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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Background Check: Is Your Home Zoom Ready?

I am the worst voyeur. Whenever my husband and I are out walking, I peer in windows. Despite his chastising, I sneak peeks wherever I can. I cannot get enough of seeing how people really live. Glancing in windows beats looking at photos in home magazines -- because it’s reality.

Imagine my glee at the pandemic-driven boom in Zoom and other brands of virtual meetings, which gives me liberal license to feed my guilty pleasure. Suddenly, folks who would never normally have me over are inviting me into their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and backyards.

It’s a wonder I can focus. Whenever I’m on a Zoom call, my eyes rove to the take in what’s behind the participants. What’s on the mantel, bookshelves, refrigerator or wall? Is that a signed Georgia O’Keefe? Would you look at that chandelier? He really should hide that “Gambling for Dummies” book.

Yes, I judge. It’s fun for me. But here’s the catch. The camera call goes two ways, and turns on my place, too. Gulp. She who lives in a glass house …

I try to learn from others’ missteps. I pay attention when TV networks awkwardly beam us into the homes of displaced news commentators. Recall Will Reeves, Superman Christopher Reeve’s son, appearing on Good Morning America ( wearing a sports coat and dress shirt to deliver a serious business message. Only he gave us a little too much information. Where were his pants? Surely, thigh was not a scheduled part of the program.

Since we’re all virtually sharing a little more of ourselves and our homes these days, this is prime time to clean up, declutter and curate your home to make sure it reveals the you that you want to reveal, not that other you.

So zoom in for the following ways to make sure you and your home are camera ready.

  • Start with the light. Don’t worry about getting the background right until you get the light right. Open your blinds to bring in natural light, which is good, unless it’s coming in behind you. That will leave you in the shadows. Facing natural light from a window is ideal. If your virtual meeting is at night, or in a windowless room, set a lamp facing you. You want to your main light source directly in front of you, not overhead, unless you want to look like you’re being interrogated.

  • Soundcheck. Find a quiet place away from the household hullaballoo. That’s a tall task at my home with three dogs, an ambitious gardening crew, and a neighbor whose symphonic parrot has mastered the sound of child murder. To spare others in your home from hearing the other side of the conversation, use headphones.

  • Run a background check. Once you’ve got the light and sound down, dial in the background. Yes, we know that due to present circumstances you have to work out of your kitchen or bedroom. But spare us your unwashed dishes, unmade bed, laundry pile, view into your bathroom, and last night’s stash of empty beer bottles. Because the focus should be you, shoot for an uncluttered, attractive, and not embarrassing backdrop. Reconsider any visible books about religion, sex or politics. (“Learning Massage with Your Partner” should probably go in the drawer.) Sit so your back is against something predictable like a wall, so rogue kids or half-dressed partners are less apt to zoom into view, which you know will happen. Be near an outlet.

  • Build your brand. Though step one is don’t embarrass yourself, next step is to tailor the scene to convey that better you. Look around your home for a spot that reflects your style and taste, or create one. Having family photos, artwork, books and travel memorabilia is fine, but a bar cart, maybe not. Make sure on-screen objects project the image you want. If not, edit or change locations.

  • Fake it. Though I prefer to keep it real, if you can’t find one place in your home that looks camera ready, you can drop in a virtual background (go to settings, select virtual background then add image) to make it look like you’re standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, by a campfire, in a fish tank, or in some posh interior.

  • Angle is everything. Your best angle is straight ahead. Raise your laptop monitor so it’s eye level and head on. I have seen up more noses in the last few months than I care to count. Prop your monitor on a few books or a shoebox, which also helps eliminate the double-chin problem. If you must relocate during a virtual meeting, turn off your video momentarily so you don’t give everyone vertigo, and don’t smash the monitor against your chest, ladies. Before you go live, use the video preview feature to adjust lighting, hair and to see what all is in view.

  • Dress accordingly and completely. Wear what you would wear if you were meeting with the others on the call in person. And, yes, dress from head to toe, just in case you forget you’re wearing your pajama bottoms and stand up. Regardless of what Reeves said on national television, he did deliver this important public service message to all who participate in remote meetings from home: Get fully dressed.

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