VIRTUAL BACKGROUNDS IN ZOOM MEETINGS: FUN IMPROVEMENT OR AWKWARD DISTRACTION?
At the beginning of the covid shutdown, virtual meetings were a new experience for almost everyone. Zoom was a relatively unknown platform that lots of people didn’t understand how to use, and those who were used to meeting with clients in a formal office setting suddenly had to decide what the appropriate attire was for talking to someone on their laptop from their dining room table.
It was awkward, but it was necessary.
Eventually, though, people got used to it and became savvy to the rules we now consider virtual-meeting common sense:
- Dress up from the waist up
- Know where the mute button is and when to use it
- Illuminate your on-screen appearance by facing a window or other light
- Don’t take your device into the bathroom during a group meeting while your camera is turned on (yes, this happened to someone)
Slowly but surely, people became more comfortable with Zoom, and with that comfort, more casual and authentic. There was an unspoken agreement that it really didn’t make sense to wear a tie when you didn’t plan on leaving your house that day, and the occasional dog barking or child squealing was acceptable and—in the strictest of lockdowns—expected.
And while it might not have seemed this way at the time, that peek into people’s real, everyday lives was a blessing, particularly for financial advisors and others in highly personal service industries. It lifted the veil and created authentic, unassuming connections.
And then Zoom released its virtual backgrounds.
I’m On a Beach With No Arms
When the virtual backgrounds were released, they were presented as an innovative way to take your Zoom presence up a notch. Instead of your boring, old home office, you could be on a beach, in Rome, in a modern high-rise office! Many people abandoned their real, everyday backgrounds for images of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Northern Lights, and even outer space.
Today, Zoom’s virtual backgrounds have become popular in even the most formal business meetings.
In our candid professional opinion… not so much.
Because even when you choose the more realistic modern office setting, it only takes about three seconds to realize that you are not, in fact, sitting in a big empty conference room full of pristine white chairs. That’s just the way the human eye works—we can tell when something is “off.”
And it’s distracting.
Even people who aren’t in our industry and hyper-focused on visual details like shadow congruence can see that something is out of place. The borders are undefined, the lighting typically doesn’t match what’s in your actual room, and it gives the impression that you’re on a green screen (which, essentially, you are).
Add to that the fact that these fake backgrounds often remove limbs (and sometimes entire people) from the frame, and you’ve got a pretty distracting setting for your business meeting.
So while the idea is cool in theory, and we don’t want to step on the toes of those who are genuinely trying to create a better atmosphere for client meetings—our advice is that anyone using Zoom in a professional capacity should resist the temptation to start their next meeting from “Tahiti.”
The Real Problem with Zoom Backgrounds
Here’s the thing—Zoom’s virtual backgrounds aren’t real.
(Duh; you knew that already.)
But missing limbs and blurred borders aside, these virtual backgrounds eliminate the casual authenticity that Zoom meetings brought to the professional world in the first place.
Financial services is a very personal industry, and as an advisor, you have a lot of incentive to lift the veil and let people see the real you. On websites, you can share pictures, videos, personal details in your bio; on social media, you can share what’s going on in your office—birthdays, anniversaries, someone running a marathon. On Zoom, your opportunity to build trust and connections lies in your willingness to let people literally get a peek into your world. Let them see your kids’ doodles tacked to the refrigerator; show them the family photo on your desk or the book you’re reading that’s on the shelf behind you.
The more you can connect with people in a genuine way, the better off your business will be.
We’ve said it before—people hire people, and savvy marketers know that it’s important to allow prospects and clients to get to know you as a whole person—not a floating head sitting at the Colosseum.
The more people see the authentic, real you, the more connected they feel to you, the more they trust you, and the more likely they are to consider you a friend.
And while satisfied clients will refer you, satisfied clients who are also friends will refer you at a much, much greater level.
So, Zoom backgrounds are out, real life is in. But that doesn’t mean you should be lazy or inattentive to where you host your virtual meeting. Put some thought into what someone will see when they join your Zoom call (avoid clutter and anything that moves), but don’t be afraid to be real.