April 30, 2020
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More than 60 years ago, renowned sociologist Erving Goffman described how people negotiate face-to-face encounters and establish ‘frames’ within which to evaluate encounters with others. It’s 2020, and Goffman’s seminal work continues to influence how we perceive person-to-person interactions, even as Zoom and other platforms promise to dominate digital interactions and render place and distance, largely, invisible. The acronym FACES and these five tips may help you present your best self in a 21st-century digital eco-system.

Tip #1: Flatter your face

Fashion designer, Tom Ford, celebrity photographer, Joyce Ong, video director, Becca Farsace and other experts agree that whenever possible, you should fill your face with front-facing, natural light. In the absence of natural light, Tom Ford instructs Zoom users to place a tall desk lamp next to your computer “on the side of your face you feel is best.” Keep attire simple and classy.

Tip #2: Angles

Position your webcam for maximum effect. Use a stack of books (or whatever) to elevate your laptop so that the webcam is slightly higher than your head by about two inches. Once the laptop is positioned above you, point the camera slightly down toward your eyes.

Tip #3: Cameos

Don’t stress if you are unable to prevent occasional and brief cameos from pets, children, parents, spouses, humans and other  “at home” interruptions. We are human. Welcome such distractions, celebrate them, and….ignore them.  

Tip #4: Eye contact

Speak directly to the webcam, rather than to the screen, and whenever it’s your turn to speak, identify yourself. Doing so reduces the time it takes for others to determine “which square” is speaking. Some online meeting pros even offer a quick hand wave to indicate when they are speaking. Experts also recommend that you a) log on 90 seconds early, and b) enable “join before host,” so that even if you’re a bit late (it happens), others can proceed. 

Tip #5: Speak with authority

As in “live” meetings, strong voices are audible and convey authority, credibility, and confidence. Even when using an external microphone, resist the temptation to use a conversational volume. Speak as if you’re in a large conference room.

Finally, remember that your Zoom meeting is an actual meeting, so be present. Before you succumb to that powerful compulsion to glance at your phone, will you simply click “video off?” There is absolutely no stealth way to hide even a subtle shift in attention. Yes, we see and, can actually sense that you are scrolling.

Janis Moore Campbell, PhD, is senior director of the Center for Student Professional Development in The Fox School of Business at Temple University. Campbell advises students and professionals on the hidden rules of engagement in workplace settings.  Her research examines faculty use of syllabi to socialize students into discourse communities.  According to Campbell, teach and learn are two sides of the very same coin…“everyone is our teacher.”

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