I’ve written about this stuff quite a bit over the last year or more, but the crusade must continue, unfortunately. I was on a video conference call the other day with 6–8 people, and nobody seemed to have learned anything from the exponential growth in such calls recently. Every single person on the call looked unnecessarily unprofessional.
There are only two things to consider: how we look and how we sound.
How we look is very little to do with the quality of the camera – I doubt any of us have poor ones nowadays. Good lighting is everything, and daylight from a window is fine, no expenditure is necessary if that can be arranged. Otherwise, good ambient artificial lighting is fine, but we just need to make sure that the primary lighting is on our face, not behind us shining into the camera!
A non-distracting background is another essential. It doesn’t have to be plain (although that’s a good choice); an office environment can be fine, as can things like bookcases etc. It’s just thoughtless to have things growing out of people’s heads, or domestic items in shot. And how hard is it to get the camera on eye level? Put the laptop up on some books, or just do whatever’s necessary.
How we sound is the first (and perhaps only) thing I’d spend money on. The feedback cancellation built into the tech we use is fine, so I don’t think headphones are worth the nuisance – just keep the speaker volume to a low-ish level. However, a tie-clip or ‘lavalier’ microphone, for example, really does offer better quality sound than most computers’ built-in microphones.
Finally, rooms with soft furnishings, bookcases or other clutter really do make a positive difference. We all cringe at the ‘cavern effect’ on sound quality of undecorated spare bedrooms.
Looking and sounding professional doesn’t need to cost much, if anything. And it shows that we care.