In a Virtual Environment, Your Credibility is Based on How You Look and Sound.
We are visual beings: we make snap judgments based on instant impressions and emotions, which affects the information we receive. “The Medium is the Message” is more applicable today than ever before, as we see its implications played out in the environment of constant virtual meetings, conferences, and sales presentations.
Yet, even after months of lockdowns, distancing, and Zoom calls, it seems like many people just haven’t learned how to communicate virtually or to present themselves in a competent, conversational, and credible way. It takes only 10 minutes to substantially improve the quality of the virtual meeting and the responsiveness of your audience. Here’s where to start:
Where are You?
When you look at your video preview, where are you in the frame? Ideally, if you divide the image into thirds, you should be in the center third of the window. This position puts you facing front and center in the viewer’s screen.
Where is Your Camera?
Your camera should be eye level to you or just slightly higher. Resist the urge to use your laptop’s built-in camera while it is sitting on a desk. The viewer will have an unpleasant look up your nose and at your ceiling, which is hardly a great image while considering a purchase or a major decision! Use a laptop stand or a stack of books to raise your camera to eye level.
Eye contact is the most basic of human needs. It is the foundation of our communication, as 90% of our communication is non-verbal. Our eyes communicate more than our mouths, as people watch our facial expressions and eye movements when we talk.
Making eye contact says, “I am ready to engage with you.” Removing that faculty or pretending that it is not essential in a virtual environment diminishes our audience’s confidence in both your presentation and, ultimately, your credibility.
To make direct eye contact with the person in your virtual meeting, you cannot look at their image on the screen! That makes it look like you are looking at your computer and not them. Unfortunately, it appears that you are interested in something else and not listening to them.
To make direct eye contact, you must look into the camera! Use a sticky note, make an arrow, draw a target, or do something else that will draw your eyes to the camera and not the screen. Immediately, you should notice a difference in your client's responsiveness or those in the virtual meeting. When they are talking – look at the camera. Eye contact when the other person is talking shows that you are listening.
To get more ideas about how to do this, watch the news or a late-night talk show. These hold your attention because the presenter has learned to engage with the camera and not the audience. This focus makes it feel like they are talking to you, which creates credibility.
How Do You Look?
Look at your preview in your camera. Where is the light source? If there is a visible light overhead or behind you, either from a lamp or a window, it will naturally darken your appearance. Lighting should be in front of you, either from a window or a direct light source.
Again, this is a credibility builder. Watching a dark, shadowy figure is a subject of a mystery novel, not a sales presentation. Direct lighting focuses attention on your face, brightens up your appearance, and makes the subtleties of your non-verbal expressions easier to see and understand.
Next, what is behind you? Think about your background as a set. Find a place in your home where you can control the background. Usually, a wall, bookshelf, or other décor can make you the focus of the frame. Don’t use busy backgrounds, animated backgrounds, windows, or distracting images. The purpose of the background is to direct the spotlight and attention onto you.
Then, look at how you are dressed against the background. Choose contrasting combinations. If you have a light background, choose darker clothing. Solid jewel-tone colors work best on camera. Avoid stripes and patterns that will cause a moiré effect with the video and distract the viewer.
How Do You Sound?
If you present remotely on a regular basis, consider investing in a quality microphone. Although you don’t know what kind of speaker or sound quality will be on the other end, you’ll substantially improve what people hear with a good microphone. While we can deal with poor video and interference, poor audio is the main reason why people will tune out or leave a virtual meeting.
Running the Virtual Meeting
Meeting virtually, you don’t have the time and patience that you might typically have in a live meeting. Your preparation before the virtual meeting is of paramount importance. Gather your materials and arrange them. Test the connection and the software. Have a backup plan to reconnect, troubleshoot, or send files if your first option is not available.
Mere seconds of hesitation or silence are perceived to be longer than reality. Viewers will perceive gaps or interruptions as a lack of preparation, which negatively influences their view of your professionalism. Create a schedule or an agenda. Have questions prepared ahead of time. Allow time for responses, questions, and discussion.
Your presentation should be clear and direct, using short sentences and active verbs. Speak slower than usual and slightly over-accentuate words so that your audience hears them clearly. Remember, people are hearing you through your microphone and their computer speaker. That connection is not always a clear or reliable system.
Here’s the final and best tool at your disposal: your smile. Eye contact with a smile is disarming and one of the most genuinely human things that we can do for each other. It readies communication. Non-verbally it says, “I am ready to communicate with you.”
So take 10 minutes, prepare, and let your smile set the stage for your next virtual meeting.
Virtual Meeting Checklist:
- Light source in front of you
- Position camera at eye level (DO NOT look down or look up)
- Move meeting interface close to the camera on your screen
- See how you look and then close your image (otherwise, you’ll look at YOU)
- Create a quiet virtual meeting space (studio)
- Remove light sources from behind you
- Solid color wall or bookshelf in the background
- Have a backup plan for sending files
- Have a backup plan for switching to another software
- Know how to mitigate and troubleshoot audio/video/filesharing
- Clean up your desktop if sharing your screen
- Wear a contrasting, solid color
- Engage with the camera
- Center yourself in the frame
- Look into the camera while speaking
- Look into the camera while others are speaking
- Provide non-verbal feedback
Your ability to conduct and participate in highly effective client virtual meetings will help you in almost any field. In addition to presentation, having a diverse skill set helps in ensuring the client of your proficiency and builds confidence in you. It’s especially valuable in the areas of Project Management, Quality Management, and Change Management for Digital Transformation, so check out Simplilearn's courses and programs in each of these areas. Happy learning!