Thanks to the ubiquity of webcams and mobile devices, video meetings are becoming the norm. Most of the time, that’s good news — less time out of the office, less time traveling and more time getting stuff done. But what’s lost when we try to establish relationships over Wi-Fi?
Even the most seasoned professionals can have trouble making meaningful connections with their audience when they’re staring at the red (or green or blue) dot on their laptop. There’s no vibe to tell you if your presentation is falling flat. There are few cues to indicate if you should shake things up a bit. And there are a lot of opportunities for your audience to be distracted.
But you can bridge the virtual divide and rock the webcam.
There are barriers we face when attempting to connect with an audience across a digital space. It can be tempting to watch yourself on screen, but it’s important to make eye contact with your audience — on the other end of the camera.
One way to create this illusion is to have someone sit across from you at the table so you’re talking to an actual person. In turn, it will look like you’re communicating directly with the people in the room. (It also makes you more comfortable when you’re talking to a friend or colleague!)
You come off as more authentic, and less forced, when you are talking to an actual person, instead of a computer screen. If no one is available, try printing a photo of your audience and making a hole in the photo for the camera lens. Looking at the lens through the photo will make it seem like you’re conducting your digital interview/presentation with a human, versus a screen.
It’s tempting to take that video meeting in sweats from your couch, especially when you could throw on a nice shirt and appear professional from the waist up. But how does that affect your demeanor and overall delivery? There is a psychological aspect to dressing professionally; doing so can help switch your mindset to professional mode. Plus, if you have to jump up to grab a file or adjust equipment, you will be dressed for it.
It’s also important to consider how what you are wearing will work on the webcam. We all know the rules for dressing for TV, but how often do we consider webcam nuances?
For example, some colors like yellow and magenta are too bright for the camera and can be distracting. Avoid wearing shiny accessories or anything too bright, as it can look like a disco ball on screen. The camera picks up on the reflections, and shines backs through the lens to the audience. Remember that the webcam view is limited, so what may seem like a small accessory can actually overwhelm the webcam view. Not sure if your clothes work? Give it a test shot to be sure.
You can’t sell someone on your organizational skills if the background is a messy desk. A blank or neutral background is best. Lighting is also very important—“soft, natural lighting is the way to go,” says Paul Bailo, a digital marketing technology executive. “Try having three lights, one to your right, one to your left … and the third shining up at your background. This creates a wonderful, inviting, caring environment.”
If you are taking the meeting from your office, reserve a conference room or find a quiet place with a door — and make sure your colleagues know you’re about to have a virtual presentation. You don’t want to be interrupted by a well-meaning colleague popping into your office with a question and walking right through the camera shot!
Body language is critical to the success of your presentation. But when the audience is a web cam away, and the visual is limited to a head shot, how do you show that you are engaged? A hint: subtle movements. Being motionless can make people think the computer screen is frozen, and moving too much can be very distracting. Find a happy medium and communicate by leaning forward. This will demonstrate that you are present, engaged and eager.
When you present to a virtual audience, you miss out on basic relationship-building techniques that can help engage your audience. For example, the handshake. But you can still make that connection with your remote audience. “Give a slow, confident, professional, firm nod with a slight shoulder bend and eyes forward,” says Bailo. This simple gesture shows that you’re excited to be there and ready to get down to business.