I remember the first time I saw myself on Skype.
Holy cow! Where did those bags under my eyes come from? And why did my hair look so hideous?
Thankfully, I was just chatting to my 2-day-old niece, so she didn't seem to mind. But I sure did. I knew that I needed to step up my game and not look like something out of Twilight if I needed to use video conferencing for business.
That's why I think we can all learn something valuable on this latest column I did for Gannett/USAToday....
We've all been guilty of it: While watching a newscaster on television, we dissect what the person is wearing, the hairstyle — even the way the person stands.
But what if you were in the same position? Would your clothes say "professional?" Would your hairstyle look ridiculous? Would your hand gestures make you look competent or crazy?
You may never have considered how you look on video because you're not Kim Kardashian. But if you haven't been on camera yet, chances are you will be in the future.
And what you do or don't do could affect your career, executive coach Debra Benton says.
"Video is prolific," she says. "It's going to happen more and more. You need to get used to it."
Whether you're on Skype interviewing for a job or running a meeting via video conference, it's important to understand that people are, well, staring at you. They don't have to look away as they sometimes would in a polite face-to-face conversation, and that means they'll note anything odd.
"The weirder that you do something, the more it will be noticed, and the faster it will end up on YouTube," Benton says.
Benton says one chief executive she knows joined a team video call and soon forgot it was live.
He picked up a newspaper and started reading, occasionally picking his nose. His administrative assistant quickly moved in to stop the behavior when another conference participant notified her.
In another case, Benton, who will have a book out April 27 called The Virtual Executive(McGraw-Hill), says she knows of an employee fired when the top leader noticed him slouching during a video conference "and touching himself in a weird way."
"All the boss has to say is that he doesn't want someone like that working for him, and that's it," she says. "It's not enough to have a great PowerPoint. People are going to be watching your every move when you're on video."
That may be enough to cause insomnia the night before a video call, but Benton says you can prepare for such an interaction and help your career.
• Do some quick grooming. If you know you're going to be on a video call, take the time to brush your hair and straighten your clothing.
Always keep a few grooming products in your desk drawer for unexpected video calls and avoid wearing colors that wash you out or are too outrageous. Benton recalls one video participant who wore a bright orange blouse, which "made her look like she was in a prison uniform."
Such a distraction can detract from the contributions you want to make because people are focused on something else.
• Sit up straight. As a video conference drags on, you may unconsciously start slouching.
But remember that you are on view all the time, so sit up straight and don't fiddle with a pen or check your cell phone for messages.
You may not be able to see other participants, but they'll notice you looking bored and could judge you as arrogant or indifferent to what they're saying.
• Check out the background. Benton says she has been on video calls where someone had drug paraphernalia in the background and one woman even had a bra hanging over a nearby chair.
Do a test run with a friend so you can make adjustments to the background and clear the space of clutter. You may need to move a plant so it doesn't appear to be growing out of your head.
• Don't be lifeless. When you're introduced, give a short wave or salute to let others know you're actively listening and participating.
Use hand gestures when you make a point, and even consider some props to make your comments more interesting.
Practice looking into the eye of camera. Benton says one participant placed fake eyelashes on her computer's camera so she would focus on the right spot.
If you watch yourself on the video at the bottom, your eyes will look droopy, she says.
• Practice, practice, practice. It's natural to be a bit nervous when you're on video, but you can keep disaster from striking if you constantly practice sitting up straight, wearing professional clothing and keeping your hair neat.
If you practice speaking clearly and concisely and modeling polite behavior, "when you're in the hot seat" proper behavior "is your default," Benton says.
"It doesn't matter if you're talking to your grandkids in Alaska on Skype or being interviewed on CNN, it's equally important that you take the time to make a good impression," Benton says. "It's easy to do if you work at it all the time."
Any videoconferencing tips to share?