Zoom Boom

Put your best ‘screen face’ forward.

Until a few months ago, ZOOM was the sound that toy trucks made.  Now Zoom is a verb.  I Zoom for board meetings, Zoom to play bridge and Zoom for cocktails.  I have Zoomed to a baby shower, a cooking lesson, a wellness retreat and three series of live art classes.  Even after the Covid crisis is over, I think some of these interactions will continue to be virtual.  I am getting set up for the ‘new Zoom normal’. My daughters have kindly told me that there are tips and tricks for how to be at one’s best on a Zoom screen.  Here is what I’ve learned.

Appearance – It is mostly about your face.

Take a look in the mirror before the meeting and apply the same techniques you use before photographs.  Touch up your hair, make-up, shave…or whatever brightens your face and makes you feel confident.

Clothing – Wear a plain shirt with a good collar.

Wild patterns are distracting for viewers.  Begin to notice your favorite anchor women and men – and their sartorial choices.  They avoid bright white, plain black, and shiny fabrics – in favor of soft subtle colors and muted patterns.

Lighting – Come out of the shadows.

Have a good light source which illuminates your face but doesn’t blind you. Avoid sitting with your back to a sunlit window or your onscreen image will be a silhouette. A better choice is to face the window. It will remind you of the world outside and the natural light will flatter your face.

Zoom’s opening screen shows you how you will look to others and asks you whether you want to turn on the video.  You can adjust the lighting at this point before you ‘go live’.

How to Look Good on Camera, According to Tom Ford  Fashion icon Tom Ford, shares his tips on how to light up your face on a video chat.

This ‘eye-friendly’ LED desk lamp offers the flexibility of adjustable positions, with several brightness and colors settings from soft to daylight.  Even if this is not your primary desk lamp, it will be useful for controlling the light during Zoom calls.  LED Desk Lamp Eye-Caring Table Lamp. $29.99

Note: If you sit in front of open Venetian blinds, the slats of light ‘confuse’ your camera. Either position yourself to face them or use a different light source.

Background – Real and Virtual

Distractions.  You can tell a lot about people by what they place in the background when they Zoom.  I notice that Judy Woodruff has a full bookshelf with the Chernow biography of Grant in a prominent place.  The point is, I noticed the book instead of focusing on the PBS news she was reporting.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

A simple background will keep meeting participants focused on you and the thoughts you are contributing.  Sit in front of a blank wall or a piece of art if you want the attention.  One pretty plant sets the tone.

Branding.  If you choose to ‘set the stage’ for your Zoom call, be conscious of the message you are sending.  Orderly and in control?  Untidy and exasperated?  On the edge?  Longing for the recliner and remote control?  Erudite with a preference for books?  Wishing you were in Maine, Jackson Hole, The San Juan Islands or the golf course?  Think about the message your background sends.

Zoom has a large selection of ‘virtual’ backgrounds you can select for your calls.  I have been on calls with friends in outer space and in the Sistine Chapel – only to find that they, like me, were at home.

Perspective and Cameras

Wide angle face.  The cameras on iPhones, iPads, webcams and other smartphones have wide angle lenses.  When your face is close to the camera, it gets distorted – kind of bulging – and it is not a good look.  Set yourself up AT LEAST a foot from the camera.

Laptop cameras are said to distort your image more than the cameras built for webcam meetings.  Back in March, webcams sold out fast as people rushed to set up home offices.  They are available again.

The Wirecutter recommends the Logitech C920S HD Pro for $75. It connects by USB cable so those of us with MacBooks will need the adapter.  It has a microphone.  Reviewers like the shutter feature which allows you to close the lens for privacy when you are not using it.

Eye level

If your goal is an unflattering Zoom, just aim the camera up at your face from below. Viewers will look up your nostrils and explore whatever flesh you are hoping we don’t notice under your jawline.  The underside of your chin is probably not your best angle. There is a reason the Frankenstein monster’s face was illuminated from below.

Set up your Zoom call with your camera at eye level.  You should focus about two inches below the top of the screen when looking straight ahead.   I use books or a shoe box to raise my laptop for Zooms at my desk.  In other locations, just prop your device or camera on a table.

Sound – Mute

Every expert (and friend) will tell you – MUTE yourself when someone else is speaking.  This is a new addendum for the etiquette books.  The exception is when you have a lively discussion (especially virtual cocktails).  If you plan to Zoom unmuted, make sure that you control background noises – including children, pets, ringing phones, digital notifications and open windows.

Headsets will help you hear over the sounds around you and they help make your voice clearer.

Just like in restaurants, having a carpet or curtains in your Zoom space will reduce room echo.

If you choose an external microphone, the ideal position is 5”-6” from your mouth.

B&H, Blue Yeti.

Amazon Blue Yeti

Experts recommend the Blue Yeti USB Microphone which is backordered most places.

Computing speed and system slowdown

Zoom is streaming 30 frames per second and it takes up bandwidth, CPU and memory.  If you are having trouble with streaming with pauses or freezing – turn off devices and applications which are not part of the video conference.  If you have a houseful of COVID refugees trying to work like so many people – have them turn off the devices they are not using… and try to maintain your sense of humor.


Share these tips with your family to help make them look great;

How to Connect With our Older Family Members or Friends Who are Sheltering in Place

connect with your family

Here are more ideas for looking your best on camera.

How to look your best in photos

look great in photos