Experimenting With Virtual Meeting Backgrounds
By Sally Smithwick, Managing Editor
Since the pandemic started, hybrid/remote work has put us all in the new position of being on camera in home work spaces for meetings, conferences, webinars, and work social/happy hours. I think we have all witnessed at least one or two hilarious mishaps. I’ll go first.
During a May conference I attended, I saw a wonderful presenter gracefully muscle her way through her speech while her toddler had a small tantrum on the floor behind her desk. Eventually, her husband attempting to discreetly remove their crying child for the scene, appeared on camera lifting their kicking child out of the frame. I am a mother of two, so all I could do was laugh and applaud this wonderful woman for what many of us do -- parent and build careers at the same time. But at the same time, I wondered if a virtual background may have helped her out in that situation.
We’re in a new world of hybrid working, with many not going back full time to the office, and we’ve had time to experiment with the technology available to those of us who are not directors of photography or necessarily live in spaces conducive to the right background. We’ve realized we have to get creative with our home work spaces. Below are some tips and ideas.
If you are comfortable with your setting and natural background, consider these tips to keep things professional.
1. Lighting - Plenty of natural or artificial light is essential, and even a small, inexpensive ring light can do the trick. While too little light can create distracting shadows, too much light can wash out faces. In your video preferences, use options that allow you to adjust to low light, touch up appearance, and/or brighten your lip color if you want. Experiment with what looks best in your setting, but take the time, as you don’t want bad lighting to take away from your message in meetings.
2. Declutter - It seems obvious, but it’s also difficult to achieve for some in small home/work spaces, especially with families. Make your space as simple as you can, and if possible, with a neutral wall behind you. Make sure any pictures or art on the wall behind you are symmetrical and try to keep excess objects out of the shot.
3. Using your phone - If you choose to use your smartphone for meetings, just make sure you are connected through wifi and not your mobile phone carrier. This will ensure you have a stronger connection to minimize interruptions in video and audio. Nothing is more challenging than trying to get through a conversation with frequent freezes in your video.
Some people are choosing to incorporate digital backgrounds into virtual meetings. Zoom and Microsoft Teams both have capabilities to add images, video and Power Point slides if needed. If you want to get more advanced, apps like Chromacam (https://www.chromacam.me) can be used with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. One consideration when using virtual background images and video is that depending on the color of your actual background, hair, and chair, you can find yourself morphing in and out of the visual, which can be distracting for some. Here are some examples and ideas:
1. Green screens are optimal when adding digital images, but not everyone has a green wall to use for their meetings. If you really want to up your game, you can find relatively inexpensive portable green screens online or green screen paint for you wall.
2. Before you use a virtual background, make sure you have your settings right. At the beginning of the pandemic, my 10 year-old son used my Zoom account for a school session. I found myself with a Pokemon character on my head for my next Zoom meeting, and I couldn’t get rid of it!
3. Use something generic or with a slight blur to your background. Just play with tones ahead of time, and make sure you don’t choose a color that is close to your hair and wardrobe color. Also, try not to match your hair tone to your clothes.
4. Use something related to your messaging. Stock photo sites have lots of backgrounds to choose from in all categories. Once we had a meeting with a seafood brand, and the attendees from the company used an Alaskan background with their logo placed the corner. I live in Nashville, so you’ll see an example below of one with me in front of the skyline.
5. Choose a template you can edit with copy to represent your webinar, speech, meeting topics, etc. You can use your logo and add any important dates, details to show while you are on screen.