April 4th, 2020 - Covid-19

Stand out with a winning digital look

As business owners or professionals, we don’t often invite clients into our homes to discuss work. Yet, here we are, as we all band together to flatten the COVID-19 curve tuning in from our bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms.

While not always perfect, video conferencing allows us to have a more personal connection with others. We can read visual cues through body language that we might have missed on audio calls, and then adjust or respond accordingly.  

This new and popular mode of communications demands the same level of style and polish that you would bring to an in-person client or team meeting under normal circumstances. Remember that you are the living embodiment of your brand and a winning digital image is a professional imperative.

Some of you will be old hands at video calls, while for many others the technology is new and intimidating.

To help anyone struggling to perfect the art of this new way of doing business, we’ve reached out to some experts.

The following guest blog from my colleague Jo Williams covers camera angles, lighting, backdrops and how to show up and shine.

Guest blog by Jo Williams, with contributions from interior designer Margot Schulman, Schulman Design, professional photographer Monique de St. Croix, Unique Perspectives and fashion guru Ginger Vasquez, Ginger Showroom.

1. Turn the lights up and the din down  

Let’s start with the basics. The angle of your camera and lighting in your “studio” are just as important for video calls as they are for professional photo shoots. Professional photographer Monique de St. Croix recommends placing your camera at eye level or slightly higher, definitely not below eye level. “Is a below-the-chin angle your best side? Mine neither,” says de St. Croix.

“Lighting is a very important consideration to help you look your best and also for you to be seen, not over exposed. Period.” She recommends including lighting from two sources to create dimension — one from the front and side.

Try to soften harsh lighting through a white sheen fabric like a curtain for a more complimentary look. “Or place a white piece of paper on the desk to bounce light up under the chin to create a nice, soft look.” Turn on your webcam and really look at what is in the background.  Do you really want to show that shelf full of Star Wars action figures you have kept secret all these years?

You may need to change positions as the day progresses or set up appropriate window coverings or light fixtures to compensate for the sunrise or sunset.

Look at your webcam during your meeting.  The camera is like the face of the person you are talking to.  Look them in the eye, not down at your screen – or worse yet, another device.  Put a sticky note beside your camera as a reminder: >>LOOK HERE!

In addition to looking your best, you want to sound as clear as possible.

As we navigate new and varied video conferencing platforms, minimize the potential audience distractions—otherwise known as noise which can be annoying to all participants. Anticipate potential interruptions and distractions from pets, kids, alarms, placement of drinks or food. Kick the kids and dogs out if you have to. Nothing can derail a meeting quicker than a dog barking or kids yelling. And please place your phone on silent or better yet, turn it off.  

When possible, use ear buds.  Not only will your meeting be heard only by you, the voice and sound quality will be far superior than that of your computer.  Turn apps off to avoid distracting notification pings.

Will you be sharing your screen? Ban the clutter. Do a quick tidy of rogue folders and documents. What does your computer background look like? This is another opportunity for you to showcase your branding.

The most important tip is to test your setup prior to the meeting.  Most platforms allow you to check your audio and video before joining the meeting, so be sure both of those are sounding and looking great. 

2.  Dress to impress

While we may be at home, it’s no excuse to look sloppy for a call. You’ll also feel better slipping out of those quarantine jammies for a couple of hours. Ginger Vasquez of Ginger Showroom shares some tips on how to look professional, modern and clean (we can tell).

First let’s talk colour. “Black is boring!” says Vasquez. “It comes across on screen as dark and unwelcoming. With spring upon us, this is the best time to inject colour. Remember, you want to pop on the screen and by doing this you will attract attention immediately.

If bright colours frighten you and you feel more comfortable in darker colors, Vasquez recommends navy. Navy is flattering colour and works well on most skin tones. The key is to pick a colour that sets the mood you’re trying to achieve in your presentation. 

What about pattern? “If you’re opting for pattern, choose one that is minimally busy,” says Vasquez. “You want your viewer focusing on you, not the pattern you are wearing. Stay away from geometrics, checks or anything that will make your viewer dizzy.”

Vasquez points to the reliable blazer for an easy way to look put together. “Even if you have a plain tee shirt on, popping a blazer over it evens out the look.  Use layers that cater to your market, whether you are a fitness instructor throwing a workout jacket over a tank works well or a cardigan, spring anorak or jean jacket will do the trick.” 

Considering the video platform is all about the upper body, make friends with accessories. “I love accessories,” says Vasquez. “Nothing can pull it all together like a great statement piece. The key is to stick to one statement item and let your other pieces flatter in a soft way. Neck scarves are trending and they compliment clean necklines while looking modern and bringing a certain hip factor.”

Overall, the key is to be comfortable and professional. Using new software and letting people in on your home environment can be nerve wracking, so feeling good in your choices will ease the process.

“Keep in mind, they can’t see the bottom,” says Vasquez. “To which I say, ‘Hello sweatpants.’”

3. Dial it up with a thoughtful backdrop

In the wise words of Radhika Mundra, “Nothing inspires cleanliness more than an unexpected guest.” As we all self-isolate in our homes, video conferencing presents a unique opportunity to connect with clients and stakeholders and to welcome them into your environment.

The backdrop you create for your video call should be inviting, comfortable and professional, while reflecting your individuality and brand. Much like the images you share on Instagram or other social media, it can work in your favour if you do it well.

Margot Schulman of Schulman Design shares the top elements she believes everyone should focus on to create a professional and memorable backdrop for calls.


“Choose three colors help to keep backdrops simple,” says Schulman. “Whether it’s your wall’s paint color, your furniture or artwork, consider a mix of solid colours and simple patterns. That said an entire backdrop of pattern can be successful if done right. It is a fine balance.”

Remember, busy patterns on walls can be distracting depending on what you’re wearing or can look distorted on camera. Alternatively, consider setting up in front of peaceful art piece. A calming landscape for a more casual meeting works well and is refreshing to your attendees.


Consider incorporating living species like succulents and flowers, or unobtrusive artistic sculptures (which may also be plants) to help breathe life into your space. “Your video is one-dimensional and the person you’re connecting with can’t touch or smell the space so providing them with a visceral experience that stimulates their senses is key,” says Schulman. “Remember to place these objects off to the side and at different levels.”

Furniture and other objects

If you have open shelving in view, remove stacks of paper, mail, mirrors, open food, toys or visible book titles that are not related to your business. HR doesn’t need another call at this time!

Schulman recommends using books to add to your backdrop. “Stack them by colour, vertically or horizontally or mixed with an arrangement of each. Add some cheer by pulling a few items from your home and placing them on a shelf or on horizontally stacked books.”

Tap into your inner designer and do as they do. “Designers love to cluster things in odd numbers,” says Schulman. “Strategically place items you want to promote and include a company branded item or product that represents what you do.”

Save virtual backgrounds for happy hour

When it comes to virtual backgrounds, save the beach set up for cocktail hour. You are creating a professional atmosphere to discuss business – virtual backgrounds can come off as gimmicky and technically glitchy.

This is a time when we need to reflect on our personal and professional spaces, while connecting with one another in different and creative ways. It’s important to rise to your “video call” and create an appearance that reflects your personality, brand and business goals. Who knows, it may just be the conversation starter that bonds you with your client, colleague or friend.

Interested in a video conference consult? Get in touch.

With gratitude,

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Founder, Blackcoffee Studio

Over the course of 15+ years, Shannon has grown Blackcoffee Studio out of a love for building brands and reputations. She serves up Blackcoffee as a morning ritual while caffeinating clients and readers on the regular. You can find her at www.BlackcoffeeStudio.com


Blackcoffee Studio

Blackcoffee is a premium brand development agency, offering luxury brand experience to clients at home in Calgary, Canada and around the globe. Brands create experience, set you apart from the competition and drive growth. Anyone can bulid a business but only the exceptional can create a brand. Are you ready?

Shannon Larkins

Shannon Larkins

Hi I’m Shannon, founder of Blackcoffee Studio. A former reporter, spin doctor and politico, I now focus on using my powers for good.

I create mighty brands for clients and share their stories with the world. I’m also rather addicted to my nutty family, dogs with pushed in faces, Mexico and of course coffee … black.