video conferencing at work? here’s how to be more likable on video

With workplaces increasingly using video conferencing to connect people working in geographically distributed locations, you might be finding yourself appearing on camera at work a lot more than you used to.

For those of us who dislike this increasing use of video at work, a recent article in the Wall St. Journal will further stoke your concerns: It turns out that coming off as “likeable” is much harder via video than it is in-person. For instance, job candidates who interview by video receive lower likeability ratings, lower interview scores, and are less likely to be hired than those who interview in person, according to a study published in Management Science. And what’s more, people watching a speaker on a video conference are more influenced by how much they like the speaker than by the quality of the person’s presentation. That’s a real confidence-booster if you’ve got to use video at your job, huh?

So if you can’t avoid video conferences at work, what can you do to appear more likable – or at least to cancel out the likability deficit video introduces?

1. Make “eye contact” by looking into the camera. In a face-to-face conversation, you probably don’t hold eye contact the entire time; you’d come across as unnervingly intense if you did that. But on video, looking away comes across as distracted or unpolished. Looking into the camera the whole time will make you appear more engaged and more likable. (And remember to look into the camera, not at the picture of the other person on your screen. If you look at the latter, you’ll appear to be looking slightly away from the person you’re talking with.)

2. Smile when you talk. A serious face staring out of the screen without any emotion isn’t going to up your likability factor, so smile when you talk. And try to make it natural so that it feels genuine.

3. Pay attention to your tone of voice. If you put some effort into sounding warm and enthusiastic, you’re likely to come across better on video than if you use a monotone. Remember that you’re not talking to a computer; picture the people on the other end of the connection if you can’t see them.

4. Pay attention to the lighting. Aim light at yourself from the front, not from behind you. A lamp with diffused lighting about six feet in front of you works well. You can also try covering your light source with a cloth to soften it. And make sure that you’re not backlit from a window or a light source behind you, or you can end up appearing on the screen as just a dark silhouette.

5. Position yourself in front of the camera correctly. Don’t sit as close to the computer as you normally would. Instead, sit a little bit farther back so that your face and upper shoulders are framed in the shot. Additionally, try placing the computer slightly higher than you normally do, so that it’s capturing you face-on, rather than you looking down at it. (Try propping it up on some books to get it to the correct height.)

6. Use the highest-speed Internet connection you can. On slower Internet connections, the video might not align well with the audio and can cause awkward time lags. If nothing else helps, try plugging your computer directly into your Internet cable, rather than using a wireless connection.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog.

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam*

    Some people, myself included, can feel a little weird on video so we come across like balsa wood. I feel like I’m reading the news sometimes.

  2. Lanya*

    I just had to do a one-way video interview the other day. I tried my best to make the video portray me in as likeable a way as possible, but I did not like this interview format at all. I think my chances at getting a second interview would be a lot higher if I had been able to talk to them in person or even over the phone.

    1. Lanya*

      Tip: I taped a Sailor Moon postcard riiiight above the webcam so that I could pretend she was my “audience” while I was addressing the camera, so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep glancing back down at the screen to watch myself talking. I also considered putting googly eyes on the webcam, but I didn’t want to break out the hot glue gun.

      1. Riki*

        This is a great idea! I had a video interview not too long ago and even though I practiced speaking to the camera beforehand, my eyes kept wandering back to the screen.

      2. Elsajeni*

        I was going to suggest something similar! I’ve tried the googly eyes, but it’s hard to get them to stick on/near the webcam without making them stick so well that they’re hard to get off — I ended up putting a small stuffed animal on top of the webcam instead.

      3. Allison*

        I had to do a one-way video interview about two years ago. I did the same thing. I drew a smiley face on a post it and put it right next to the webcam and tried to talk to my ‘interviewer’. After doing some practice questions to make sure the video looked ok, I also put some post-its over the video feed so I wouldn’t be tempted to look down. It’s too much of a distraction.

    2. Noah*

      I did one of these recently too. It was a strange experience, but I actually really liked the chance to formulate a response to a question. During mine they asked a question and then gave you 90 seconds to come up with an answer. So I made notes and felt like I had a coherent answer without stumbling like I might in real time.

      1. Lanya*

        Mine was not so generous – I only had 5 seconds to read the questions and formulate an answer before the thing started to record. And since their questions were weird and not anywhere near close to the “basic top 20 interview questions” that I had been practicing for days, I felt like I was on trial. It was not a good experience. They have not called me back and I don’t expect them to!

  3. A Jane*

    One of my interviewers was on conference video and she was sitting as far away from the camera as possible. I immediately gave up on trying to read facial expressions.

  4. Gene*

    Two things:

    Background! A plain, neutral background is best. Spouse in underwear walking by behind you is a problem. If you are going to be doing a lot of video conferencing from home (or even your desk at work), figure out a way to hang a sheet up behind you.

    Camera placement; if using a camera that isn’t built-in to your computer, place it directliy in front of your monitor, about eye level with the person on the other side. That naturally gives you the eye contact without having to look away to see what’s on the screen.

    1. Adam*

      Re Backgorund: and suddenly I’m reminded of the letter writer who was giving a phone interview and then her roommates decided to “get freaky”. This is why many people are hesitant to embrace video calls: you can’t hide your facial expressions!

  5. Rat Racer*

    Here’s my struggle with conference calls: in the video conference rooms at my company, one monitor shows all call participants, the other is like a mirror, showing yourself on screen. I find it very distracting to watch myself talk, so I usually turn the second monitor off. However, then I don’t know whether or not I’m looking at the camera (probably not, I think). I wonder, though, how much of an impact that has, and how important it is to come across as “likable” during a work-based video conference anyway? (Obviously – you don’t want to do something to make yourself UNlikable, like yell at people, interrupt, or start surfing the web…)

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      You don’t want to focus on likeability at the expense of other work goals, of course – like avoiding difficult conversations, for example. But the truth is that there are advantages to being liked at work, everything else being equal. People may be more willing to go a little out of their way for you if they like you and think you like them. Things like making “eye contact” with the camera and being well-lit probably don’t conflict with being businesslike in other ways.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I do know what you’re saying, though. It really bugs me when people talk about politicians in terms like, “I’m voting for Smith because he seems like such a nice guy.” I’d rather have someone competent than someone likeable. But on the other hand, someone competent and likeable is better than an equally competent jerk…

        1. Rat Racer*

          Can’t argue with you there – relationships keep the world spinning where I work. It’s hard to imagine that my team or my boss will suddenly like me less because I’m not looking at the camera square on. On the other hand, if it’s a meeting with new people, I suppose one should take all steps possible to make the best impression.

    2. Gail L*


      I don’t know if I’m self absorbed or what, but I always find myself staring at my OWN image when on skype. Thankfully I skype to our office in Afghanistan, and the connection is almost never good enough for video – so we leave it off more often than not.

  6. Meg Murry*

    Hold still, and wear solid colors! Not necessarily stiff as a board, but small movements like drumming your fingers on the table or touching your hair make the video have a blurry spot and are distracting. Talking with large hand gestures is too. Patterned clothes can look blotchy or strange.
    If you can practice with an honest colleague via the office video conference system (best option) or a friend over Skype (2nd best option) before a high stakes meeting or interview, do it.

    1. Lou*

      I talk with my hands, and I find that if I try not to, I end up seeming much less engaged than if I just behave normally (or as normally as one can when talking to a camera!). But then again, I gesticulate wildly while on the phone too :)

      Good advice about not fidgeting though– even if you can’t see the movement directly, it’s very evident and distracting when the person isn’t speaking.

  7. Jess*

    One of the temp agencies I applied to made candidates do a little video “selling” ourselves to employers, which they did not warn people about beforehand. They were supposed to email you a copy later. It was so incredibly awkward. I never got my copy by email…I’m guessing it was so bad they immediately deleted it.

  8. Stephanie*

    Related question–what do people usually wear for a Skype interview? I did one once and dressed in business casual because it just seemed too odd that I’d be sitting around in a suit.

    Also, if you wear makeup, check the lighting. I found the wrong lighting on top of makeup made me look kind of washed out and about a shade lighter.

    1. Jamie*

      I’d dress as I would for an in person interview. If the rule was based on what I’d likely be wearing if I wasn’t skyping…well, let’s just say unless baggy t-shirts and flannel jammie pants because the new fashion do I’m in trouble. :)

  9. LJL*

    Thanks for the timely suggestions, Alison! I’m completing faculty development on teaching via video, and many of these suggestions apply there too.

  10. Alex*

    I love this! I work as a sales rep for a company that sells a lot of video solutions, and this list is fantastic. I’ve already shared with many of coworkers. Thanks AAM!

  11. FatBigot*

    We use a lot of Lync videoconferencing. I am sorely tempted to point my webcam at a collection of my daughter’s playmobil.

  12. Scott M*

    There is a product called “See Eye 2 Eye ” that helps you make eye contact when video conferencing. It’s sort of like a “reverse periscope” that uses a regular mirror and partially silvered mirror to place the image of the other person over the front of the camera (the camera sees you through the partially silvered mirror).

    There is a version for laptops with built in cameras, and monitors with external cameras. It’s about $50. Look on Amazon for “See Eye 2 Eye “

  13. I heart watches*

    This is why I think videoconferencing for work is so weird. Both parties are trying to look professional, so both look at the camera not the screen. What is the point of using a video if neither person looks at the other? It becomes the equivalent of a phone interview with a bad connection but you’re forced to look at one spot the whole time.

    I don’t get it.

  14. Vicki*

    It never occurred to me that people were supposed to try for “likeability”.

    I always thought the goal was professional, capable, knowledgeable, and able to put sentences together without saying “um”.

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