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Tips for Looking Your Best in Video Classrooms

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This blog post was originally posted on May 7, 2020.

Before the pandemic, I had never heard of Zoom. What a difference a couple of months can make! Now, like most of you I expect, I find myself “zooming” on a daily basis: Boards I serve on meet via Zoom; community volunteer groups gather via Zoom; classes convene via Zoom. Last week I even “zoomed” with the four young men who rescued me and two friends from the Christ Church Cathedral when it was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake in New Zealand; with a former student and his two young children; and with a group of women who were sharing, virtually, wine and cheese. I feel a bit zoomed out!

During these sessions, I’ve also had an opportunity to see myself in the little Hollywood Squares boxes—or sometimes on full screen—and it’s been sobering. Of course I look my age—it is what it is!—but to me I look WORSE, sometimes much worse, than in real life. Have you or your students had the same experience?

Thinking about this screen presence reminded me of a “media prep” session I was part of eons ago when I was on the MLA Executive Council. A media consultant came in to coach us on how to present ourselves on TV. I remember the consultant telling us that on television, the camera exaggerates everything: “if you barely lick your lips,” she said, “it will look like your tongue is all the way out of your mouth.” And she showed us what she meant! She also coached us to lean slightly forward when looking into the TV camera, telling us that even a slight backward lean would come across as “slouching.”  I don’t remember anything else, but these tips came back to me as I was looking at a Zoom session (or Skype or FaceTime or . . .). What can I do, I wondered, and what can I recommend that instructors and students do to make the most of Zoom and similar sessions? Some ideas came quickly to mind:

  • Make sure you’re in a quiet and uncluttered space so that nothing distracts from what you’re saying.
  • Pay attention to where the light is coming from so that it’s not shining directly down on you, creating weird shadows, or washing everything out. (Some people recommend using a selfie ring light, but I don’t have one of those so I look for places where the natural light is soft and clear.)
  • If you’re using a laptop, prop it up on books so that you can look slightly up and into the camera rather than down at it. And remember to actually look into the camera—something I constantly forget to do!
  • Dress simply in clothes that don’t glitter or glisten. (I learned this tip before a TV appearance where the host insisted I change clothes entirely because the suit I was wearing had a sheen to it which caused a lot of glare on camera. Who knew?!)

I’m sure professional media folks can offer a lot more tips, and you probably know more too. (Please send them to me!) In this new world of living online—which we may be doing for the rest of this year—I for one need all the help I can get. So here’s looking at you, kid—on Zoom!

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 5059828 by Tumisu, used under the Pixabay License

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.