April 24, 2020 5 minutes to read ∙ 1100 words

Ask Techie: How Can I Look Professional on Zoom?

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Welcome to the latest installment of our monthly Q&A column, where a panel of experts answers your questions about using technology in your law practice.

This month we answer readers’ questions about how to start working remotely if you’ve never had a home office before, whether the smart speaker in your home office will eavesdrop on your confidential conversations, and how you can look professional (and maybe even good!) on Zoom.

A lot of people are spending more and more time on Zoom and virtual meetings. Avoid the three biggest visual mistakes.

A lot of people are spending more and more time on Zoom and virtual meetings. Avoid the three biggest visual mistakes.

Luis Alvarez/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Q: How Can I Look Professional on Zoom?

A: We’ve all been spending more and more of our workday in virtual meetings—and realizing we look horrible on camera. But there are solutions! Just avoid the three biggest visual mistakes.

Mistake 1: You’re Too Close to the Camera

The ideal distance between you and the camera is five feet. Your laptop camera or webcam atop your monitor is too close. You need a separate webcam placed well behind your monitor to look professional. If you don’t, you’ll look like this:

Avoid fishface!

Avoid fishface!

Courtesy of Wells H. Anderson

Not only does your nose look 30 percent larger when you’re too close, but your whole face is distorted. A $17 tripod (such as this one) and webcam or inexpensive camcorder will solve those problems. Put the tripod behind your monitor and position the webcam or camcorder above your eye level.

I mention a camcorder because the best webcams are sold out as of April 2020. But a small camcorder can connect to your computer and do the same thing as a webcam. Examples ranging in price from $79.99 to $89.99 can be found here and here. And—news flash!—you can buy a point-of-view action camera for only $49.99. (If you’re really committed to capturing your cycling, snowboarding, or snorkeling adventures when the shelter-at-home orders end, you could get a top-of-the-line GoPro model for about ten times that amount.)

Adjust the zoom setting of your webcam or camcorder so that your head and shoulders are visible. At that distance your face looks natural, and you don’t give the impression of invading the personal space of others in the video meeting.

Mistake 2: Your Face Is Shadowed and Discolored

A window or main lighting behind you shadows your face.

Avoid backlit video!

Avoid backlit video!

Courtesy of Wells H. Anderson

Ideally, your camera should be set up on a tripod in front of a window or between two soft lights. Your laptop/monitor, mouse, and keyboard should be between you and your lighting source.

On a Hollywood movie set, you would have a key light, a fill light (both in front of you), and a backlight. That setup it great, but all you need is a window or a pair of soft lights behind and above your screen.

I see a wide variety of camera color settings in Zoom meetings. Take the time to explore your camera software settings. They won’t automatically give flattering results.

For example, the Logitech webcam software has a Webcam Controller feature. Adjust the zoom in the main window, then press Advanced Settings to adjust the white balance and color intensity to make your image warmer and less washed out.

Mistake 3: Your Background Is Too Busy

A cluttered or even beautiful, busy background pulls attention away from you. Go for a plain, plain, plain background. Comedians use a brick wall. Who’s going to spend much time staring at bricks?

A beautiful ocean scene or skyline? Minds will wander away from what you’re saying and into a reverie: “I remember walking on a sunny beach. . . .”

Bonus Tip: Enable HD

Because the use of Zoom has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom’s default camera resolution has been lowered from HD (high definition) to standard definition.

To change back to HD in a meeting:

  • Move your mouse to the lower left corner to make the Stop Video icon appear.
  • Click the Up button to the right of the Stop Video icon.
  • Click on Video Settings.
  • Check the Enable HD checkbox

If your camera does not support HD, order a new camera. I like the Logitech 920 line, but it is currently sold out. See the camera suggestions above under Mistake 1 for other options.

Techie: Wells H. Anderson, JD, GPSolo eReport Contributing Technology Editor, SecureMyFirm, 952/922-1120, and Active Practice LLC, 952/922-1727.

Q: Will the Smart Speaker in My Home Office Eavesdrop on My Client Conversations?

A: You should always be concerned about confidentiality and privileged information around technology such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. These devices by default listen and capture audio as well as track all our interactions with the device. This is supposedly for quality and improvement purposes, but such concerns are irrelevant—and even dangerous—for lawyers. There have been several incidents in the recent past where these devices were found to be listening and capturing information that was meant to be private.

If you find yourself working from home in a room that has a smart speaker, here is what you can do:

  1. The best solution to make absolutely sure you don’t have an issue is to either unplug these devices entirely or remove them from the room where you are working.
  2. If you believe that is excessive, then at a minimum you need to disable the ability of these devices to save your voice commands that can be sent to Amazon or Google and to delete any interactions you have with your smart speaker. Detailed instructions on how to do this on your Amazon and Google smart speakers can be found in the article “Alexa, Delete What I Just Said! Here’s How to Prevent Amazon from Listening In” (Katie Conner, CNET, November 13, 2019).

Techie: Nerino J. Petro Jr., GPSolo eReport Contributing Technology Editor, Erickson Group, nerinopetro@cencomtech.com.

Q: I’ve Never Worked from Home, but COVID-19 Has Shut Down My Office. How Do I Even Start Working Remotely?

A: It’s easier than ever to leave the brick-and-mortar office behind.

  1. Set up a virtual private network (VPN) and remote access to your desktop. This will allow you to turn your home computer—or any computer or laptop, for that matter—into your work computer; that way you won’t have to worry about transferring files or programs from one machine to another. With a VPN and remote desktop, your home computer will sync with your work computer, so it’ll be just like you’re at the office. This will require a bit of setup; if you haven’t done so already, contact your IT person ASAP to get it done. If that’s not an option (or if, as a solo, you are your IT person), contact me (via e-mail at jordan@palacelaw.com or on social media @jordanlcouch), and I can give you some recommendations.
  2. You and your staff may not have the setup needed to be able to work from home, so take what you need. In our office we had a few of our staff take their computers home or even a desk chair if they needed it. Do you have some files you’re working on? Take them home. No matter how good you are at running a paperless, high-tech office, you might find there are some tasks for which you still need the analog version. I’ll confess that as tech-forward as my firm is, I have to go back to the office next week to grab a folder with some printed research. We have no idea how long this will last, so take what you need and trust your team enough to let them do the same.

Techie: Jordan L. Couch, GPSolo eReport Contributing Technology Editor, Palace Law, jordan@palacelaw.com. This Q&A is excerpted from the author’s article “Work Remotely as a Lawyer: An Innovator’s Guide to Law in the Time of Coronavirus,” NWSidebar, March 25, 2020; reprinted with permission.

What’s YOUR Question?

If you have a technology question, please forward it to Managing Editor Rob Salkin (robert.salkin@americanbar.org) at your earliest convenience. Our response team selects the questions for response and publication. Our regular response team includes Jeffrey Allen, Wells H. Anderson, Jordan L. Couch, Ashley Hallene, Al Harrison, and Patrick Palace. We publish submitted questions anonymously, just in case you do not want someone else to know you asked the question.

Please send in your questions today!

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Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 9, April 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.