Who Are You on Zoom?

Bad Backlight

By now, you’ve Zoomed with ’em all: The guy who looks like an unmade bed and never looks at the camera. “Backlight person” who thinks you can see their amazing backyard, but all you see is their dark silhouette against the blinding light coming through the window. The would-be influencer who stares straight into her webcam, pushes out her chin and slightly clocks her shoulders until she’s ready for her close-up. The bald guy (whose head you know like the back of your hand) who, unfortunately, never looks up at the camera. The “check out my awesome greenscreen background” person. And, of course, the motion sickness–inducing “selfie rover.” By now, you’ve Zoomed with ’em all, and they’ve all Zoomed with you.

Leaving how you should comport yourself in an online meeting for another time, here are a few simple things you can do to look and sound your best during your online meetings.

Camera Position

Place your laptop on a stack of books or a shelf so that the webcam lens is level with the middle of your forehead. You want to be looking slightly up at the camera. This is tough if you must work on your laptop during your online meetings. It’s the main reason to consider an external webcam.

No Light

If there’s a window, face it and let nature do your lighting. If you can position yourself so that you are at a 45-degree angle to the window, you’ll look even better. Overhead lights are not your friends. Turn them off. Or remove the bulbs directly above your head.

One Light

Nighttime or no window? That’s OK. Place a lamp 45 degrees in front of you to your right or left side. If you look too yellow, get a “cooler” bulb (5,600K or higher). Look too blue? Get a “warmer” bulb (2,700-3,300K). There are any number of lighting solutions available. My wife moves her laptop all over our apartment all the time. I got her a $50 cube light kit with a suction cup attachment. It was a game-changer for her.


If you are using a green screen, a single light source directly in front and slightly above you (right on top of the camera) is the quickest, most foolproof way to help your software cut a usable key. That’s geekspeak for, “properly separate you from the background so you can be superimposed on the virtual background of your choice.” If you have the space, place the greenscreen far enough behind you so that your shadow falls on the floor (not on the greenscreen). This is a balancing act between how much light falls on you and how much falls on the greenscreen. Grab an app called Green Screener if you want to become a world class greenscreen user.

In-home Video Studio

In a perfect world, you would set up your online meeting space with classic three-point lighting. If you have time, money, and space, consider a key light, fill light, and back light. Just Google this classic lighting technique. It is “best practices.”

Computer Mic & Speakers

The microphone and speakers in your laptop are tools of last resort. If you must use them, you already know you need to be in a quiet room, preferably carpeted with enough clutter to keep the echo to a minimum.


For most people, a good pair of noise-canceling headphones is an excellent investment. Gaming headphones are built for streaming, but high-end earbuds like Apple’s Airpods Pro or Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live work well. I am also a fan of good, old-fashioned, wired earbuds. It’s a personal choice. All that matters is that they sound good to you.

External Microphone & Speakers

Just like with three-point lighting, external microphones and speakers are the gold-standard for streaming. My kit is described at kit.co/shellypalmer, but there are an infinite number of ways to set up a pro-audio system. If you have a dedicated workspace, it’s truly a luxury.


If you’re interested in looking and sounding better in your online meetings, please join me on Wednesdays (3 p.m. ET) for my #strategyhacker livestream. It’s a show about business strategy and working from home tips and techniques. You can request a calendar invite below.


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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com.



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