Tuesday, August 25, 2020

ARTICLE: Zooming Into the Future: Tips to Improve One's Appearance at Online Meetings


The below article of mine was published by the Pennsylvania Law Weekly and is republished here with permission.


Zooming Into the Future: 
Tips to Improve One’s Appearance at Online Meetings

By Daniel E. Cummins | August 06, 2020

Daniel E. Cummins, managing partner of the Clarks Summit law firm of Cummins Law.



The global coronavirus pandemic has lawyers across the nation turning to online virtual platforms to keep their cases moving forward. Completing depositions via platforms such as Google Meet or Zoom has quickly become the norm.

Also, with the return of jury trials any time soon remaining suspect, there has also been an increase in litigants turning to ADR proceedings to resolve their matters, whether it be by binding arbitrations or nonbinding mediations. The pandemic has also kept litigants away from in-person ADR proceedings, with the preference being to complete such proceedings remotely.

In addition to fully preparing for online depositions and ADR proceedings in a normal fashion by thoroughly reviewing one’s file and preparing for the hearing, it may also help one’s performance by paying attention to taking steps to improve your appearance on the virtual platform. Knowing that you have done everything to not only prepare for the deposition, mediation or other online proceeding but also for appearances sake, may, in the end, serve to improve your confidence in your presentation.

More importantly, having a better appearance at an online proceeding as compared to your opponent may also contribute to your success at the proceeding. For, as Fernando Lamas, who was Billy Crystal’s SNL character from the ’80s was famous for saying, “It is better to look good, than to feel good.”

A quick Google search for tips to improve one’s appearance on Zoom or other virtual platforms brings up numerous results with many people offering great tips on fashion, lighting, sound and general recommendations appearance. Below is a compilation of the common tips noted in these search results.

Lighting

During a Zoom meeting you do not want conditions to be too dark or too bright. Many Zoom commentators recommend having a steady lamp throwing soft light toward your face. In the alternative, they recommend that you sit facing, or looking towards, a window for soft, pleasing natural light.

Almost all commentators recommend that you avoid having any windows behind you as the daylight coming in from behind you may create a silhouette effect and make it difficult for the viewer to see you.

Background

Watching Zoom interviews on TV reveals that many people are trying too hard with their backgrounds. It is sometimes painfully obvious that the person has purposely put books or things on shelves in their background to make a statement or to say, in effect, “Look at me, look at me! Look at what is important to me.”

The danger of sitting in front of bookshelves is that some in your audience will be spending time as a voyeur looking at your background and not paying attention to you or what you have to say. You want people to focus on your face, not your background.

As such, the commentators online recommend that you avoid bookshelves and their contents, or other busy backgrounds when you are on a Zoom or Google Meet event. A plain and simple background is recommended, perhaps containing a plant or one simple, unobtrusive picture, poster or painting.

Perhaps to keep with your legal theme, you could have the scales of justice or a gavel in the background. Also, helpful could be a small- to medium-sized framed picture of your law firm logo as an advertisement of your firm for all to see online.

Adjust to Be Eye Level With the Webcam

The most common issue with Google Meet or Zoom meetings is the positioning of the person on the screen. All too often we are either looking up people’s faces and nostrils, or only seeing the top half of their faces from the nose up. Positioning your face properly in relation to the webcam on your computer or phone is important.

Find the webcam on your device and always be aware of it in terms of your positioning when preparing to join an online meeting. You want to try to avoid having the webcam too low or too high. You also want to avoid having the webcam situated below you as if it is looking up at you, or too high as if it is looking down on you.

The online commentators recommend trying to have the webcam situated so that it is eye level with you and looking straight at you. It may help to put books under your laptop or monitor to raise your webcam to eye level, so that you are looking straight on at your audience watching you on the other end.

If you are using a cellphone, try to prop the phone up in the same fashion so that the webcam is eye-to-eye level with you. You should also have your cellphone on a holder as opposed to holding it during an online meeting. No one in your audience will appreciate viewing you if you are holding your cellphone and moving it as you talk.

Also, during the meeting, try not to look at yourself or who you are speaking to on the screen so much. Rather, when speaking, look at the webcam for eye-to-eye contact with your audience. Failing to look at the webcam gives a sense to the audience that you are looking away and are, therefore, not as confident in your statements.

Also remember to advise your client to look at the webcam when testifying. There are some commentators who caution that, when a witness does not look at the webcam, it may look to the audience as if the witness is looking down or away as if they are not confident in their testimony, or are being evasive, or, even worse, may appear to be lying.

Last but not least with respect to the webcam, remember to wipe the camera window with a microfiber lens cloth periodically to allow for a clear, crisp picture.

Appearance

It is obviously recommended by the commentators that all participants be properly groomed. Business attire remains a mainstay for depositions and court hearings in order to show respect for the proceedings. The same should hold true for ADR proceedings. In other words, the commentators recommend that male attorneys should put on a tie and female attorneys should wear what they would ordinarily wear to a deposition or a court appearance. While it has become acceptable for male attorneys to take off their jacket for depositions, it is still expected that they wear a jacket for court appearances.

Fashion mavens commenting on Zoom appearances recommend that participants avoid busy patterns in your tops and ties. They also recommended that you avoid very bright and very dark colors. Rather, plain, solid colors are recommended.

The commentators also recommend avoiding wearing colors that are similar to the color of your background. They note that wearing the same color clothing as in your background, could end up creating a floating head effect. As such, it recommended that you create a contrast between the color of your clothes and the color of your background.

Other commentators recommend that you wear your favorite colors as they may boost your confidence.

In terms of jewelry, the commentators note that less is better. They note that big or dangling earrings can be a distraction and many bracelets can be noisy as you work on your desk and move things during the course of the online proceeding.

It is also noted that in the video settings on Zoom you can click on the “Touch Up My Appearance” button, which will retouch your display with a soft focus. According to Zoom, this feature “can help smooth out the skin tone on your face, to present a more polished looking appearance when you display your video to others.” Unfortunately, it cannot help with your hairline.

Sound

Obviously, during an online proceeding it is best to speak loud and clear, slow and methodical in order to ensure that your message is heard. It is polite to mute yourself whenever you can to avoid distracting noises.

Also, when engaging in an online proceeding, try to avoid cutting someone off or talking over them. When you are cut off by another person, try to stop speaking (even if the other person has rudely interrupted you), and finish your thought when that other person is done speaking. Let your ego drop for a bit and trust that, in almost every situation, a person who has been cut off in this setting will be given an opportunity to finish their statement.

One additional tip is that, at the commencement of any depositions, try to secure an agreement of all counsel that any attorney can object to the form of a question at any time, even if it is not until after the witness has answered the question. In this way, you can lessen the chance that people are speaking over one another, which could make the job difficult for the court reporter and serve to lengthen the proceedings due to the need to repeatedly repeat things.

Following the above tips may help you to have a better appearance in your online appearances. Be sure to make it a part of your practice to advise your clients of these tips in preparation for any of their online appearances.

As we zoom into the future, noting these tips will give both you and your clients a more confident presence at a deposition or an ADR proceeding. Adherence to these tips will also help your online meetings to move forward in a more orderly fashion. In the end, command over the facts, the law—and your appearance—may carry the day.


Daniel E. Cummins is the managing partner of the Clarks Summit law firm of Cummins Law, a civil litigation practice. He also conducts mediations of civil litigation matters through Cummins Mediation Services. Cummins is also the sole creator and writer of the Tort Talk Blog (www.TortTalk.com), which is designed to provide continuing updates on important cases and trends in Pennsylvania civil litigation law. He can be reached at dancummins@CumminsLaw.net.

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