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It’s scary to consider, but it’s now been two years since COVID-19 began its spread across the world. While it can feel hopeless to think about the short-term and long-term damage to individuals and communities from the pandemic, I try to keep finding silver linings. Some might argue it’s human nature to find a sliver of hope anywhere one can. For me that silver lining has come from an unlikely place: Zoom.
I used the video teleconferencing software program, Zoom, in my business creating animated, motion design explainer videos for clients, for almost six years before the pandemic. This is because several of my clients were scattered in places all over the country and it was a basic, helpful tool to communicate. Still, for most of my networking and local client meetings, my time was spent in person, shaking hands and making small talk over a meal or during multi-day conferences. When the pandemic hit, I (like many others) began to convert all my networking and client meetings to Zoom. It was a strange and quick transition. Still, oddly enough something amazing happened. I began to realize that I was far more confident and effective with clients and potential clients in the Zoom format.
I realize that the proliferation of videoconferencing has impacted everyone in significant ways. For me personally, Zoom acts to hide a range of my own micro-insecurities- insecurities that I never realized were so prevalent. I have health problems related to my feet; I am flat-footed and have to wear orthotics. Even worse, I have neuropathy in my toes, which means that I can pretty much only wear sneakers, ever. If I have to attend any type of networking event, including fancy galas, I typically need to attend in sneakers or other comfortable shoes that clearly don’t fit the occasion. I have always felt self-conscious in a room full of professional women wearing shoes like heels or flats that would never fit my orthotics. But, when I network on Zoom, the view is chest up, and no one can tell if I’m wearing sneakers…or even fuzzy bunny slippers!
But it’s not just footwear that’s a challenge for me when attending in-person client meetings and networking events; it’s the make-up, the clothes, all the things that women are expected to care about to present themselves as professionals. None of it is very comfortable for me and none of it seems to matter on Zoom.
During the first six months of the pandemic, makeup sales were down significantly. Why? Partly because people were wearing masks so much, but also because does it really matter whether you’re wearing lipstick or not on a Zoom call? Half the time someone’s background is more interesting than the color of their lips! And the blur effect on anyone’s face on Zoom can improve your skin blemishes better than any makeup concealer I’ve ever seen. Expensive and uncomfortable, professional clothes also became less of a problem. With the angle of the camera set upright, a viewer really doesn’t see much below one’s chest. No tight pants required; no flowy skirt needed on a Zoom meeting.
Zoom has also raised my level of confidence when addressing a sizable group of potential clients. I make sure that I’m always on Speaker View, and my own camera view is reduced to a thumbnail- just small enough to know I’m still on screen, but not big enough that I am aware I’m on camera. Now I can speak to a room of 100+ people without breaking a sweat. Since Zoom’s default setup is a maximum of 25 tiled people per screen, there might be 10 times more than that but you’ll only see 25 at a time!
Undoubtedly, the universal adoption of videoconferencing has helped me professionally. Still, at times, I do worry that I will lose my ability to walk into a room in real life – in sneakers – and be as comfortable as I’ve been for the last 18 months on Zoom calls. It’s been a strange experience, becoming so secure (and successful) using Zoom as my primary method for networking and connecting with clients. My guess is that there are many other folks like me – and not just women – who have benefited in some significant way from the proliferation of Zoom.
Still, as much as Zoom has helped me, I do long for the future and the welcoming return of in-person connections. I’d like to think that the confidence-boosting muscles that I’ve been flexing on Zoom are simply getting stronger and will be just fine when we resume in-person meetings. Just be sure to compliment me on my sneakers!
Sherene Strausberg, founder and creative director of 87th Street Creative, is passionate about helping businesses achieve their branding and marketing goals through powerful, effective design solutions. Understanding the value of communication and collaboration, she ensures clients are informed about the creative process and are thrilled with the final deliverable. Her business focuses on animated videos, using motion design, including explainers and animated logos. Sherene recently completed her first animated, short film, “Cool For You”, for children–teaching very young children about climate change–which has been accepted in film festivals around the country in 2022. She is now proud to call New York her home, where she lives with her husband and three children, ages 4, 7, and 10.