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Making a Good First Impression in a Digital World

This checklist will ensure you are putting your best self forward over video.

Last month I was introduced by a senior executive of a major firm (which will remain anonymous) for a webinar I was to conduct. He was remote, in his office at home, which upon closer inspection appeared to be a professional working environment. However, my reason for the close inspection was three-fold; he appeared to be wearing a wrinkled dress shirt (no jacket), I could barely hear him (poor audio) and his video was a bit blurred (maybe his shirt wasn’t even wrinkled).

I’ve since found myself assessing the digital presence of everyone; newscasters, webinar attendees, senior management, wholesaler sponsors. Some make a good digital first impression (most newscasters), but many do not. Granted, everyone's a little more casual when working from home, but my suspicion is that there are a lot of financial advisors who are NOT making a good first impression in our new digital world.  This is a serious faux pas.  

The following outline doesn’t include the digital conversation formula (that’s for another article); it’s to serve as a checklist to help ensure you’re making a good first impression, which is essential to digital success.  

Attire — The tendency to be more casual when working from home is understandable; your clients get it. However, dress for success never left the arena, albeit it’s slightly different on a Zoom call. Men no longer need to wear a tie, but a crisp dress shirt and sports coat should be standard. Women should also wear a professional top, not trendy activewear. If you’re sitting behind a desk, heck, you could be wearing shorts, but if your entire body is visible, men should at least wear pressed khakis, women should wear their preference of slacks or a skirt.  

Remember the old rule of thumb for attire — whenever in doubt, dress one notch up.  

Audio — While you can certainly dial-in via phone, a decent microphone plugged into your computer will always provide a much richer tone.  The quality of microphones that are built into computers varies widely. Do yourself a favor and have your spouse or a colleague help assess whether or not your audio is crisp. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to ask inaudible advisors to repeat themselves. Whether it’s garbled, too soft, or the connectivity goes in and out, your audio needs to be consistently crisp.  

It’s worth the money to upgrade to a decent USB microphone. The following are a few we recommend:

  • Blue Snowball iCE USB mic
  • Fifine Metal Condenser Recording Microphone
  • Blue Yeti USB Mic for Recording

If there’s a connectivity issue, things get a bit more complicated as it can be your router, your internet provider or both—it’s important to have strong and dependable high-speed connectivity.  

Video — Numerous factors contribute to the quality of your video. At this stage, I’m going to focus on the quality of your camera. Today nearly every laptop, desktop computer, tablet, and smartphone comes equipped with a camera. But not all have good cameras. Similar to assessing your audio, you want to gather some feedback regarding the picture quality. Sometimes poor quality requires a simple adjustment in the settings, but if you need to upgrade, do so and consider it an investment in your professional branding.

High-speed connectivity is even more important to your video quality than audio.  Make the investment in the highest speed connectivity that’s available.   

Framing — This is all about you and your camera. Where and how you sit in relation to the camera impacts both audio and video quality. Too far away and your audio will be weak, leaning back or slouching makes you appear too casual, looking straight at the camera makes it appear as though you’re looking down.   

Elevate your computer so you have to look up slightly at the camera.  In my home office, I place my laptop on three thick books—it makes a difference—and I sit about 3 feet away from the microphone and camera with good posture. Be careful with hand motions and always make good eye contact with the camera. 

Good Lighting — When sharing your screen, you always want to be on camera. Why? This makes it easier for whoever you’re communicating with to connect with you and increases the likelihood they’ll share their video with you.  This enables you to read body language and facial expressions, arming you with clues on how to maximize the conversation.  Lighting should illuminate your face—you don’t want to be in a shadow which will make you appear as though you're in a dingy basement, you also don’t want a glare, which is annoying. There are plenty of options for lights that don’t break the bank; here are a couple of our favorites:

  • Aputure MC RGBWW LED Light
  • Neewer on Camera Video Light Photo Dimmable

Background — Spend an hour looking at a news program and you’re likely to see a series of interviews. Since nearly every one of these persons is interviewed in a remote location pay close attention to their background (also take note of their attire, lighting, and quality of audio and video). Some will be better than others, some will be downright embarrassing, while others are extremely professional. Obviously, you’ll want to model the most professional. 

None of this is very complicated, but it does require attention to detail and at times the most minute details. That said, making a good first digital impression is now a success factor in our new upside-down world.

Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent

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