Most people understand the importance of a strong and authentic professional image. What few people recognise are the challenges presented when there is a requirement to present that image in front of a camera. They increase tenfold!
In our current climate, an increasing number of people are being required to work from home or away from the office, and interact almost entirely online. The requirement for leaders to face up to the media, or present to teams online, is increasing and it’s important to be prepared. Yes, mentally, but also physically, and to ensure that you’re making a professional impression that is well aligned to your message or topic.
When you are in front of a camera, you are welcoming the eyes of every single audience member, whether it is a room full of people, or a nation watching from the comfort of their homes. The slightest distraction will only serve to focus your audience away from the important messages you are required to deliver, and on to your appearance.
The goal is to avoid distractions at all costs. Once you appear on camera, and start speaking, nobody should notice what you’re wearing or how you look.
Here are 6 practical tips for ensuring that your image enhances the delivery of your message, and that you are memorable on camera, for all the right reasons.
Your Physical Space
Consider where you will be delivering your message or interacting. For example, your backdrop will determine the extent to which you are seen. Dark backdrops against dark clothing will disguise you, so a little contrast is essential. For those presenting online, a space that is clutter-free will keep the attention on your face and not the personal or work objects that you surround yourself with, all of which reveal far more about you than you might care to realise. A messy office reduces people’s confidence in you and instead leaves the professional perception of a cluttered mind.
The Camera Position
When presenting online, the camera should be at a similar distance to if you are speaking in person. Direct eye contact is important for building trust and rapport so make sure that the camera is at eye level. Raise the height of your laptop so that viewers are not staring into your nostrils, and look directly into the camera, not the screen. Ideally, lighting will also be at eye level since overhead lighting can cast shadows on your face and washes you out. Ring light, screen bar light, and cube light provide the look of professional lighting in your space and are an ideal investment for virtual appearances (at the time of writing, there are significant waiting periods for these products since so many are making the investment).
Your Message Versus Your Appearance
It is critical that there is total alignment between your message and your appearance. For example, if your aim is to calm and reassure your audience, appearing dishevelled, in crumpled clothing, and with your hair covering your face will do little to instil trust and confidence. Similarly, showing up looking tired and stressed when speaking of health and well-being lacks authenticity and credibility.
Your Colour Choices
Colour sends significant psychological messages. It has the power to display non-verbal messages of control and dominance with, for example, red and confidence and trust with, for example, navy blue. My advice is to keep it simple. The camera loves mid-dark colours such as blue, purple and green, and low contrasts (navy and mid-light blue) work more effectively than high contrasts (navy and white) as they reduce glare. Avoid patterns such as checks, pinstripes and herringbones since they appear to vibrate on camera. Most important of all, the colour you choose must flatter you.
Keep your accessories to a minimum and avoid anything that has a high shine or is too noisy. Shine reflects light, microphones amplify noise, and desks provide a solid surface for jewellery to knock against. All are incredibly distracting for your audience. Reading glasses are perfectly fine, but glare-proof is preferable.
One only has to consider the amount of attention that Boris Johnson’s hair receives to understand how critical grooming is. Hair blunders are never forgotten! My advice to clients when on camera or speaking to the media is to, where possible, get a professional blow-dry that highlights the face, for the confidence boost as well as the professional polish it delivers (at the time of writing, this is still possible in Australia). Professional make-up is also essential for framing the face and is recommended for men, too, since the slightest hint of oil or sweat adds a great deal of shine to the face and head when viewed on camera. For events of a lower-key nature take the time to style your hair, keeping hair products to a minimum, and apply just a subtle amount of makeup.
A Final Note About Appearance
We may be in the middle of an unprecedented crisis with lives and livelihoods at risk, but our brains are still reacting to visual cues and appearances in exactly the same way as they always have – with judgement and stories. Research has shown that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and that 90% of information is transmitted to the brain in a visual way.
It is not uncommon for me to receive texts and calls from friends, colleagues and clients asking me “what were they thinking?!” in response to how those in the public eye, in particular, are showing up on TV, and acknowledging that much of what was verbally communicated was, sadly, missed.
We will make a decision whether to trust and listen to you or not in the blink of an eye. So let’s get it right.