- Posted by Alexa Ferguson
- On November 6, 2020
- communications, video
With no clear indication as to when in-person hearings may resume, all eyes (and only ears, in some cases) are on the virtual litigation landscape. There is nothing natural about advocating for your client before a tiny camera dot or speakerphone. We asked veteran television journalist and Poston Communications’ Executive Video Producer Jackie Labrecque to share her insights from the field on must-have audio/visual equipment, effective message delivery and scoring a 10/10 on Room Rater.
Q: What makes virtual litigation different from in-person arguments?
Everything! From worrying about your doorbell ringing or coworkers being too loud in the hall to a lack of being able to “read the room,” litigators are really forced to expend more energy than ever in a virtual courtroom setting. And many think the virtual setting will be here to stay – even post-pandemic – given some of the cost savings with certain hearings. Setting up a place in your home or office that is comfortable and allows you to easily command the “room” will help set you up for success every time.
Q: Where do I set up? What should my background look like?
Finding a neutral background with limited distractions is your best bet. Consider a nice piece of artwork (avoid political statements), a house plant, a bookshelf (watch the content) or a fireplace. We want to avoid setting up right against a wall as it offers no depth of field. Utilizing corners of a room can also be very effective. The bottom line is, we want a professional backdrop, and it’s simple enough to create that in your own home. Be mindful that whatever is in view people are applying to their perception of you.
Q: Looking at the camera dot makes most people uncomfortable. Why is it so important, and how can attorneys feel more confident and comfortable speaking direct-to-camera?
If you’re lucky enough, you have a light next to your camera to remind you that it’s even on. It takes extra effort to make a connection with your audience in this virtual environment, but it’s critical to spend that energy and make it happen. We’ve written and talked about it in this blog on the power and importance of virtual eye contact, as it is your only connection with your audience. Try placing a sticky note, or even a picture of someone in your audience, near your camera to remind you to keep your eyes trained on that little circle.
Q: Should I invest in a new camera or microphone? What about lighting?
Yes, to all of the above. It may seem or feel basic, but if people cannot clearly see you or hear you, it’s going to be harder to effectively communicate with your audience. Some computers are equipped with great built-in cameras, but spending some money on an external camera will make your image sharper and more professional.
While you’re purchasing that, it’s worth exploring a light kit as well. A simple 8- to10-inch ring light can do wonders. We recommend the Dracast Halo light and stand used by professional productions, including The Oprah Winfrey Network. For a less expensive, but still solid option, try this one. The reason we focus on this is because with a well-composed picture, we limit distractions and people will really tune in to what we’re saying. The bottom line – the front of your face needs to be well-lit. Keep in mind, lighting is particularly important when it comes to witnesses. We don’t want them lit from overhead as it can create a sinister look.
Q: Can I use a virtual background?
Unless it’s for a fun work event or you’re really close with a client and share a favorite sports team, for example, we counsel against it. As soon as we move, the background pixilates and it’s very distracting. In a courtroom setting, it’s a hard no.
Q: What about my audience, how do I keep them engaged?
You really want to consider your slide support strategy. What does the judge / jury / witness / opposing counsel need to see and when do they need to see it? When do they need to see you? If you’re doing a closing argument and making your impassioned plea, for example, they should probably see you and only you – so turn off your PowerPoint or screen sharing capabilities. This is where that connection with the camera is vital. Additionally, consider your vocal delivery. Make sure you’re slowing down for key points and use pause to your advantage. Silence equals confidence. These are audio cues that ensure your audience will lean in to hear what you have to say. With that – realize our body language translates over video. We want to have an energized posture (stand up tall and straight, just as you would in a courtroom, and command the screen) and be an active listener.
Q: Anything else attorneys should know?
Being on camera is completely unnatural! It’s the new form of public speaking right now (which 75 percent of people fear!), and even for public speaking pros, the virtual world requires a different kind of energy to command “the room.” Just know you’re not alone and that practice makes perfect. Scratch that, no one is perfect! Practice makes prepared. Ensure you have multiple run-throughs so you know what is on the screen and when and who is talking and when. It will give you the confidence you need for a successful outcome.