Virtual Presence: A Resource Guide

The internet is now teeming with tips on how to thrive (or survive) on videoconference. Some of this advice is lousy, but the best of it includes professional insights that would usually cost you a bundle. The team at KNP Communications has put together a resource guide that sorts the best from the rest.

Our friend Rachel Sklar anticipated our current moment in December 2019 when she wrote about the growing ubiquity of video chat, and she collected diverse perspectives from entrepreneurs, actors, and coaches. She shared one of our most commonly offered tips: “If you want people to feel like you’re talking to them, look at the camera, not the screen.” Sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done.

Erin Argyle Barnes makes an underrated point about the importance of meeting facilitation skills. She offers tactical skills for managing two of the awkward dynamics of videoconferences: fear of unmuting, or everybody unmutes at once. (Her team has come up with fun ways to communicate visually without interrupting someone.) She also shares insights that her organization collected over six months about which platforms have the best connectivity.

Aliya Chaudhry of the Verge emphasizes that staying focused on videochat is a must. That means no eating (!) and no looking at your phone. She also suggests telegraphing to others if you’re going to look away to find a file or do something that takes your gaze away from the camera.

Julie Lasky of the New York Times features interior designers who offer tips for devising a background that is neither distracting nor bland. Rather than one-size-fits-all advice, she offers perspectives ranging from “keep it simple” to “give them something to look at.”

Some of the best professional advice on lighting comes from filmmaker and fashion designer Tom Ford. It is tucked in the middle of a longer article by Maureen Dowd about Larry David’s approach to riding out the quarantine. If you’d prefer to cut to the chase, do a Ctrl-F search for “Tom Ford” and you’ll find a paragraph that can completely change your lighting game.

Emmy-nominated cinematographer Bob Sacha also offers excellent tips on lighting as well as subtle pointers on depth perception. He also provides side-by-side photos to support his points.

Brian Cooley’s article for tech review site CNET offers a combination of practical tips, demonstration photos, and gear recommendations that can help you build a decent home setup.

You can always count on business guru Seth Godin for thoughtful, straightforward counsel even when he’s slightly adjacent to marketing, his core area of expertise. As he acknowledges at the conclusion of this piece, “These are obvious. They are generous. They’re effective….And almost no one puts in the effort to consistently deliver on them. It’s worth it.”

Finally, why do we all feel so tired after spending all day on videochat? Julia Sklar of National Geographic looks at the nonverbal signals in multiparty conversations that get lost on video (email address required to read), and Manyu Jiang of the BBC relates some surprising findings, such as that even short silences or delays on conferencing systems can lead to perceptions that someone is either less friendly or unfocused. As with so many dimensions of life during quarantine, self-care is critical.

All these resources can help in this new world where videoconferencing is the closest we can come to connecting in person. There are skills in these articles that are not addressed in depth (or at all) on topics like giving effective virtual presentations and managing specific nonverbal cues, and at some point, individual challenges are better served by one-on-one coaching than general advice.

What’s working for you? What tips, tricks, and resources have you found useful? We’d appreciate your comments so others can learn from you.


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