Five tips to presenting well online

For students applying to college—and even more so for adults navigating the professional world—interactions are increasingly taking place online. You might be interviewed over Skype. You might be asked to create a video to share more about yourself. You might participate in meetings or deliver a webinar or present your new proposal to a team. As our Collegewise counselors do more and more of our work online with families and teammates, we asked our filmmaker, Frank Martinez, to share some advice on how to look our best when presenting virtually. Here’s a summary of his five most important tips.

1. Get in the right position.
Start by getting your camera at eye level (there’s no reason to give people a direct view up your nostrils). Do this by stacking some books, shoeboxes, or other appropriate building blocks on which to perch your laptop. Then sit roughly arm’s length from the screen. When you’re the correct distance from the screen, there should be a little space between the top of your head and the top of the frame (Frank says this is called “headroom”).

2. Get your light right.
Natural light is best providing it comes from the right direction. If you have a window in the room, face it. But never sit with your back to a window. This will throw off the camera exposure and create a distracting contrast between the bright background and your comparatively dark shape. Avoid overhead lights if you can, especially those fluorescents so common in office buildings. Here’s a Frank trick: If it’s too dark and you have an external monitor, make the screen’s background solid white and put it behind your laptop. This will actually serve as a decent light.

3. Choose the right spot for your shot.
First, get someplace quiet (your mic will pick up everything from family members in the next room to construction taking place outside). Avoid rooms with wooden floors and lots of hard surfaces as your voice will sound thin or even have an echo. Opt for rooms with rugs, couches, drapes, etc. if available. Also, consider your background, especially if you’re making a first impression online. Your friends won’t care about a messy room behind you, but that’s not the impression you want to make during an interview.

4. Give your equipment a fighting chance.
It shouldn’t be necessary to purchase expensive equipment unless you’re doing a project (like a popular podcast) that needs to deliver professional quality. But if your computer’s webcam struggles repeatedly to stay focused, or the picture looks dim and fuzzy, and you’d like to upgrade, you can get a very good external webcam for around $50. Also, consider using headphones with a built-in microphone if you’re unable to get to a library-quiet spot. They’ll do a better job than your computer’s mic will of listening to you and ignoring much of the background noise.

5. Don’t ignore the basics.
Everything that would matter in an in-person meetup still matters online. Be prepared and on time. Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. Be both engaged—don’t be distracted by your phone—and engaging. The computer doesn’t remove those basics for making a good impression. But the first four tips will prevent something extraneous—like a distracting background or bad lighting—from becoming the most memorable part of your online interaction.

You’re making an impression whether it’s online or in person. A little thought and planning can help you make a strong one.