Of the many changes to our work lives brought on by the COVID pandemic, the rise of virtual meetings has been one of the most prominent.
Now, legal professionals have to virtually attend numerous formerly in-person events – court appearances, depositions, client meetings, and other work meetings. We also need to understand how to still look professional in these virtual settings.
The following are a few tips for legal professionals to polish their digital presentation and make a positive impression in virtual meetings.
#1: Watch your lighting
Lighting is one of the most central aspects of how to look more professional on Zoom.
Unfortunately, there are many ways to make mistakes in this area.
One common error is to sit with your back to the window, since you will appear as a silhouette only. Another common mistake is having half of your face in shadow, which can result from side light.
The best option is to rely on natural light coming through a window, while avoiding the backlight and side light issues noted above.
For nighttime meetings, or if you do not have the option of natural light, you may want to consider a ring light or clip-on light. They’re easy to find online.
#2: Do a background check
Check your background to ensure it looks clean and professional. It is safest to have an uncluttered background.
You may wish to liven things up with greenery, tasteful art, or an uncluttered bookshelf. Just be mindful that you don’t add too much. A blank wall is better than a busy room.
Another option is a virtual background, which is a Zoom setting that allows you to appear in the natural setting of your choice. But as a legal professional, tread very carefully here. We all know the story of the Texas attorney who could not turn off the Zoom filter during his court hearing, making him appear as a cat.
It may be safest for a legal professional to simply avoid these issues and go with your natural office background. Alternatively, you can blur a background if there are things you’d rather not let people see.
Before you use any Zoom effects, check the rules of the court. Some courts do not allow you to use any of those types of features.
#3: Mind the sound
The audio aspect of your virtual presentation cannot be ignored, especially in legal settings where communication must be crystal clear.
To this end, make sure that any noisy distractions — children and pets included — are in a different room.
Be sure to mute the microphone when you are only listening, so that typing or other noises are not audible on your end. You can use the spacebar to unmute on Zoom for a few seconds at a time.
If you have the option, it is best to conduct your virtual meeting from a carpeted room with soft furnishings. This will minimize echoes and make your audio sound less hollow. In a home office, consider hanging decorative tapestries to help manage echoes, but refer to the section above about backgrounds before you choose a flashy design that will show up in your video.
#4: Personal appearance
Definitely maximize your personal appearance by dressing professionally.
You should also dress in colors that look good on a screen. This generally means sticking with bright solid colors while avoiding patterns, which can be distracting.
However, it may be advisable to avoid bright whites or dark blacks, which can make you appear as a “blob” on the screen.
If you look deeper into Zoom settings, you’ll see an option to digitally enhance your appearance. This is very similar to the filters available on social media platforms. While it’s okay to use these in some situations, using the filter at a strong setting makes you look artificial. It’s a far better choice to manage your appearance the old-fashioned way with good hygiene, then make sure the light in your room is adequate.
#5: Keep a good perspective
Be mindful of the camera perspective during your virtual meeting. Be aware that webcams have wide-angle lenses, which will make you appear distorted if your face is too close. An arm’s length between you and the screen is a good rule of thumb.
Also position the camera at eye level or just above. Make sure your head is centered in the screen, not cutting off either your chin or the top of your head.
In addition, remember to look directly into the camera when speaking, instead of at the screen. A few people have even added googly eyes to their webcam to remind them to look at the camera.
On the same note, remember that the other people in the virtual meeting room are probably looking at the screen when they talk to you. It can be a little off-putting and make you feel like the others in the room are distracted, but they really are paying attention even if their eyes aren’t looking right into yours.
#6: Personal presentation
Beyond the basics such as personal appearance, there are other aspects of your personal presentation that are easy to overlook in virtual settings.
One of these would be maintaining good posture. This means avoiding a slouched posture, but also avoiding any bobbing or rocking motions. In fact, if you have any tendency to rock or twist in your office chair, it may be advisable to switch it out for a stationary chair for the virtual meeting.
Other keys to personal presentation are maintaining presence and using the right amount of engagement. Look at the camera and avoid looking at your phone, email, or other distractions.
Also use an appropriate amount of animation and facial expressions — you can overdo these efforts, but this goes back to keeping up an appearance of engagement. It’s a little bit like public speaking in that a little exaggeration may make you seem more authentic.
Finally, be aware that the flow of communications tends to be different in a virtual setting.
With in-person settings, people naturally tend to give visual cues that alert you they are done speaking. Since these cues are easy to miss on screens, get in the habit of waiting a slightly longer time to begin speaking.
Sound delays are another aspect of virtual meetings that make this a consideration. These pointers apply especially in formal settings such as court appearances and depositions, where you are often relying on a court reporter to accurately transcribe the meeting.
Keep these pointers in mind as you continue your efforts to look your professional best at all times, whether you are in the flesh or on the screen.