A great appearance matters for virtual/hybrid speaking success

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As a speaker at an in-person event, your appearance worries are about matching the dress code for the event and adding something you always use to feel comfortable. Your appearance challenge at a virtual or hybrid speech is different. A robust appearance strategy requires a more multi-faceted approach, as your audience will view you as if you were standing within a Corona safe distance of you. I expect closer attention to our appearance in 2022 as we enter the third virtual year and the first hybrid year with higher quality expectations. 

The typical appearance has room for improvement for most virtual speakers 

Two years into the pandemic, a few common characteristics for our appearances in virtual events stand out: 

  • We mimic physical events from a storytelling point of view 
  • We use the available screen as a webinar, slides first speakers visible smaller on the side. 
  • We use company polos or more casual clothing than before the pandemic. 
  • We use fuzzy or virtual backgrounds.
  • Overall we maintain a look somewhere between professional and private. 

Maximize your appearance on your audiences’ large 16×9 screens

The first area to review is how we use the available screen space at the desks of your audience. Your channel to your viewership is typically a 16×9 screen in 27″ format, often with 4K capabilities, with the target less than 3 feet away. Limiting yourself to a brief stamp appearance in the corner is a wasted opportunity.

The old saying, “If you can’t see me, you can’t hear me.” is worth for speakers to reflect on. A significant difference between theatrical and cinematic experiences is that the latter bring actors closer to their audience. We are not close enough to the target yet. 

Aim to leap forward to get closer to the audience for your future virtual or hybrid appearances. Work with producers to secure you get more space on the screen—zoom in to a point where your audience can see you well and manage to see your eyes. Take advantage of the reduced bar to capture your talks in 4K with suitable light temperatures. Some cameras with integrated AI capabilities can come in handy for you. 

Which clothes deserve to survive in a stylish post-pandemic speaker wardrobe

The pandemic carved out business in the business casual wardrobe and resulted in a very relaxed approach. As we advance, you want to ask yourself, as a speaker, what will the new business casual look like and what looks great on screen? 

My old stage favorites, black pants, white tennis shoes, colorful socks, and striped shirts, are useless in the virtual/hybrid speaking world. White shirts do not work great on-screen, and my light blue shirts, as the only go-to pieces, start to feel dated.

It is worth investing some time in defining what can work better for future virtual and hybrid events. 

  • An evolving lagom style, a cross-over between pre-pandemic business and business casual, and the more casual world we have embraced.
  • Focus on upper body clothes, as no one sees our pants, belts, shoes, or socks. 
  • Build around a few solid colors you can embrace for various pieces. For men, grey and dark blue can work for plain shirts, knitted sweaters over white shirts, polos, and classic tee shirts, depending on the audience. 

An investment in a personal shopper can come in handy. Avoid loud colors and patterns and anything color stealing attention from you as a speaker. Stay away from the green that doesn’t play well with green screens you eventually will meet. Include a review of your glasses if you use them as part of your speaking outfit. 

Backgrounds that complement you in a better virtual delivery

During the pandemic, three types of backgrounds dominate; an out-of-focus view of your home, a branded company screen, or pictures inserted as virtual backgrounds. 

There are a few options worth considering to up your background game:

  • There are a few alternative home locations where you can record/send from; office chair, standing, or a casual chair.  
  • company-branded screen is used by few today and often a missed branding opportunity. Skip the branded polo and shift the branding to your branded screen.
  • Add small details to the wall behind you where you usually record/send from that can be altered between sessions. 
  • green screen as your base background, customized with your brand, dual brands for customer/partner sessions, still pictures, or soft moving pictures. 

Balance the target backgrounds with the colors you chose for your speaking wardrobe, so they always look nice when combined in your home. 

HD and 4K close-ups add makeup to the speaking preparation to-do-list

Anyone who has been to a TV studio knows the last-minute makeup drill before you go live. These tricks come in handy as you move your speaking to take a larger share on your audience screen and when you record in high quality as HD and 4K quality. 

For men, take a small step and keep it simple, stay with something you can apply yourself, and add an essential powder foundation to your speaking toolkit. Best sorted with a professional in a store rather than stealing from your wife. 

Upgrade your portfolio of professional headshots and promotion pictures

It is worth thinking through which photos you need to support your virtual and hybrid speaking appearances. Starting from up-to-date images on your social media accounts, what you provide for bios and promotions at events, for use in byline articles, etcetera. 

The icing of the appearance cake can be to invest in a new series of speaking pictures 

  • Headshot – serious and casual 
  • Upper body – serious and casual 
  • In speaking action for use in speaker promotion material 
  • Portraits for use in articles if you often do interviews 

Questions for you and your personal shopper and photographer 

  1. How would you describe your preferred style as a speaker before the pandemic? 
  2. What style changes have you done during the pandemic? 
  3. Which of your favorites does not work well on camera? 
  4. What should your go-to wardrobe look like for virtual/hybrid events?
  5. What makeup do I need that I can manage on my own? 
  6. What is the bare minimum of pictures that I need?  

Additional reading suggestions 

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