This story is part of How to Get Better at Public Speaking, the Forge guide to talking in front of a crowd.
Early in my career, I invited Nora Ephron, whom I had worked with, to Skype in to a panel I was coordinating. She politely declined, but her reasoning always stuck with me: “I’m too old to Skype. Lighting is everything.”
I don’t actually believe she was too old to Skype — she was Nora Ephron! A legend — but she wasn’t wrong about the lighting. At the turn of the last decade, when our conversation took place, it was invariably terrible for home video-chat dial-ins.
I remembered her comment about a year later, when I was doing a CNN segment via Skype from a random startup office, with nice big windows. The lighting was great. But I couldn’t hear very well, and so even though I was wearing earphones, I kept on moving closer to the screen, resulting in my face smooshing way up close in the little box allotted to me, I looked ridiculous next to the other appropriately framed panelists.
Then there was the time I was offered a segment on CBC while home alone with my baby daughter. I let them know the only way to keep her quiet was to nurse her, and I did so discreetly out of frame while opining on air. No one was the wiser until the end... when her little hand came up to say hi.
These are just a few of the things that can happen in the home studio, when you’re responsible for sound, lighting, wardrobe, backdrop, and quiet on the set. It’s delightful for the viewer when a clip of a tiny TV interloper goes viral — hi, BBC South Korea expert Professor Robert Kelly! — but it’s mortifying in the moment. Sometimes you just want the people on the other side of the screen to see you looking polished, professional, and calm.
Even if you’re not a talking head on TV, with more and more people working remotely, giving presentations via video is becoming increasingly commonplace. Presenting via video chat is essentially a very weird and artificial kind of public speaking. So whatever your line of work, you’d best get good at it. And yes — lighting is everything. As are setup, and framing…