Tom Lemanski's

Your Bridge to Discovery

Leadership Breakthroughs icon

Your Zoom Presence: Putting Your Best Face Forward

It’s now safe to assume that regular virtual meetings are here to stay in both our current Pandemic period and beyond.  Last spring, most of us were unprepared to spend much of our day on-camera.  And it showed. 

Now after months of virtual meetings, I’ve noticed that many Zoomers still show signs of struggling with the platform.  Dysfunctional Zoomers prevent us from making the most of our valuable meeting time.

So I’ve prepared this comprehensive guide to help you to make the virtual meeting world a better place by improving your Zoom presence

Like it or not; When you participate in a virtual meeting you are a video broadcaster.

I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well.  Why not be the best broadcaster you can be?  Virtual meetings provide an opportunity to influence others’ perceptions of you as a leader.  Here are some ways for you to seize this opportunity. 

Zoom Presence Enhancement Categories

As virtual meeting participants, we all have opportunities to improve others’ perceptions.  This post addresses how to improve your… 

  • Technical Knowledge

  • Skills

  • Behaviors

  • Decision Making

There’s a lot to cover.  Since this article is much longer than my usual posts, I’ve graphicly formatted this document to help you to skim through this detailed guide, as needed. Let’s get started.  

Zoom Room Case Study

Zoom Meeting CC

This is an ideal Zoom Room example for nonverbal messaging. The woman in the upper right corner is speaking. Look at each participant. What nonverbal messages is each person conveying to the group and to the speaker?

As you notice disrespectful behavior, consider when you’ve demonstrated similar nonverbal communication in virtual meetings.  What has your behavior done to impact others’ perceptions of you?  

Image courtesy of Creative Commons: modified to mask names.  

Nonverbal Communication Matters

You can’t help but feel some sympathy for the woman in the example above as she tries to communicate with the other 10 “participants”.  Perhaps 5 are actively listening.  You might even feel embarrassed for the five visually inactive, visually disengaged listeners.   

While it may be true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  The reality is that we not only judge book covers, we also judge people.  It may seem superficial, but we all make snap judgements based on experiences, sights and sounds.  When you show up for a virtual meeting, you’re being judged on your nonverbal communication. 

If you want others to respect your ideas, you need to look and sound like a person worthy of that respect.  

Isn't time to ask yourself...

  • What message is my “Zoom Presence” communicating to others?

  • What are the Good, the Bad and the Ugly parts of my virtual communication?

  • What should I be doing to send the right message?

I’m here to help you with your answers.  While my preferred platform is Zoom, most of these suggestions apply to the other web platforms like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, WebEx, Skype and even Facetime.  

Mirror, Mirror on the Screen...

Hand Mirror - ms

With in-person meetings, you don’t have an opportunity to monitor the nonverbal message you’re sending with your facial expressions and body language. With Zoom, you have no excuse for being unaware of the nonverbal messages you’re sending.  You can and should monitor your image and adjust your body language accordingly. 

You’re on Camera


Assuming that you’re not a drug cartel informant, appearing with your face in the shadows sends the wrong message.  Looking shady is not in your best interest.  There are better ways. Your primary light source needs to be in behind the camera. NOT behind you.  So…

  • Situate yourself in front of a window when there’s natural daylight.
  • Shade any light coming from behind or directly above you whenever possible..     
  • Buy a light ring that you can place in front of you.  These allow you to adjust the location, height, brightness and hue to put your best face forward.   This is an inexpensive way to boost your image. 
  • Or simply find a way to place a lamp in front of you to eliminate the shadows on your face.

Backgrounds: Real and Virtual

Your background is another form of nonverbal communication. In the best case, you want to use your background to enhance your professional image even though you’re not at the office.  In the worst circumstances, you want to minimize the damage.  Put some lipstick on the pig.  

Everyone understands and sympathizes with the complexities of working from home. And there may be times that you need to play that card.  But, do you really want to appear distracted, unorganized and unfocused? 

Perhaps you live with or are a hoarder and your only available work-from-home space is a mess.  Displaying  a disheveled mess in your background is not likely to enhance your personal brand.  

People frequently place themselves in front of filled bookshelves. While this sends a message that you’re educated and well read, it can also be distracting to viewers who can’t resist trying to scan your book titles or collectables and thereby miss your spoken message.   

Using Zoom's Virtual Background Feature

You may have noticed other meeting participants with blowing palm trees or a suspension bridge in their background. They are using Zoom’s virtual background feature  This can be a band aid solution for covering up an undesirable background.  You can even upload your own background image or video to use as your background.  Link to learn how.   Before you embrace this feature, you should know the trade-offs.  Unless you have an actual green screen behind you, the virtual background feature can be quirky.  

  • Parts of your hair and /or head will get lost in the background disappearing and reappearing creating a distraction for viewers.  
  • If you hold up an object to demonstrate, the object can disappear into your background.  

There is a green screen workaround solution.  But before you take that leap, here’s my take on virtual backgrounds:

Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

If you believe you must use one, consider the nonverbal message you want to send and brand properly.  Find an appropriate image and upload it to Zoom. Then consider buying a green screen that you can pin up or prop in front of the wall behind you to avoid the potential disfunctions mentioned above. Here’s a Green Screen Product Suggestion for under $35

Why I Scrapped My Green Screen

Green Screen for Virtual Meeting on ZoomBack in March, I bought a green screen to optimize my use of Zoom backgrounds. I had lots of fun sitting in front of vacation images including a beach video and a panoramic mountain scene. Sometimes I would switch them during a meeting.  Later I used the Chicago skyline both with and without a logo.  It was cute and showed some level of tech savvy. The unspoken message was:

Look how clever and creative I am!

The novelty wore off when I realized my messaging was off. Being a side show was inappropriate. 

I was using my backgrounds as a toy more than as a tool

I took the green screen down in favor of a down to business approach. Now I simply show my office wall with just a hint of a bookshelf.  I proved I could use the background feature, but then decided I shouldn’t.  With that, my new, understated unspoken message: 

I’m working from home in a professional setting ready to focus on the task at hand. 

What message are you sending with your background?  How do you want to be judged?

My Zoom Background Experiments

The Poolside and Bookshelf backgrounds utilized uploaded images, my laptop camera and a green backdrop.  Now, I’ve taken the green screen down in favor of my actual office wall.

Poolside Background

Zoom BG Pool

Sunrise at the pool in Cancun was fun while our weather was wintery.  

Bookshelf Background

Zoom BG- Bookshelf

A few folks had reason to question if this was actually my office. It isn’t.

No Virtual Background

Zoom TL after1600

Minimal distraction.
More authentic.
Less is more.

UPDATE: Zoom's New Blur Feature

In Zoom’s update version 5.6.5, is a new background feature; Blur.  It does what the name implies.  It blurs your existing background and accentuates your image.  Background items are less distracting.  

To use the blur effect, select Blur from the Video backgrounds selection. You will find it next to the NONE option. 

TL Zoom Blur-bg

I now find myself switching back and forth between Blur and No Blur.  If you’re inclined to hold up objects (like books or your hands) the objects get distorted with blur.  

Video Quality

Video Camera IconIf you have a laptop, you’re likely using its build-in webcam. It is probably not a HD camera.  On my Lenovo Idea Pad, the camera’s images are sometimes grainy or washed out.  After researching the webcam marketplace, I decided on a Logitech 920 C webcam.  However webcams like this remain in short supply. So patience may be needed. I really like my Logitech 920 and have two suggestions for acquiring one. 

  1. I ordered mine from TigerDirect (for under $90) and waited a few months for delivery.    
  2. You can currently order a 920C from Amazon and get immediate shipment and pay about $10 to $15 more.  

Since my upgrade, there are noticeable improvements in both my video and audio vs. my laptop.  The built in microphone provides better sound quality than the one built in to my laptop. 

Zoom's Appearance Touch-Up Tools

Yes, Zoom has an Appearance Touch-Up ToolYou can turn it on by adjusting Zoom Video Settings.  To use this option: Click the up arrow next to the Start/Stop Video Icon > Select Video Settings > there you will find a button to turn this feature on and adjust the Touch-Up Level.  You will also find an option to adjust for low light which will brighten your image. 

I’ve found that while using my light ring, neither of these features has much effect.  But if your lighting is questionable, both of these features are worth exploring.  

Sound Quality and Audio Awareness

Many who are serious about sound quality in their verbal communication have invested in USB microphones. They start at $35. Link to example.   I’m personally content using my webcam mic.  But wondering about the benefits of an upgrade as I seek to create, record and share more video content. 

Unwanted Noise

Sometimes the sounds of barking dogs, external conversations or screaming children are unavoidable.  If your household is the source of this meeting disruption, be prepared to soon as possible to minimize your disruption.    

Mute and Unmute

When to Mute

You also need to be aware of when you need to be muted. Here are three important examples:

  • If you cough or clear your throat.  If your respiratory noises are not muted when you clear your throat, you cause both audio and video distraction to all participants.  Those using SPEAKER VIEW will suddenly see you instead of the speaker
  • When someone in your household starts a conversation.  That discussion is then broadcasted to the group.
  • When your cell phone rings. Be mindful that your unmuted, private conversation becomes an unwelcomed disruption of the meeting. Your reputation takes another hit.  If you decide to take your phone call, consider turning off your video to avoid distracting others with your distraction. 

See the icons below for the mute and video on/off button locations. These may only appear when you hover your mouse over that area of the screen.

Zoom Buttons
In the example above, the sound is muted and video is off. Either is toggled back on by clicking on the icon. This row of icons appears when you hover with your mouse.

Time to Unmute

Even experienced Zoomers occasionally forget to unmute when called upon to speak.  It’s embarrassing and creates a chink in your virtual armor. Be aware that meeting hosts will often use the MUTE ALL option whereby you will be muted involuntarily.   Make it a habit to be aware of your mute status and be ready to change it.  If you have a keyboard, you can use the space bar to unmute temporarily.

Using the Space Bar to Unmute

The Space Bar on your computer’s keyboard can serve as a talk button.  If you are muted, you can hold down your space bar to speak. You are temporarily unmuted.  When you finish speaking, release the key, you return to Mute Mode. 

Space Bar


Are Pants Really Optional?

Black tie iconZoom is a waist-up world.  You might enjoy working in your underwear or sweat pants.  No one will notice.  Unless you stand up while on screen. Then you’re busted and may be judged adversely.  To avoid potential judgement by the self appointed wardrobe police, consider:

  • Make your exits more horizontal than vertical by sliding off to the side 
  • Turning your video off before exiting.   
  • Wearing work appropriate attire from head to toe

Here are a few simple non-virtual yet universal rules that I learned in my trade show days.  

  • Ask yourself:
    • Who is my audience?
    • What image do I want my apparel to convey? 
    • Then dress accordingly.
  • Dress to the level of the most important person you will meet.

Working From Home Update on Business Formal Attire

I’ve occasionally noticed people in Zoom meetings dressed in formal business attire.  If you’re attempting to follow the two rules above, it might make sense to get dressed up. But you risk sending a mixed message that appears artificial.  

Never Say “Never”

If you’ve applied the rules above and believe that the benefits of business formal outweigh the negatives, why not?  For some, getting dressed up, enhances their mindset.  If you need that, go for it.

Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka started wearing a necktie on the sidelines to help him control his temper. You too might want to use attire to help you button down your behavior and act more professional.  Just know there may be some who judge your wardrobe decision as over the top.

In the virtual meeting world, business casual is more the norm. Business formal is the exception.  Sadly, Men’s Warehouse and Brooks Brothers have both filed for bankruptcy.  

Make the appropriate choice.  If you do opt for the formal look, please try to have a an appropriate background. Don’t be that guy in the photo. 

Kitchen dressed up

Mixed Messages?

Presence, Posture and Body Language

Household distractions from children, spouses and pets are part of today’s working from home landscape.  Most people are understanding. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set some reasonable household ground rules for minimizing interruptions.  

Executive Presence is a current buzz-phrase. How does it apply to virtual meetings? Let’s take another look at the case study photo.  On a 1 to 10 scale, how would you rate the presence  for each of the 11 examples?  What does that tell you about how you need to show up virtually? 

Zoom Room Case Revisited

Zoom Meeting CC

Here’s some tips to enhance your virtual presence and engagement

  • Switch to Speaker View (vs. Gallery View). This allows you to avoid the visual distractions from other participants and focus on the speaker. 
  • Set up your camera so it is level with your eyes.  Adjust your chair height and/or your camera height to eye level.  Never underestimate the importance of eye contact with your virtual audience.
  • Set up your camera adjacent to your computer monitor to avoid looking off to the side at the screen contents and thereby appearing distracted.  
  • Know where your camera is located and make eye contact with the camera. This is especially helpful for one-on-one meetings.   
  • Lean forward toward the camera to convey your interest and respect for the person speaking.
  • Consider delivering you important presentations while standing up.  You will generate more energy and convey a more formal demeanor. In virtual TV award shows, you’ll notice most of the winners are standing. 

One warning about using Speaker View: it prevents you from “looking in the mirror”.  You can graduate to Speaker View once you’ve used Gallery View to develop your awareness of your nonverbal presence.  Then you can lock-in on the speaker’s image and practice active listening while making eye contact with the camera whenever possible.  

Framing and Naming

Video Broadcast Awareness

Have you noticed participants who participate with the top or bottom of their faces cut off?  What message is that sending?  Your laptop camera is mounted in your screen and should be adjusted to vertically align your face in the middle of the screen.  Do yourself and others the service of checking your video mirror before logging on. If your ceiling is showing, you should adjust your setup.  Be aware that adjusting your laptop screen will likely cut off part of your face, display your ceiling, your gut or some other undesirable image.  You might as well change your Zoom name to Clueless.    

Name Change for Borrowed Accounts

Speaking of changing your name, here’s another clue.  If you are using a borrowed or shared Zoom account, the account owner’s name may display below your video image.  Talk about inaccurate personal branding.  When you notice the wrong name below your image, point to the name, right click, select RENAME then make the correction.  

Internet Bandwidth and Murphy's Law

Your system can be working perfectly. UNTIL it’s your turn to present your part of the agenda.  And suddenly you get a low connectivity warning and your A/V breaks up. Your screen freezes Communication halts.  This may be unavoidable.  But you can take some precautions to reduce the chances of this meeting nightmare.  

  • For really important virtual meetings, restart your modem.  If you don’t know how, get help or learn.
  • Reboot your computer and close all other unused programs that are running. This included your web browser after you’re signed in to the meeting.  
  • Ask others in your household to forego their streaming activities during your critical meeting time.
  • Buy more bandwidth from your internet provider.  Consider asking your employer to pitch in.  

If that dreaded freeze-up does occur, turning off your video (the same way you mute your sound) can help.   If your connection to Zoom is lost, don’t panic and be patient.  The Zoom software will work to re-connect you without any action on your end. Ideally, you will be back in the meeting in a minute or two without any actions on your end.    

Shopping List

Accessories to Improve Your Zoom Presence

Here’s a summary of items discussed with estimated starting point prices and links to examples on Amazon.  Note that both the WebCam and microphone require a USB port.  If you don’t have enough USB ports available, you can purchase an extender.   

You can be all in for under $200.  Is your image worth it?  Or more?  Higher end versions for all products are out there.  Again, it’s not unreasonable to ask your employer to contribute.


  • As Amazon associates, we receive commissions on purchases made from the links on this page. Some of these recommendations we have purchased and used successfully.  In other stated cases, we provide links as shopping ideas and search starting points.  
  • I (Tom Lemanski) am a long time user and advocate of the Zoom platform. So much so, I became a shareholder prior to the pandemic and still hold my shares.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks, TL. This was helpful. I knew and use most of what you offered here. That said a few tweaks will raise the professionalism.

    Merry Christmas!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles