Science shows that we really do make snap judgments about a person's competence based on the visual impression they make. Fortunately, looking your best on a Google Hangout or Zoom meeting doesn't take a lot of effort. With some small adjustments you can make your work from home setup look almost like studio quality.

I spent 15 years as a television anchor before becoming an author. Here's a behind-the-scenes secret: the remote studio sets that national television networks use are surprisingly tiny, but they look great on TV. You often see a nice background that reflects the studio's location like an image of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The room is well-lighted and the background is uncluttered.

What you don't see are the cameras, cables, lighting equipment or the poles holding up the background like a grade-school theater production.

The only thing that matters is what your viewer sees through the lens. In your work from home setup, consider your webcam the television camera and your environment as the studio. Here are three things to think about.

Think about the background.

Get creative. Compose the background as a professional photographer would stage the shot.

Follow a few simple tips to make your background look nicer than average.

  • No beds. No matter how perfectly you make the bed, it just doesn't look like you're at work.
  • No clutter. No chords, excessive furniture pieces, or gadgets. And above all, if you're joining from the kitchen, no dirty dishes in the background.
  • Add some art. Consider the flowers, vases, or art pieces on the wall or desk behind you. Choose a few pieces that complement the environment without distracting.   

Think about the lighting.

Very few people think about lighting. Even when remote guests join national television networks with a web cam, they often have poor lighting. As a former television anchor, I cringe because it's such an easy fix.  

First, use as much natural light as possible--from the side of your face or directly opposite of where you're sitting. As any photographer will tell you, try to avoid having the natural light source directly behind your head.

Second, use a simple, circular LED lamp to reduce shadows on your face and to enhance your appearance. Youtubers know these as 'selfie rings.' Although I use a professional lighting kit in my office, the circular lights are more portable, easy to set up and affordable. A small investment will make a big difference.

Think about what you're wearing.

If you pay attention to what you wear before you leave the house for work, put in the same consideration when you're joining a virtual meeting. You're still 'at work.'

Some tips to look your best on webcam:

  • Dress for your virtual meeting as you would for casual Friday or 'business casual.'
  • Wear bright, solid colors. Bright colors will stand out on video and webcams. If you wear a gray sweater against a gray wall, you'll look washed out, especially if you have an LED light on your face. Look for solid colors, too. Small patterns are distracting.
  • Avoid wrinkles. Even if your bed is a few feet away (out of camera range) you still shouldn't look like you rolled out of it. Iron your clothes.

To look your best on a webcam, remember that people can only see what's in view of the lens. Look at your environment from the viewer's perspective. Compose the background, pay attention to the light source, and dress appropriately.