According to a study by Wiserd, 4.7 percent of Brits worked from home even pre-pandemic. That number rose dramatically during the April 2020 lockdown to 43.1 percent. If the reports are right, it is likely to remain high for many employers once Covid-19 has passed.
Fewer office workers and more work-from-home employees have made video calls commonplace for a wide range of business communications, from brainstorming sessions and staff meetings to major announcements. But while they may be used for the same purpose, virtual meetings are an entirely different context.
Elevating both your point and your presence on Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, or whatever other platform you’re using, can be a challenge, but much of the confidence around video conference calls comes down to being prepared mentally. With a little bit of self-belief and a few helpful Zoom tips, you’ll be communicating and collaborating more efficiently than ever before.
How many times a day do you find yourself concerned about what other people think? As humans, we are genetically and evolutionally wired to do just that, meaning that in social situations, if other people don’t reassure us that they like or approve of us, our brains automatically generate fear or worry.
That’s exactly why it can be challenging to maintain confidence in online meetings. If your presentation is met with a sea of blank facial expressions and no response, it’s very difficult to know how you’re doing, causing you to doubt your performance as a result.
Unfortunately, rewiring our brains to stop us from thinking about how others view us isn’t an option. That being said, there are lots of ways we can try to limit those feelings of doubt and genuinely start to feel confident (rather than just faking it).
When we look confident, we feel confident, so wear clothes that make you feel good. If you’re part of an important virtual meeting, avoid going too casual. You should also stick to solid colours and neutrals as much as possible since loud prints can be distracting. You may be sitting down for your Zoom meetings, but you never know when you’ll have to get up and grab a report or other materials, so avoid wearing tracksuit or pyjama bottoms if you can help it!
Ever seen that TED Talk on power poses? Taking up space, both literally and figuratively, is the key to achieving an executive presence. Sit too far away from the camera and you risk looking small, which can send a signal to whoever you are presenting to that you are nervous, less powerful, or otherwise disengaged. When setting up your camera, ensure the area from your upper chest to your head is in shot, aiming for a few inches of visual space above your crown if possible.
You should ensure that you keep the camera at eye level by propping your laptop on books, for example. Many people position their camera too low, which is a mistake. It can make it seem like you’re taking down to people, or too high, which can diminish your presence. Establishing strong eye contact with your audience means you have more chance of making a powerful and authentic connection with them, while also gaining their trust and allowing you to feel confident that your message is getting across.
During your preparation, practice looking straight into the camera. You’d be surprised how many people get distracted by glancing at their own face on the screen, but if that’s you, try turning off the ‘self-view’ option on Zoom, or using the ‘active speaker’ mode. When we’re busy concentrating, it’s easy to forget to smile, too. To help you relax and maintain a positive demeanour, place something that makes you happy above your webcam or on the wall. It could be as simple as a sticky note with a smiley face on it.
We love Zoom’s virtual backgrounds feature as much as the next person but sadly it’s not fool-proof. You may have noticed the software often displays the image over your head, or glitches and pixelates as a result of poor connection. This risks distracting the audience and detracting from a strong presence. For this reason, we suggest avoiding it for important meetings unless absolutely necessary. If you do decide to use a virtual background, make sure you choose a relatively neutral and professional backdrop, such as an office space with shelves in view.
While a well-lit room is essential, shadows are not a good look. To avoid appearing on camera as a silhouette, don’t sit directly in front of a window or a bright light. Instead, opt for front-facing natural light which evenly accentuates and brightens your skin and features, giving you a clear, flattering appearance and making you look presentable on camera. You should also be aware that your screen can be a large source of light, so if you don’t have a lot of natural light, or your video call is in the evening, for example, be sure to adjust your screen brightness.
Nervous about public speaking? You’re not alone. As many as 25 percent of people fear speaking in front of a crowd, but a little bit of practice can go a long way in helping you to overcome those nerves and feel more relaxed in a conference call situation. Practice using a strong voice and be mindful of your inflection, just as you would in person. Naturally, people’s attention span wavers slightly faster during a video call than in person as well, so you may need to speak slightly faster than you normally would. You should also invest in a good quality headset since having good audio quality will add to your overall presence.
Don’t let a lack of confidence leak out through your physical posture. Slouching or hunching over during video calls can make your audience feel less secure — as can actions like swaying in your chair. Using mindfulness and yoga techniques, we can learn to feel genuinely comfortable in our own skin and more at ease with being centre of attention. A good technique is to imagine there is an invisible string running from the top of your head to the ceiling pulling you up. Pay attention to the level of your shoulders and make a conscious effort to pull them down your back. The more you look at ease, the more positively you will be perceived by the people you are trying to influence.
Notifications are designed to capture our attention, and nothing is more distracting on a video call than multiple dings and pings. If your audience doesn’t feel like they have your full attention, they won’t feel respected, so make sure you mute your desktop notifications before hopping on a call. You should also keep in mind that anything you say within the video chat will be visible in the final transcript. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t be comfortable with your boss or colleagues seeing something, don’t say it in a private message.
Executive presence may largely be about the way you look and your body language, but what it really comes down to is mind over matter. Undermining yourself by using apologetic language like “sorry, this may be completely wrong” or “please forgive the length of this presentation” is a sure-fire way to evaporate an air of confidence. By thinking productively and using assertive language instead, your audience is more likely to view you as decisive and as an expert on a particular subject.
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by Emma Gibbins | 30 Sep 21
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