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Lights, camera … litigate

by Natalia Vander Laan

Appearing online, whether for a court hearing or a work meeting, has become unavoidable and the new norm for many. Amusing or adorable, accidental “appearances” by a video conference participant’s spouse, child, or pet are no longer endearing. Also, in addition to being aware of one’s look, behavior, and surroundings, the quality of the video appearance is equally important in times when one’s success depends on their video appearance and the quality of their video presence.

The obvious requirement is to test the camera and microphone prior to the appearance to ensure that they are in working order. It is unprofessional, embarrassing, and can be detrimental to one’s case to be unable to connect, appear, or be heard.

The camera should be at eye level to create an appearance of eye contact, like in real life. This can be achieved with an adjustable camera or by simply setting the laptop on top of a stack of books or a small box. Steady video and consistent eye contact help to get arguments across effectively.

Lighting should be adequate. An overhead light or light behind one’s back creates an impression of a silhouetted shadow speaking on camera. Initially, daylight or room light may have been sufficient, but if the next few months require regular videoconference appearances, then looking professional and ensuring that facial expressions and body language are visible is important to communicate effectively. Consequently, ring lights have become very popular. A ring-shaped light positioned in front of one’s face reduces shadows on the face and creates more consistent lighting.

Uninterrupted sound is equally necessary to appear professional. A broken-up and distorted voice takes away from even the best crafted argument as it cannot be heard fully and accurately. Generally, default microphones on laptops are sufficient. However, especially with multiple participants, it helps to mute one’s microphone as others speak to avoid feedback.

During a video call, the focus should be on the participant, not his or her surroundings. Therefore, it is important to preview what will be visible during the call. A simple, even if dull, background is preferred over pretentious artwork, furniture, or other unexplained items that distract the viewer. A video call should not be a window into one’s private life but only a way to effectively convey points and arguments.

Most people are not used to appearing on camera and therefore are unaware that certain mannerisms impact how effective the video presence may be. Lounging, bouncing, stretching, too often scratching or touching one’s face, repeated affirmation sounds, and eating or drinking do not present well during a video conference.

All that considered, performing an equipment check and examining one’s look and surroundings prior to the video appearance is a good idea. It can be done during a less formal call with friends or even by calling a family member in the next room to confirm that the lighting is accurate, the sound is good, and the background and behavior are not distracting. This quick task can save the embarrassment of an unfortunate appearance in times when one’s success depends on one’s performance.

Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney and owner of Vander Laan Law Firm