The pandemic has had us thoroughly rethink seminar and its place in the world. We have been deprived of everything that used to make conferencing tolerable: accruing air miles, getting drunk back at the hotel and ending up having sex with a co-worker, or at least being served a free buffet lunch. Now it’s just technical glitches and random people’s enlarged nostrils fluttering on the screen.
The virus unfortunately has not diminished people’s desire to share their thoughts with the world, rather the contrary. No one will be saved from the dreaded webinar, mainly because no one has fuck all excuse left to not attend. They are painful and mostly pointless, but then everything these days is. For your next gathering around the computer campfire to exchange views on this and that, herewith tried and tested tips to elevate the experience.
They are two black, hairy holes in the middle of your face and no one wants to look up them. Honestly, no one. Elevate your screen so that the camera is at level with your face. You can do this by placing a couple of books underneath it. If you don’t have enough books in your household to do this, you really do have a problem, but in an emergency use the ironing board as a desk. Just don’t overdo it, see next point.
We all know how to lose 10kg for a picture: by holding the phone at arm’s length, angled much downwards at our face. Add pursed lips and there’s a classic Instagram post right there!
Unless you were known for entering meetings swinging from a chandelier, it’s best to stick to boringly mundane positioning, such as being seated at a desk – as one would in an actual office. The audience (not to speak of the boss) has the right to expect us to look professional even if we work from home – remember you are already not properly dressed from the waist down.
I rode well into the second wave with my bookshelf as the background. It seemed like the done thing and, I thought, gave an air of worldly intelligence. However, bookshelves are not innocent. People will zoom in to see what we have in there. Large international newspapers have taken to running series that feature zooms into (famous) people’s chosen background reading.
I read these articles. I also zoom into anyone’s bookshelves as material becomes available.
I changed my background when I realised that I would have to rearrange my entire library to make it a neutral enough online backdrop. I came to this realisation after having a job interview during which titles such as “The Bitch Doctrine” and “Headscarves and Hymens” were positioned right next to my head.
I didn’t get the job.
If you choose to exhibit elements of you decor, or indeed your bookshelf, know that your audience will take this to be a deliberate decision.
Most programs and apps offer the possibility to choose a backdrop. Unless you are currently partaking in a witness protection programme and the law enforcement officials have explicitly advised you to not show the tiniest sliver of interior wall in your apartment, do not use these backdrops. Your floating head against a Caribbean beach looks both suspicious and ridiculous.
Same with filters that claim to blur your features in a flattering manner. If you cannot bear to show your unedited face on screen, may I suggest you keep the camera off instead.
Attending a conference truly used to be a rare treat in the bygone life, eh? So much so, that the internet was rife with ‘conference-classics’: mobile snaps of far-away lecterns behind of which four to five unrecognisably minuscule people sat, looking important.
Attending a webinar seems to be equally exceptional during the pandemic, if people’s need to prove they’ve been invited to them serves as any indication.
Should you want to flex with your having been trusted with log in -codes to discuss opportunities, threats and ways forward, pro tip: always close the other web browser tabs on your screen, before immortalising and posting a cavalcade of frozen faces for the world to see.
I am the person who zooms in these screenshots. Me, and everybody else.
Not that office- or conference center lighting was ever the best and most flattering, far from it. But at least we could experience the badly-lit reality in 3D. Now, not so much.
If you are attending online events merely as audience or as the quiet type in the office who never contributes at meetings, lighting might not be of such importance – you might be able to keep your camera off at all times.
However, if you are giving a talk or a presentation, make sure you are well lit. You already lack any direct interaction with your audience as it is – and vice versa. Make sure everybody can see your face properly.
If your apartment has a window, you are already winning in life. Admittedly daylight is a rare commodity these days, but use it as much as possible.
I bought the so called influencer-lamp, which is handy for providing the extra watts when needed. The difference is dramatic. If you are tempted by the blurring filters to rid you of dark circles and such (don’t), try proper lighting first – if only to stand out in the ubiquitous screenshots of talking heads.
Capturing an audience online is challenging as it is, and an entirely doomed attempt if people are made to look at a dark, immobile blob on their screens.
Everybody is lonely, longs for human interaction and yearns to have their voices heard.
Webinars are not for this.
If you don’t have anything of relevance to say, don’t. Maybe write a blog instead.