I would usually argue that you should stand up when giving a talk, even when you do it in a small space, like an office, or for a small audience. These days, as people do their talks online, the recommendation I’m seeing is to sit down for the talk. Isn’t that a contradiction?
When, during normal times, you are doing a webinar or, these days, are giving a regular talk but from home, you are talking to an audience of one. By which I don’t mean your actual audience, the people out there listening to you. I’m talking about the camera. Few of us have professional cameras, let alone more than one. So what most people do - and it’s perfectly fine - is that they use the camera in their laptop. But that camera is positioned relatively low and most of all, it’s static.
Which is where the advice comes from: Simply sit in front of your laptop. Then the angle is about right, and you will stay in focus. This is good advice for a basic setup. Which is good enough for most cases.
However, I’d argue that with a little effort, you could make the experience better, both for yourself and for your audience. Which brings me back to the idea of standing up.
I’ve explored the bonuses of giving a talk while standing in another article already, so let’s focus here on how to make it possible.
Obviously, you need to raise your camera to eye level, i.e. the level of your eyes when you are standing. If you have a standing desk, that would be a good start. You can then stack a few books on top of each other until you reach the desired height. Otherwise, look around your household and see what else is available. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to look pretty since it won’t be in the picture. Nobody will know.
Journalist Dan Ziffer posted a perfect example of what I'm talking about on Twitter. The contrast between what the audience saw and the behind-the-scenes photo of his actual setup is hilarious:
Television. Reality. pic.twitter.com/UHqiQN6w4M— Dan Ziffer (@danziffer) March 30, 2020
When you prepare your own setup, make sure - and this is really important - that whatever you build to raise the laptop is stable. Not only should it be able to carry the weight of the laptop for the duration of the talk. It also shouldn’t move easily, in case you accidentally bump against the construction. Consider applying duct tape liberally.
Once you have solved this issue, you need to make sure you stay within the camera’s viewing angle. When standing, it’s too easy to accidentally move out of focus and your audience out there will only see parts of you. So you should be testing your setup to learn the boundaries between which you can move. One of the reasons why TED and TEDx events have that famous red carpet on the stage is that it limits the area in which the speaker can move. You don’t need a red carpet (nobody will see it anyway), but you should mark the area in which you can move.
And that’s it. With just a little more effort, you’ve made the experience of speaking from home better, both for your audience and for yourself.
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