By now, you’ve probably made it through your first major hurdle of remote work. You delivered emergency messages about COVID-19 changes. You shifted your workplace to be “safer at home” and are now settling in for the long haul. That means, many of you will be appearing on video or video conference for the first time. It might be in a Zoom or WebEx meeting. Alternatively, coronavirus quarantines might require you to create videos to update your customers, stakeholders or students. Are these groups expecting high production quality? Certainly not. We are in an unprecedented emergency situation. A cell phone is all you need. However, there are a few essential video tips for remote workers to keep in mind.
First, I should probably explain my background and why/how I can help you. In addition to producing video for this blog and Purdue University, I spent 10+ years working in television news and adore video storytelling. I won’t be getting into any “fancy stuff” in this post. Rather, I want you to consider this a survival guide for those who’ve never worked with video before. It is a crash course in getting your message across—in the best possible manner—during crisis.
Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment below if you have any questions I don’t cover. I want to be a helpful resource!
Absolutely not, nor should you! The beauty of recorded video is that you have the ability to practice. If something goes awry, if you stumble/feel distracted, you can simply record again. In fact, when I do videos for Instagram, I almost always do multiple takes and choose my favorite. Don’t feel rushed. Video takes some time, especially when you are first getting used to the medium.
Like any speech, your remarks must have clear organization. Think over your main points, make an outline, and deliver them as naturally as possible. If you try to memorize every line, your delivery will sound forced. Total memorization feels awkward for you and the audience. Writing out everything you want to say and reading on camera is even worse. If you have to do that, just send an email!
Pro tip: Don’t stare into the camera the entire time. This will give you a “deer in the headlights” look. Instead, treat the recording as you would any conversation. Do you lock eyes, unblinking with the person you are talking to? Certainly not! Consequently, looking down or off to the side occasionally will help you look more natural on video.
Whether you are doing a recorded video or preparing for a live video conference, you must know your equipment. Make sure you take the time to understand how your gear works before you record or go live. For video conferences, do a test run of the technology the day (or better yet days) before you need to use it. Especially crucial… Figuring out where the mute button is on the platform that you are using (Penn State has a pretty comprehensive guide for Zoom users)! You don’t want your colleagues hearing your toddler begging for a cookie, neighbor mowing the yard, or your roommate’s Netflix binge, right? Also, make sure you understand how to turn muting off, so people can hear when you need to present.
Location is everything, even for a video meeting. To look and sound your best, find a spot in your home that is well-lit and safe from disruption. Remember this viral video of a toddler interrupting her father’s live BBC interview? Thankfully, you aren’t doing this live. However, you do need a quiet space where you can focus.
Ideally, you want your body facing a natural light source (or a lamp if you must record at night). Never shoot video toward a window or have your computer web cam facing a window. Why? Your face will be completely in shadow and video quality takes a hit. The more natural light hitting your face the better.
Whether you are appearing on video conference or shooting a video, you want the camera at eye level. Video is super unflattering when you are shooting up at yourself (instant double-chin/nostril view) or shooting down, which requires you to stare up at the camera. A downward angle will give you a small, smurf-like, potentially nervous-looking appearance.
Pro tip: Notice how my computer is sitting on a stack of books in the photo above? I needed to raise it up, so that my eye level was the same height as my web cam. Use what you have around you to create the necessary levels.
Take time to tidy up. Yes, we are in unprecedented times. But your viewers will appreciate the extra effort. One of my favorite video tips for remote workers? Don’t allow anything “messy” to distract from the message. This does not mean I’m suggesting you shoot in front of a white wall! Any decluttered, pleasant space with good lighting will do (e.g. bookshelf/library/living room). You can shoot in a bedroom, but it should never look like a bedroom (at least not for business/educational videos). Use a corner seating area or stand/sit in front of a set of dressers (I do this regularly because our spare bedroom has the best natural light of any space in our home). If you are a digital content creator, seeking a more casual vibe, a bedroom can be just fine. Just keep your audience in mind!
If you want to really up the ante and achieve pro quality, try to give yourself a bit of depth of field. What do I mean? Depth of field is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in your video that appear acceptably sharp. For your purposes, that means you want to position yourself away from your background objects. For instance, if you want a bookshelves behind you, don’t have your chair right next to them. Instead, pull it away from the bookshelf as far as you possibly can. Many smartphones will recognize this depth of field and focus on you, while fuzzing out the background. This will make you—and your message—pop!
That depends on how you plan to deliver your message. In general, a horizontal orientation is the gold standard for video content and most professional looking for the business world. Ask yourself… Will this message be included in an email, website or Facebook? Are you using YouTube? In those scenarios, horizontal video is the right choice. However, if Instagram will be your primary delivery platform (or most of your viewers will be watching on a mobile device) go vertical.
If you are speaking directly into camera, a centered “head and shoulders” type shot is ideal. Think about the framing you see when a single news anchor is reading a script. That is what you’re after. You don’t want too much “head room” (e.g. empty space at the top), nor do you want your head touching the edge of frame. For a more casual message delivery style, you can certainly widen the shot and show more of your body. It all depends on your particular audience and style goals.
Pro Tip: When I shoot, I switch my phone camera to “selfie mode”. This allows me to see what the framing looks like in real time, as I’m setting the shot. Running back and forth to check the camera is a hassle and this saves you from relying on someone else.
This might be a pretty obvious point on our list of video tips for remote workers… But, it’s an important one! Unless you want your message to be super casual, you should not be holding the phone out with your arm. That’s great for fun family videos, but not the business world. Don’t have someone hold the phone for you either. Even the steadiest of hands will shake slightly and create unwanted camera movement. Instead, use books, a coffee cup, a box, something… to steady the phone. A cell phone tripod is even better. You can scoop one up on Amazon for under $25. There are more deluxe models available, but this affordable version works perfectly for me — and I shoot video all the time.
Smart phone audio has improved by leaps and bounds the last few years. However, you can improve your odds of solid sound quality by getting your body as close to the camera as possible and staying attuned to any potential background noise. For instance, a fan, an air conditioner, even street noise can be problematic. If you will be doing a lot of videos during quarantine, I would highly recommend you consider purchasing an external microphone to plug into your cell phone’s head phone jack. The audio external mics provide is so crisp and clear. Consequently, this affordable model has made a world of difference in the videos I produce!
When sharing video tips for remote workers, I hear this question a lot. In fact, it is probably the most frequently asked question! Thankfully, during quarantine few people will be judging your attire. That said, there are a few guidelines for video-friendly fashion (Check out this post for detailed on-camera appearance guidelines). First, consider the background. Your outfit shouldn’t blend in or clash with what’s behind you. Avoid busy patterns or tight stripes. These can wave and distort on camera. In general, solid colors and traditional silhouettes (with sleeves) are most flattering. Avoid black and white. Both can appear harsh on camera. Your goal is a polished, professional appearance that won’t pull any attention away from your message.