It seems like everyone is doing it. Zoom. Skype. Teams. Chime. There is a wealth of video meeting services to choose from. That doesn’t mean people know how to look and sound their best, because they don’t.
In all fairness, most people didn’t need virtual services that often. According to Reuters, before coronavirus, only 7% of American workers had the option to work from home. Now, almost all of us are home and we’re fortunate to be able to have technology that allows face-to-face meetings with people across the world.
However, what works well in person doesn’t always translate to your computer screen. Furthermore, if you don’t know some basics, you can damage your credibility.
Here are seven steps to up your presence the next time your virtual presence is requested.
1. Look at the camera, not your audience
This is the single biggest mistake people make. In person, it’s important to look your listener in the eye. On video, looking at someone on the left, right or at the bottom of your screen can actually make you look like you’re looking elsewhere and not listening.
You should look directly at the camera and make sure that camera is at eye level. Try putting your device on top of a box until the camera is directly across from your face. Even though it may feel uncomfortable especially if the person talking is on the other side of the screen, you will appear to be making eye contact and look far more engaged.
2. Do not sit in front of a window
Too many people position themselves in front of windows. Perhaps there is a great view, but cameras don’t respond to light the same way our eyes do. If the light is coming from behind, you will look dark like a silhouette.
Instead, make sure the light is coming from in front of you, so it illuminates your face and people can see you. Also, frame yourself so you fill up the screen and we’re not looking at your ceiling.
3. Speak up
Even though your mom may have told you to use your inside voice, there are exceptions to the rule, and this is one of them. Inside voices work great when you are sitting with someone in person, but across a video screen, you may be perceived as lacking energy and conviction.
As a former television reporter, I always spoke to the camera as if people on the other side were a little hard of hearing. Picture yourself in a big room and speak to the back of the room. By projecting your voice just a little, you will convey more confidence and authority.
4. Talk to one person
It’s difficult to maintain a calm presence and conversational tone when you’re looking at a bunch of little squares on a screen and glancing back and forth at your notes. You’ve probably seen people who look uncomfortable as their faces tense up and they sound stiff.
When you visualize speaking to one person, perhaps your spouse or best friend, you will come across as more conversational and authentic. It’s okay to have notes and it’s okay to look at them, but talk, don’t read. I post little sticky notes on the side of my computer screen so I can glance at them to recall key points. That’s less distracting than looking down.
5. Be present to have presence
When all eyes are on us in a meeting room, we are more conscious of paying attention and appearing engaged. Alone at our screen, it’s easy to get side-tracked and start checking e-mails or working on other projects without realizing we are still on the screen and may be coming across as uninterested or not focused.
If you want to project presence, then be fully present. Try not to bite your nails, play with your hair or make it obvious that you’re texting. Like a media interview where you’re conscious of the camera always being on, think of a video meeting the same way. You’re always on!
6. Background blunders can be prevented
You’ve seen these backgrounds. Open cabinets, unmade beds or backgrounds that are so busy, you find yourself looking at everything except the presenter.
The easiest fix is to pick a quiet area in your house that is free from clutter and visual distractions. Perhaps a sitting area or room with a blank wall. Do not wear the same color as the wall behind you and don’t wear green if you’re using a green screen. Bright colors with minimal patterns tend to look best on camera. Video services like Zoom also offer customized virtual backgrounds but choose wisely. If you want to appear professional, you should probably avoid the Tiger King or Simpson’s living room backgrounds.
7. Smile, you’re on camera
Smiling in person is much more natural than trying to force a smile while sitting in front of a screen. For most of us, it feels fake. However, to a viewer, you can actually look like you’re frowning if you’re not smiling. A smile also helps connect you to others.
While we aren’t going plaster smiles on our faces for hours on end, it’s important to make a conscious effort to have a pleasant look on your face when speaking so you come across as friendly and positive. Studies show that people who smile are also perceived as more trustworthy.