When it comes to personal appearance in the professional world, it would be hard to argue that women have it easier.
Take that pressure (whether culturally sanctioned, self-imposed, or both) and compound it with the nightmare of seeing yourself on camera in a video meeting, and it may become tempting to just turn off the camera.
That would be a big mistake.
Communication skills are more important now than ever before, so it’s crucial that you be present and visible.
It’s also important to remember that so much of our communication is nonverbal. For example, we’ve all heard, “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” It’s quite possible your words said one thing, but your body language said another. This is your opportunity to have visibility (as well as transparency) in front of your team, your board, your clients.
Women are already stretched thin at home—don’t let the pressure to look red-carpet ready cause you to disappear at work. Most people are more comfortable without the camera, but you can use this to your advantage. If your appearance is preventing you from taking your meetings on camera, follow these simple guidelines to turn your focus back to your message and the meeting at hand. Side note to men—you can use these pointers, too.
Stop feeling like you need to be all made up
Women, I am with you. I have two children, a full-time job, and am in virtual meetings all day while teaching my son virtual kindergarten. Do I feel the need to be “done up” in meetings? Absolutely. Do I have time to blow out my hair and do a full face of makeup? Absolutely not.
Keep it “corporate clean”
I am not suggesting you wear makeup or give yourself an entire blowout—just look clean. If you don’t have time to shower because you’re rushing to feed your family or help with homework, keep it simple. I always have a brush, lip gloss, several hair ties and clips, and hairspray right by my desk, knowing I can make myself look presentable in about two minutes. Present yourself in a way that will make you feel good, and also in a way that is not distracting to others.
Have a uniform
Another great place to start is to have a uniform. Steve Jobs did this for a reason (sorry to use a man as an example in an article about women, but he was on to something here)! It really is a great time-saver, not having to put thought into wondering if something looks good. Just find yourself a top that makes you feel good and get several of them. Another advantage? People will know what to expect when they see you and it’s one less thing you have to worry about. And yet another advantage? If you have five tops and do laundry once a week, one will always be clean.
Make yourself look great and feel confident on camera with great lighting. Selfie-lights or ring lights are fantastic. I have found that that battery-operated selfie lights burn out very fast, so I suggest getting one that plugs into a power source. Focus the light right next to your webcam, and you will soon find it to be indispensable; doing this is sure to make anyone look good—makeup or not, sleep or not.
Stop apologizing for distractions—or anything
Background distractions are often unavoidable, and there are oh-so-many opportunities for them to pop up. When they do, it’s okay to excuse yourself, turn off your mic and video, and deal with the children, pet, spouse, or partner who has entered your background. Stop apologizing and own it. Simply say, “Excuse me for one minute” and deal with the issue at hand. Then get back on camera. Pretending like the obvious isn’t happening or continuing to apologize can actually become a distraction in and of itself. Keep your cool, remain in control. These are difficult waters to navigate and everyone has a distraction now and then. I would say 90% of my clients, regardless of gender, have at least one or two distractions during meetings. It is not your fault, so stop apologizing.
Focus on your communication, not your aesthetics
Pre-COVID, we would wake up in the morning, make ourselves look presentable for the day, and maybe check in the mirror once or twice. Now that we’re in so many web meetings, we are constantly aware of how we look—and it’s even worse if you’re not used to being on camera.
When I coach my clients, often a challenge of the first session is getting them to focus less on their looks and more on their communication. It is very easy to spend the meeting focusing on what you look like, wondering if your perceived imperfections will appear outsized on the screens of others.
Turn the focus back to what you are saying and how you are saying it. Your message and how you are delivering it will take the pressure off your appearance and allow you to be present on camera. If you find yourself unable to get your eyes off your own image (depending on the video platform), shut that self-view window or cover it with another window so you can get back to work.
The new norms of communication pose additional pressures for everyone. However, by being mindful of your communication and eschewing the idea of being flawless on-screen, you can make both yourself and your audiences more comfortable.
Vanessa Wasche is the owner and founder of On Point Speaking.