Communication 2021: There’s plenty of room to improve on Zoom

John French


Virtual meetings demand a whole new set of communication and presentation skills. This blog helps you to get your lighting, camera angles and stagecraft right.

Learn new virtual communication skills in 2020

How are people sizing up on virtual platforms?

Being a communication specialist, many of my clients, friends and associates have asked for my opinion and assessment about how people are generally coping with and navigating their virtual meetings and engagements. Before I start, I think I can only add value by being honest in these extreme times.

Over the countless virtual meetings I have attended since lockdown began, I think I have seen more double chins and ceilings than anything else! Most people just don’t have a clue about how to communicate professionally via these virtual platforms.

The concept of virtual communication is new and pretty foreign to most, so it is no surprise that the majority of corporate citizens are projecting themselves rather unprofessionally and fairly incompetently on these virtual platforms.

The sad truth is that the majority of people don’t really communicate very effectively in real time face to face engagements, let alone in virtual ones. There actually seems to be very little consciousness around what professional and successful communication looks like.

Face to face, we enjoyed the benefits of real time presence and emotional connection.

Now in lockdown, people are being stretched way beyond their old comfort zones. What is being exposed is a lack of virtual communication skills and digital savvy. “Oh shame, you may protest! We are all in the same boat. Everyone collectively is struggling”. Agreed. Yes, we are all on a major learning trajectory, but please remember that during your daily virtual struggles and adjustments, your brand and reputation may slowly be being destroyed.

Everything that you and your company have spent years and decades building in terms of brand reputation and collateral, is being tested right now. 2020 is our collective ‘moment of truth’ where we are all being called on to prove our value and professionalism.

Those with excellent virtual communication skills will sail fairly comfortably through this challenging period. The majority who have not mastered their virtual communication skills will add to the growing number of Covid-casualties.

The struggle is real: what can you do?

Now that I have given you a rather harsh reality check, perhaps you are ready to take personal responsibility for your virtual projections and impact?

None of us can ride on our old reputations. The old business world order is gone (and probably for good). We need to now take individual and corporate responsibility for rising to the challenges of this mega-crisis, and build present and future reputations built on professionalism, excellent virtual communication skills and digital expertise.

Luckily, with some expert guidance, this is not too difficult to achieve.

Here are some initial considerations to raise your awareness of what helps you to create virtual professionalism:

Your home has become your recording studio and brand background

Perhaps one of the most frightening things for most people about having to engage in virtual meetings is that the privacy of your home has suddenly been violated. There’s something eerily fascinating about taking a peek into peoples’ private spaces … because it is SO revealing! Come one, I am sure you will admit that in recent virtual meetings you have looked past your colleagues to get a glimpse into their private lives.

The sad and simple truth is that the majority of the workforce just don’t have the luxury of plush home offices or fancy studies. Many people are struggling to work from kitchen tables in over-crowed little apartments, or at a little dining table at best. I heard a sad story the other day about someone having a Zoom meeting with a colleague only to realise after a while that the poor lady had jumped into her bedroom cupboard to conduct the virtual meeting! This was the only privacy that the poor woman could find in her crowded little apartment.

There are also stories going round about people conducting work meetings from their beds. These bedroom brand ambassadors are ruining their business’s brands as well as their own personal reputations. And many are also unconscious of the inappropriate messages that they are projecting.

I am not here to judge during this terribly challenging time. I am simply trying to advocate that people make a reasonable effort and do what is appropriate and sensible to try and make the most of this present dilemma.

Some easy virtual tricks

Here are some easy tricks to greatly enhance your virtual professionalism and presence.

TIP 1: If you don’t have a stunning background behind you when you conduct your virtual meetings, you can get around this by uploading a virtual backdrop on platforms like Zoom and MS Teams. Virtual backgrounds also enhance the camera’s ability to illuminate you. This gives you greater presence and hides any messy home background, guaranteeing you privacy from invasive colleagues and clients.

easy tricks to greatly enhance your virtual professionalism and presence

TIP 2: Your backdrop is the only visual stimulation that your colleagues and clients will see for the entire duration of your virtual meeting. This quickly gets boring. A little trick that is currently working very well for me is when I set up my Zoom meetings, I ask my clients what kind of setting / view they like and I upload a virtual backdrop to please them. They love it … and by changing my virtual background regularly, I don’t get bored either.

The Daily Mail UK recently revealed the most popular Zoom holiday destination backgrounds: Link:

There is nothing like good lighting to give you greater dynamism and presence

One of the biggest virtual communication mistakes I am seeing the majority of people making is that the lighting in their recording area is horribly wrong. Bad lighting kills your presence and impact and doesn’t do your overall attractiveness any favours.

Here are some quick do’s and don’ts and a few practical lighting considerations:


  1. Don’t have a window or glass door behind you when you are being filmed. It creates harsh back lighting and casts troublesome shadows over your face.
  2. Don’t have a bright light hanging above you. It looks very harsh and creates bad facial shadows.
  3. Don’t use ‘white light’ light bulbs. Warm light looks far more flattering and natural. White light looks hard and cold. Think mortuary. Not nice.


  1. Put a lamp or two behind your laptop shining in the direction of your face. This will literally illuminate you and have you far more presence and impact. A lamp on either side of your laptop is first prize – see photo below of my home office recording studio.
  2. A Pilot light is another clever trick if you want to look more professional. A pilot light is a light source from your one side that causes one side of your face to be more illuminated than the other. This helps to give you dimension. This is not essential but fun to consider if you have an extra lamp lying around that you can use.
It is essential to get your lighting right for virtual meetings and presentations.
Communication Guru John French’s desk with the two wall lights creating the correct recording illumination needed.

Get your camera angle right

I’ve seen chins, chins and more chins! I see ceilings, ceilings and more ceilings because so many people have their laptop camera angle adjusted incorrectly. There are few things as unflattering and unprofessional as when your camera angle is wrong. Not only is it very unflattering, it also makes your whole recording look very unprofessional.

Again, these are the simple considerations:

  1. Make sure that the camera on your laptop (it will be the white light dot at the top centre of your screen) is at eye level, or slightly higher. Looking slightly upwards will give you an instant facelift.

    Looking downwards into the camera will highlight every crease, wrinkle and double chin. This can be so easily avoided. 


These are some initial practical tips which will help you to come across far more professionally, and as a result, you will feel far more confident.

We can help you

Communication Guru has some wonderful virtual Zoom presentation skills courses to help you to achieve your virtual presentation and virtual communication goals. E-mail John French at john for more information.

Help to grow others. Share this post:


The Communication Guru blog:

Communication Guru, John French and his associates, share practical tips on how to improve your communication, impact, influence and Stakeholder Management. Subscribe below to receive these free and powerful tips and insights.

The blog posts are good reminders of skills learned on Communication Guru training programmes, and they serve as a free communication maintenance product for you and your colleagues.

Subscribe by E-mail:


Blog Archive

Free Guided Relaxation mp3

Free guided relaxation for your personal stress management

Stress Management is a vital module in all of our training programmes because stress is the greatest enemy of effective communication. Listen to this 8 minute beautiful guided relaxation by Jenny Ibbotson. It will help you to manage anxiety and develop a habit of calmness.


Stress Management is a vital module in all of our training programmes because stress is the greatest enemy of effective communication. Listen to this 8 minute beautiful guided relaxation by Jenny Ibbotson. It will help you to manage anxiety and develop a habit of calmness.


Free guided relaxation for your personal
stress management