Hello everybody. I’m Victoria Rennoldson, Communication and Culture Coach, and welcome to Wednesday Words with communication and cultural strategies and skills for you to learn. You can choose to watch this by clicking ‘play’ on the video above, which also has subtitles.
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Today, I am going to be talking about how to build your virtual presence.
Imagine the scenario … you’re in a meeting, and on the screen in front of you there are dozens if not hundreds of tiny screens, multiple boxes of people in thumbnails. Some of them have even turned their cameras off so all you see are lots of little black screens with names on. You’re pretty convinced that they’re doing something else in the background – maybe multitasking, writing an email or writing notes for something else. Perhaps they’re even in another meeting! I’ve heard of that – people being on two meetings at the same time. It’s so frustrating; you want to share your message, whether that’s in a meeting or a presentation, and yet we find people are increasingly disengaged and often not listening.
We are all at a point where life is pretty much back to normal after Covid and, in theory, we’d love to get back to in-person meetings and presentations. But there are lots of reasons why this may not be practical. For example, you may not be in the office on the same days as your colleagues, or you may be based in different locations, even in different countries. So, the reality of the virtual meeting or presentation is here to stay and we therefore need to find ways – as people who have important things to share – to adapt what we’re doing.
So today, in Wednesday Words, I am going to be leading you through 6 tips for how to build your online presence, so that you can create the best connection with people and have the maximum impact. The first 3 points are focused on your set-up for home working, while the last 3 points are all about you!
Your set-up at home is so important and I think it’s something we thought about more at the beginning of the pandemic, when people were doing a lot of virtual meetings for the first time. But now, life has moved on and perhaps we’re not thinking about it so much. But thinking about how you come across on the screen is essential to your overall success at work.
Virtual presence tip #1 – choose your background:
It’s very important to think about your background. What is behind you? This is often a personal choice, but can sometimes be a company choice. You can choose to simply blur your background or get very creative with all sorts of virtual ones, and there are many companies that use a selection of branded backgrounds. On the other hand, you may choose to go natural, as I do. If you do choose to use your actual background, you will – of course – need to check that what’s behind you is neat and tidy. You can also choose to add little touches so that it reflects you better. For me, it’s about my books, which are my communication and cultural resources, and my plants, which add lovely touches of green. So, don’t forget to always be mindful about what’s behind you when attending virtual meetings.
Virtual presence tip #2 – check your lighting:
Lighting is a really crucial point because if people cannot see you properly, then you are not going to have that presence or impact, no matter what else you do. At some points in the day, you might have plenty of lovely natural light, but I know that many of you are working with people in different time zones and might be meeting people early morning or late at night, when it’s dark. So do make sure you maximise the light. If you do have the advantage of natural light, make sure it’s coming from the front or the side, rather than from behind you. You then need to think about what extra light you might need, if it’s a dark day or wintertime. You can, for example, buy very cheap ring lights, just to add a bit of extra light to your work area.
Virtual presence tip #3 – fill your rectangle:
The last point related to your set-up is to think about ‘your rectangle’. This is the rectangle we live in online, and it’s generally all that we see of people on the screen. When we are not able to use our full body to communicate, we have to really think and work hard to make sure that people can see us clearly enough through our rectangle, namely – our head and shoulders. Do make sure that your eye line is level with the camera, so you appear to be looking into the camera. This means people have the sense that you’re talking to them directly, that you’re trying to make eye contact with them.
Virtual presence tip #4 – keep your energy high:
A really critical point, when attending meetings or giving presentations online, is how we come across on the screen and how others experience us. Let me give you an example: imagine you are watching me present a video about communication and I am sitting down, rather than standing. Imagine that I decided to write out what I wanted to say and that I am actually reading it from the page and, therefore, mostly looking down. I wouldn’t be looking at you or connecting with you. How do you think this would feel? Hopefully, this rather extreme example will bring to life for you this point about energy. We need to have high energy in the virtual space if we want to build our presence and connect with others.
There is an amazing TED Talk by Amy Cuddy that really illustrates this, so do look her up on Ted.com. Here, she talks about how our body language impacts our energy, and how that comes across. She also talks about how our body language impacts our confidence. So energy isn’t just about how we are affecting others, it’s also about how we can affect ourselves and what we feel inside. Keeping our energy high helps us feel confident and helps us feel strong in the moment.
Here are a couple of specific suggestions around this: I always recommend that you stand for important meetings, where possible, and that you stand up straight. I do this when giving talks – I stand up straight, feeling relaxed but strong in my core – and this definitely gives me energy. I do also move my body at times, but the important thing is not to lean to one side or be bending down. Now, I know that standing up while speaking online is not for everybody, so if you choose to stay sitting, that’s absolutely fine. But to build your virtual presence, you need to make sure you are sitting up nice and straight – just like your grandmother told you – with your feet flat on the floor, so that you’re feeling really strong and present.
Virtual presence tip #5 – think about your body language:
I’ve already done a deep dive on communicating through body language in a recent episode, so I’ll put a link here for those of you who haven’t seen that. But here are a few reminders of the key points, particularly as they apply to communication in the virtual space. Body language becomes even more important in the virtual space because it really allows you to maximise your impact. You may have noticed, yourself, that it is easier to focus and listen to a speaker if they are also moving and using their body when speaking. For example, if you want to emphasise a key point or show another person that you are listening carefully to what they are saying, you can lean forwards slightly.
I also use my hands a lot, as a way to highlight certain points I’m making. The important thing to remember about using gestures in the virtual space is that you need to bring your hands up into ‘your rectangle’. When speaking in person, we tend to bring our hands down, below our chest and near our stomach. In the virtual space, however, we only have this rectangle to play with, so we have to use our hands at a different level.
Do also remember that you don’t want to be too dramatic with your gestures; you want to be an engaging speaker but you don’t want to come across as an actor or performer.
Virtual presence tip #6 – don’t forget to smile:
You’ll also notice that I smile quite a lot when presenting my talks and videos. A smile is so important as a way to show your confidence, to share your energy, and – of course – to connect with others. And it’s really very simple: look directly at the camera, and smile! That way, people will feel like you’re looking into their eyes and wanting to connect with them personally.
I hope you found today’s Wednesday Words useful as an overview of how to build your presence in online meetings and presentations.
Here are the key points we covered:
- Choose your background
- Check your lighting
- Fill your rectangle
- Keep your energy high
- Think about your body language
- Don’t forget to smile
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If you have any questions – either on today’s topic or more broadly about your communication skills – then please do drop me a line. I always love to hear your questions and comments, and to find out what you found particularly useful.
Thank you so much for joining me today for Wednesday Words. I look forward to seeing you next time.