How to Zoom Your Room: A book review by Bob Morris

How to Zoom Your Room: Room Rater’s Ultimate Style Guide
Claude Taylor and Jessie Bahrey, with Illustrations by Chris Morris
Voracious/An imprint of Little, Brown & Company (June 2021)

Why “zoom a room”?

Up front, I acknowledge with pride and appreciation that illustrator Chris Morris is my son.

Those involved with the Room Rater website — primarily Claude Taylor and Jessie Bahrey — appreciated being able to see on television “how our favorite journalists, political pundits, and celebrities lived when not in a studio. We saw the art décor, and ‘stuff,’ but also the messy rooms, rambunctious children, and photobombing pets. It was in this climate that Room Rater struck a collective nerve.”

The Room Rater Twitter account began in April 2020 “as a way to have some fun doing exactly what we were already doing”:  observing and evaluating celebrities’ workplaces at home from which they interact with journalists.

For decades, television cameras have gone into the homes or workplaces of celebrities. For example, from 1953 until 1959, CBS’s Edward R. Murrow hosted one of the most popular programs (Person to Person), conducting interviews with guests that included then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, Elizabeth Taylor, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Groucho and Harpo Marx, Margaret Mead, Harry Truman, Marilyn Monroe, W.C. Duke Ellington, Fidel Castro, Bing Crosby, and Kirk Douglas. These were formal interviews in a conversational style, carefully structured within a guest’s home, employment location, or both.

The Room Rater focus is on situations in which celebrities interact with journalists in order to create brief content segments for networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, or CNN news programs. The rating is based entirely on the style of the given location rather than on the questions asked and responses to them.

Here’s another key point: That same style usually determines the degree of effectiveness of a person’s participation in one-on-one or group teleconferencing that is facilitated by Zoom or (in alpha order) Adobe, Cisco, Google, GoTo, Microsoft, Skype, TeamViewer, and 247meeting.

“We saw what worked and what didn’t, and what our followers got excited about and what they didn’t like.  We saw how those with grand rooms, rooms that most of us can only aspire to, ruin their appearance with the height of the camera. We saw ingenious solutions for small, cramped spaces. We saw the very worst hostage video situations and the rooms with all the best elements plus the wow factor, and everything in between.”

Taylor and Bahrey make every effort to ensure that their reader has at least as much fun reading the book as they had while co-writing it. Most of the narrative consists of Room Rater opinions in combination with information, insights, and counsel — a series of “Room Rater Top Tips” — provided by dozens of those whose rooms were rated on a ten-point scale.

These are among the passages of special interest and value to me:

o “Room Rater Reading List: Fiction and Non-Fiction” recommendations (Pages 27-30)
o “No-No #1: Matchy-matchy” (no more than one pair of identical items in view, contributed by Donny Deutsch (31)
o Comments on art styles that include Fine Art Photography, Impressionism, Pop Art, Abstract Art, Surrealism, and Kids’ Art (33-44)
o”Room Rater Top No-No #2: Monochromatic” (75)
o “Presidential Room Rater,” Michael Beschloss on three Presidents (FDR, JFK, and Reagan) and their use of the Oval Office (101-107)

o “Setup Style #3: The Kitchen,” accompanied by Claire McCaskill’s favorite recipes (131-137)
o Room Rater Checklist: Top Ten Things to Check Before Your Appearance Call (155)
o Ten reasons why globes are effective (177-179)
o “Room Rater Top Tips,” contributed by Jennifer Hill, Staff Writer, The Atlantic (211)
o Alternative Setup: The Hotel Room (221-223)

In an article for The New York Times (Sunday, June 19, 2017), Emma Goldberg points out that, “Though the number of daily Zoom participants jumped from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020, many are still sitting in front of blank walls that create what Mr. Taylor calls ‘hostage videos.’ They are angling the camera up the noses for an accidental ‘full nostril view.'”

Why did Claude Taylor and Jessie Bahrey write this book? “The tips we learned along the way can be applied anywhere video calls are made, from home offices to office offices. We offer simple, inexpensive, and easily achieved solutions to issues such as lighting, camera angles and heights, reflections, and distractions…We can help you nail the interview, earn the promotion, And impress your friends and family. The best news is that you won’t require a large lottery win or a move to a new home. With a little bit of effort and savvy, we can help you make a Zoom room all-star [i.e. earning a 10/10 rating]– and not just on social media, but in the real world.”

Room ratings are obviously subjective but not definitive and certainly not permanent.  Most of those rated respond gratefully to suggestions. Consider all of those in this book and then decide which are most appropriate to the image you wish to develop and the impression on others that you hope to make. Experiment from time to time. Make adjustments and then evaluate the results. Zooming a room is a work in progress, as are you. Proceed accordingly.


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