By Tommy Noyes

My organization’s digital background features a favorite location, corporate logo, and email address, as green fleece fabric hanging in front of my cluttered bookshelf enables the conferencing software to cleanly superimpose my image over the virtual background. Contributed image

Sustaining and building community depends on communicating. Currently, many of our family and social interactions rely on video conferencing using our personal computers. Here are my observations on audio, video and virtual backgrounds to help you with your video presence.

Often, conference participants choose to turn off their video camera during an entire session. I find this both disappointing and understandable. Invisible participants give the impression of being only partially involved, and are likely multi-tasking. While I’ll occasionally shut off my computer’s video camera and multi-task, I do make a point of having my video camera turned on when starting, contributing to, and finishing the session so others will know that I have made myself presentable, am attending, and am paying attention.

Being aware of your audio muting and unmuting while in conference is good etiquette. The sounds of shuffling papers, background noises, and conversations picked up by inadvertently open microphones are intrusive to the group and potentially embarrassing. Speaking to a muted microphone interrupts the flow of the conference.

I rely on my wireless headset. I can turn off my video camera and mute my audio, stay near my computer, and do domestic tasks like folding laundry or washing dishes — all while following the discussion.

If you want to appear well in a video conference take into account three basics: lighting, camera angle and background.

Lighting: Choose a spot where the available light illuminates your face evenly, preferably daylight. Avoid light sources shining into the camera from behind you (a window or light fixture). This will shadow your face and it will be hard for others to see you.

Camera angle: A low camera angle results in the viewer looking up your nose — an unattractive pose. Raise your camera angle by putting a few books or a stable box under your laptop computer. With the video camera near or at the same level as your face you’ll appear more natural.

Background: Your background can convey a lot of information, so give it careful consideration. A simple, uncluttered wall or book shelf works satisfactorily, or use a folding screen to provide a neutral background.

Virtual backgrounds: You could choose a generic background offered within the conferencing system like the palm trees and beach, but it looks a bit odd when two or more participants in a video conference have selected the same idyllic setting. The conferencing system may require you to be in front of a green screen to drop in your virtual background. A 60” by 90” piece of lime green fleece purchased locally at a nominal cost works well in our home office. If you don’t have a green screen behind you, the conferencing system will often have a difficult time distinguishing between you, your actual background, and your virtual background. To express your own identity, compose a digital background combining a picture of a local landscape or foliage, logo, and/or contact information. Search for “do it yourself virtual background” guidance to get your unique background suitably assembled and uploaded.

  • Tommy Noyes is Kaua‘i Path’s executive director, a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor and active with the Kaua‘i Medical Reserve Corps.


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