Improving your video interactions

by Clay Jarvis22 Apr 2020

At this point, approximately a month into the country’s concerted efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, most mortgage professionals are probably feeling pretty good about the state their Zoom, FaceTime and GoToMeeting games: The security situation’s being carefully monitored. All the participants can be seen and heard and have their questions answered. What more is there to do?

According to Kevin Singel, senior advisor at Pivotal Consulting, quite a bit.

Singel, a specialist in virtual leadership, has no shortage of experience working with decision-makers to better deliver critical messaging to their employees and client bases. Here are four areas where Singel says even the most Zoom-savvy professionals can make their video interactions – training, onboarding, conference calls – more rewarding for everyone in attendance.

“What I’m typically doing is coaching executives who, frankly, have some anxieties about working in this environment – how am I going to connect, how am I going to build credibility – so one of the things that we talk about is staging,” Singel says.

Consider staging all the decisions that go into a video prior to launch. There’s more to it than most people think.


At this point, we’ve all been on a call with one or more attendees who appear as if they’re broadcasting from the bottom of a well. Lighting, as important as it is in identifying a new face and establishing trust, somehow remains an unaddressed problem for many video hosts.

“I see a lot of sins committed in that space,” Singel says.

The solution is to take back control of your lighting. Think of the lighting work you’d see at a play: It would be focused on the action at hand and come from the front, not the back or sides. Singel encourages a similar strategy: Put a dimmable reading light next to your computer so that you have a dominant, adjustable light source facing you.

“It helps avoid the camera blowout from other lighting and it also eliminates the shadows on my face I don’t want,” he says.


Single urges people to keep their backdrops simple. A little color and some plant life go a long way.

“If you have too much in the background, people, especially those you don’t speak to routinely, will naturally be driven by the visuals rather than the audio,” he says. And while it may be tempting to put a few books behind you so your attendees will think you read, placing text in the background can be counterproductive for anyone trying to deliver a detailed message.

“You literally can’t stop yourself from reading the words,” Singel says, adding that any signs or posters on the wall that feature text should also be removed.

Other visuals in the background – paintings, posters, plants – must be offset so they are not obscured by the presenter. This, too, should help cut down on distractions, as viewers will have no reason to wonder what’s going on behind the person addressing them.

“This is not a conscious thing,” Singel explains, “but their subconscious brain is waiting for you to move enough so that they can figure out what the heck that is.”

Ergonomics and posture

If home is to remain the workspace for the time being, Singel says ergonomics deserve the same level of attention they received back at the office. Chair quality, the height of a chair in relation to its attendant desk, and the distance from keyboard to screen are all important considerations. Simple fixes like external keyboards and stands can help laptop-bound workers enjoy more comfort.

“Make sure your physical health is supported by the workstation you’re in,” he says. “All of those things matter much more when you’re working someplace full-time than when it was that casual place you spent a few hours on Saturday morning catching up on something you didn’t get done on Friday.”

Once someone’s workspace is improving their comfort and posture, looking professional during a call becomes much easier. Singel says presenters should have the same confident, upright demeanour they would use while presenting at a conference table.

“Your body posture is incredibly important for how people subliminally absorb who you are and what you’re representing,” he says.

But one question still remains: What are you supposed to look at?

Most people have grown accustomed to looking awkwardly at their screen, usually at themselves, but few look at their cameras. Viewers are used to seeing news readers or late-night comedians make eye contact through their teleprompters and cue cards, but doing so requires skills the average person people doesn’t possess. Singel suggests speakers put a small, colorful sticker next to their cameras so they will remember to look up from their notes from time to time.

“I don’t need to look at me talking. I need you to see me looking at you, so your connectedness and attentiveness goes up,” Singel says.

He has an additional message for anyone who considers himself an expert of the two-screen presentation.

 “A lot of people think they’ve got game because they have the presentation on one screen and then the videos of people they’re speaking with on the screen that has the camera,” he says, “and that is the worst.”


Few conference calls hosted in an office environment have been interrupted by half-naked children or funny dogs running into the room. But with parents, pets and kids all attempting to live, work, learn and play in the same shared space, disruptions are inevitable.

The key is dealing with them quickly and lightly.

“Interruptions are going to happen,” Singel says, “whether it’s a dog barking or somebody from your family or the washer in the next room making a rumbling noise. Be human, be genuine and use a little bit of humour. Laugh it off and move on.”

Singel encourages readers with questions about their on-screen performances to visit