It looks like knowledge workers are going to continue conducting meetings via electronics for the foreseeable future. Whether it’s a personal choice to limit exposure or avoid a commute, driven by employer decisions to delay office openings, or by government mandate, we’d best be prepared to be effective on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, or whatever your platform of choice may be.
What’s the best way to build your virtual stage whenever you’re presenting via a conference app? Check out these quick tips—some may be refreshers for you, and a few might be new, now that we’ve been doing this a while.
Sit where you can be seen. We’ve seen a lot of folks slide off one side of the screen or have their forehead cut off on the top of the screen. Whether you use a camera built into your laptop monitor or a dedicated camera, watch the angle you’re at and how you look to your audience. You come across better when your eyes are at camera level, instead of giving a view up your nose or down from on high.
Make “eye contact.” The corollary to the entry above. Look into the camera to give the effect of truly making eye contact. That means steal glances at your screen to judge audience reaction or follow the chat, but if you keep your eyes on the screen, your audience will perceive you as less engaging to them.
Pay attention to lighting. When you are back-lit, your viewers don’t see detail in your features. Too much light streaming in, and you’ll get squinty or have distracting shadows falling across your face and torso. If you can find a dedicated set-up where you control the light, that’s best, even if it means you need to play with blinds, shutters, or curtains during the day as the sun shifts.
Use a headset. A quality headset helps you cancel outside noise so you can hear better, and one with a quality microphone will deaden your environment’s ambient noise for your listeners. It will also help keep down any echo from big rooms, wooden floors, and so on.
Close other apps and mute notifications. Keep your machine’s focus on the call. Open browser tabs, anything with video or sound, multiple application windows of any sort can all take away from your processor’s ability to deliver great video and sound for your call. I like to re-boot my computer and close all apps each morning, and sometimes before critical calls after I’ve been working a while.
Know and test your tech. Audience engagement tools have gotten better and more creative through the pandemic. From breakout rooms to shared whiteboards to participants’ ability to raise virtual hands or offer hearts or clapping hands, having a prep call to test all capabilities and plan how you will use them is smart.
Finally, plan to engage your audience. The capabilities built into conferencing apps like the ones mentioned above; using the chat window to get input, take questions, and encourage sharing; asking for thumbs-up after sharing key info—make sure that you are regularly taking stock of how your listeners are following your presentation. Build-in opportunities to “pulse” your audience by giving them something to do every 5-6 minutes to ensure you’re keeping their eyes on you or gently calling them back if attention has wandered.
If we’re going to be at this a while longer, we may as well do it right. Communication is still critical, and getting through when you can’t literally hold a listener’s gaze or read body language and facial expressions is definitely harder through the computer screen. Give yourself every advantage you can!