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7 hacks for the Zoom anxious.

Last weekend, after a golf tournament, I listened to people at my table talking about having too many conference calls. When I say talking, I mean griping about the explosion of meetings, especially all of the video-enabled meetings, they’re having because their offices are closed and they can’t travel. In a nutshell—”Enough with all the video!”

My attention was really piqued by a friend who manages medical facilities across the southeast. She talked about how exhausted she was by trying to look and present herself only using her face. She has a lovely face and smile, and is very articulate. But that doesn’t capture her true energy. She’s an athlete (very accomplished at the collegiate level) who projects joy and vivaciousness with her whole presence. She’s one of those people that lights up a room. She said video conferencing makes her feel “examined” and “in a box.”

What she said resonated with me. I won’t claim to share her constrained athletic dynamism, but I’ve got my talents. And they don’t necessarily play well with a mic button delay and the inability to read the room. I especially don’t like video conferencing with large groups. One or two folks, ok. But being up on a Brady Bunch video grid makes me feel a little exposed.

Who’s looking at me?

If they pin me, can they see me dozing off?

Is my dog doing something untoward in the background?

Why am I looking at myself all the time?”

Zoom anxiety is a thing

So, I started looking around and Zoom anxiety is a thing. I’m not crazy (at least not in this way). The “experts” relate it to social anxiety, which I equate to the emotions I felt in high school when I dropped my lunch tray and everybody looked, or when I went up to a girl and asked for a date. Seriously, I don’t have this affliction, but someone I love does. It can be debilitating.

What I have is probably some type of reverse narcissism. I don’t like being looked at because I don’t look as good as I “should.” I’m far more shallow than deeply troubled. A psychologist might help, but it would take years.

Instead, I sought out the help of another group of experts. Great advice for the ladies or make-up wearing dudes out there. And I found some fantastic sartorial tips for the today’s Zoom-Zoom male. Yet this approach required losing some weight, which is the main reason I hate being looked at in the first place.

No. There has to be some easier way to make me feel better about my bloated face on a video call. A way that doesn’t require any sacrifice or real effort on my part. After pondering this, I decided on the time-honored techniques of avoidance, diversion and disguise.

7 hacks for hiding in plain sight

The error is sitting 17 inches away from the computer.

1. Technical problems

This is the old-school option that never goes out of style. However, over time, they might notice you’re not there (unless you’re the social media guy) and then you’ll have to employ another strategy.

You’re there, but not.

2. Phone only

Smart option for the early adopter. The jig is up once a critical mass of coworkers catch on to your strategy. Then the mandatory “all cameras on” memo goes out.

Being my best self.

3. Pencil drawing avatar

This is like the phone, but the life-like rendering fools others into thinking you’re actually live and in person. Another great thing about this approach is one’s ability to gently erase pounds and years without expensive surgery or time-consuming exercise.

A different colorful option for every day.

4. Mask it

Finally, something good from this pandemic thing. Masks have been used from time immemorial to alter and disguise one’s appearance. Plus, you’ll have a reason rock your fantastic smoky eye technique in the carpool line.

Is he new to the team?

5. Effects

Digital effects are your friend. You can use them to enhance your appearance, place yourself in exotic locales (Paris as a backdrop, anyone?), create a conversation starter, or just distract people from your double chin.

Call from a local point of interest, from your deck, or by your pool.

6. Background noise

If your backdrop is interesting enough, people will look right past you. You can do this digitally, but the unpredictability of the real world is mesmerizing. Who knows, your coworkers might even catch a glimpse of some wild life.

The one guy has his own tie, which is great.

7. Face over talent

We’ve all heard of voice over talent, those silky, resonate voices who narrate commercials, documentaries, etc. Let me introduce “face over talent.” There is a huge pool of out-of-work actors (more than normal) due to Covid-related filming restrictions. For a small fee, these actors will sit in on your call for you, lending you the stunning authority or whimsy of their photogenic visage. This works especially well if you’re never called on. If you are expected to speak, look for actors who have taken a mime class or twoand can move their lips as you give your answers. With all the annoying buffering delays, no one will know the difference.

Right now, I’m trying to decide between these two fellows. Have a favorite?

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