Here’s the absolute best thing to do on a video conference call – Susan Morrison

As people start to ‘game’ their bookshelves while Skyping and Zooming, you can bet there’s clutter and dust to be seen if the camera just panned round a bit, writes Susan Morrison

By Susan Morrison
Friday, 8th May 2020, 7:30 am
Everyone might all look very presentable from the waist up on a Zoom call, but what’s going on down below and off to the side? (Picture: PA)
Everyone might all look very presentable from the waist up on a Zoom call, but what’s going on down below and off to the side? (Picture: PA)

On March 10, 2017, Professor Robert Kelly was being interviewed by the BBC about a serious situation in South Korea. He was at home, and joined the studio via remote technology. Rather touchingly, he had donned a suit and tie for the occasion. Midway through his analysis of said serious situation, his little daughter swaggered into the room behind him with the air of a girl destined to grow into a woman who, one day, will hear her name called in award ceremonies.

We are all Professor Robert Kelly now. The isolation of lockdown is over. Zoom has landed, along with its pals Skype, Teams and Messenger. These are all the funky tools that computers have to let the world see you whilst you have a meeting.

They didn’t always get to see you. Back in the ’90s conference calls became a thing. We could spend entire meetings shouting at the contraption on the table next to the plate of digestives.

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It never really worked. ‘Simon’, or whoever it was joining us from Nantwich, inevitably vanished into the ether, turning the meeting into a recreation of a Victorian seance, with despairing cries of “Is anyone there?” and “Can you hear us?”

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At least you didn’t have to get dressed up for those conference calls. Now they can see you, so like Prof Kelly, you have to put in the effort. None of this dialling into meetings sporting naught but a Road Runner onesie and a grumpy expression. They expect a certain standard of grooming. Well, from the waist up at least.

Come to think of it, we don’t know what the good professor was wearing below the waterline in that fateful interview.

Mindful of this, my mother has taken to putting on her earrings for virtual catch-ups. I know she has, because her left ear is usually the only thing on the screen.

The world can see you. And your house. We can see other people’s houses.

Whether we’re having a quick chat with pals or watching a Channel 4 interview with a scientist sporting a grim expression and hiding a secret girlfriend, who among us has not been distracted by some dodgy art behind them?

Suddenly bookshelves are up for scrutiny, and not everyone wants to have their secret penchant for the work of Barbara Cartland outed during a highly emotive telly interview, especially if you’ve previously been best known for bringing down a charging full back at Murrayfield, and are now famed for hammering into a ten-pint curry-fuelled evening with the lads.

There are those who have spotted this and are trying to “game” their shelves.

Don’t think we haven’t noted the book shuffling, with some people moving those massive coffee table books about Bauhaus architecture into view on suspiciously dust-free bookshelves with nary a knick-knack from Bridlington on display.

There’s clutter and dust just out of shot, you mark my words.

Trump’s medical adviser is my new role model

When I was a girl, whenever some irritating Bond villain was threatening to blow up the world again, world leaders would gather, or at least, they would be beamed on wonderous technology to discuss the threat.They would appear on huge screens, all beautifully tailored and lit.

The modern reality is that many of us are crouched in bedrooms and kitchens being relentlessly photo-bombed a la Professor Robert Kelly by dogs, cats, toddlers demanding bananas and once, a very large spider, who I left to take over the meeting for me. Not sitting about whilst that thing was on the prowl. If you’re doing it right, you are on camera all the time. They can all see you, constantly. Suddenly facial expressions have to be set to neutral. No chance of a quick eye-roll of exasperation when your every tick and blink can be seen by all and sundry. I’ve had to develop a range of “Gosh, that IS interesting” expressions.

My model for this is Dr Brix, the woman who stood next to Trump as he suggested injecting Dettol to deal with Covid-19.

Her expression tightened, but only slightly. I suspect she’s been Botoxed. It’s the only way you’d be able to stop my eyebrows hitting my hairline. Speaking of eyebrows, this techno-wizardry also films you all the time, and at a most unflattering angle. Basically, the camera is pointing directly up your nose.

Most meetings with me start with my Denis Healey eyebrows coming into view from the bottom of the screen as I battle with the technology. I had no idea my brows were on the march to claim so much of my face.

I thought I could come to terms with this tribute to the Labour Party circa 1974, until I realised that I also sport unbelievably hairy nostrils.

Why none of my friends thought to tell me this is anyone’s guess.

Best go and look out the tweezers….

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