Look your best during online classes

Improve the way you appear on camera with a few simple tweaks.
By Dawn Wotapka

The new semester offers a chance to start afresh, and one way to do so is by improving the way you look online, enhancing your reputation as a faculty member who can deftly navigate the digital world.

Here are a few simple tweaks that can help you appear at your best during online classes:

Choose the setting. When it comes to online classes, your appearance starts with where you’re sitting, so consider the background part of your image. Select a quiet area free of background noise and people coming and going, and think carefully about what people can see behind you, said Michael Freeby, a celebrity photographer and videographer. Instead of showcasing something potentially distracting or controversial, opt for a colorful painted wall or wallpaper. “Choose whatever backdrop you feel fits the image of yourself you would like to promote,” he said. If your university or department has a specific logo, you could custom-create a virtual background with the branding or logo as the backdrop, he suggested.

Make sure that your background doesn’t draw too much attention. “Uncluttered backgrounds allow students to focus,” said Scott Dell, CPA, DBA, an assistant professor of accounting at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.

Focus on lighting. Evaluate the lighting in the room where you’ll be on screen so that you don’t appear too light or dark, and use natural light to your advantage. “You don’t want any room with lighting that has orangey or yellow tones, and you also don’t want dim lighting as it will look significantly dimmer on camera,” Freeby said. While positioning yourself near windows with natural lighting generally works well, be “sure the light doesn’t shine directly into your eyes, making you squint,” advised Parker Geiger, chief executive of the Personal Branding Center, a professional coaching and consulting business based in Atlanta.

If your location has strong lighting or sunlight streaming in from behind “you can try to counteract that by setting your screen brightness really high to put more light on your face,” said Abir Syed, CPA (Canada), a Montreal-based e-commerce consultant with accounting services site UpCounting.

When appearing on camera, having lights in front of you is helpful. That’s why many people put a lamp in front of the laptop or buy a ring light, which can range from affordable to pricey and can stand alone or be attached to the computer or laptop, Freeby said.

Pay attention to your camera angle. The placement of the camera can also affect how you appear. Have the “camera at eye level,” Dell said. “People really don’t want to look up at you.”

For this reason, “make sure the camera hits you either at a completely parallel level to you, or from above you,” Freeby said. “Looking down to the camera is never a flattering angle, especially for video.”

Geiger suggested thinking of the screen as the face of your students. If you are using an external webcam, have the video call displayed on the monitor directly under your camera so that it appears that you’re looking at the participants instead of to the side, Syed said. “Having the camera close to the screen is ideal,” as it’ll appear to your students as though you’re looking at them, he said.

Consider your appearance. Even though your students may be in athleisure, be sure to “dress as if you were going to be face-to-face with others,” Geiger said. “Do not just dress professionally above the waistline and wear shorts and no shoes below.” Even if others will only see you from the waist up, how you’re dressed will affect how you feel and present yourself. “When fully dressed, you will project a confident, credible professional presence.” he said.

When it comes to clothing, avoid patterns, which can be “too much for the camera and can be distracting to the message,” Geiger said. Look for colors that complement your hair color and skin tone so that you can appear more striking on screen. Men should have shaved at least an hour before appearing on camera. “You do not want fresh cuts or irritation to show,” Geiger said. “Give the skin a chance to calm down.”

Try to “avoid glasses as they'll create glare and show what's on your screen,” Syed suggested.  

Ultimately, Dell said, the key to looking better online is experience. “The best tip that makes you look good is practice,” he noted.

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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