long way to making video calls appear professional, productive and manageable for all. When something goes awry, just move on. For many things the old-fashioned telephone is just as good.

Eileen Winnick

Eileen Winnick, Senior Associate, The Newman Group, Inc., is a highly experienced presentation consultant and media trainer for authors, executives, physicians, financial advisors, and TV personalities. Her experience being in the “hot seat” gives her an added edge when preparing clients for media interviews.

Eileen has worked with executives and authors to appear on such shows as CBS Good Morning, CBS Moneywatch, Bill Mahr, Charlie Rose, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Entertainment Tonight, Fox Entertainment News, Good Day New York, Good Morning America, The Larry King Show, Meet the Press, Nightline, Oprah, Sally Jesse Raphael, Squawk Box, 60 Minutes, 20/20, The Today Show, and The View.

Eileen is a Certified Speech and English teacher with a Bachelor of Arts  from Boston College and a Master of Arts in Corporate and Political Communications from Fairfield University. She is a member of Actors Equity Association, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and Screen Actors Guild.

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