With video conferencing here to stay, remote workers fear that being “out of sight and out of mind” may jeopardize their career success. Similarly, being but one tile in the mosaic of faces during a meeting poses challenges when you want to be noticed and included in the conversation.
I am often asked: “How do I stand out during a virtual meeting and make a strong impression?” My answer draws from techniques honed during my corporate career, combined with what I teach my clients about public speaking and executive presence online.
Not too long ago, voice-only conferencing was standard practice for multiple participants to connect at the same time. I remember how people would talk over each other when the teleconference lacked a good moderator and a clear agenda. Then there were the long pauses when silence meant the speaker had their phone on mute. To make sure that my presence was known, and my voice was heard, I learned to keep a trigger finger on the mute button and jump in with an idea or affirm something that had already been said. My goal was to communicate that I was present, engaged, and contributing value.
Seldom would I join a teleconference and not say anything, even if my role was that of an observer. The same goes for video conferences on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. To stand out, you must combine professional virtual presence with verbal and non-verbal communication and know how to use the engagement features of your video platform.
Here are some things you can do to make sure you shine at your next video meeting:
1. Be visible on the screen.
If your face is not on the screen, you could be completely overlooked and have a hard time joining in the conversation. In meetings of 25 or more, participants with cameras off default to the “back of the room,” usually a second screen view or don’t show up at all. At the VERY least, have a profile business photo as a placeholder. And be sure to use your full name in the video—not first names or social media handles.
Your visibility also has to do with your position in relation to the webcam. Place it at eye level or slightly above and about arm’s length away. Looking down at your laptop is not a flattering angle for anyone, but sadly it is all too common. Use a stack of books or a box to bring the lens to the level of your eyes for a quick fix.
2. Look professional on camera.
How you look is often how you will be perceived. Working from home is no longer an excuse to look shabby, particularly when some of your teammates may be co-located in the office and dressed accordingly. The term “distance bias” has emerged to explain our tendency to give preference to people physically in the same room versus those connected online from other locations. It is real and it can work against you if you don’t show up at your best.
Check your appearance before you join a group video call. How are you groomed? Blot an oily complexion, men and women alike. Comb your hair and watch for any wayward strands or frizz that may stand on end or curl in the wrong places. When you use a virtual background, unruly hair pops out more and can be a distraction. Wear a garment appropriate for the occasion in a color that contrasts with the background. Avoid busy patterns, stripes, and polka dots that can look distorted on camera.
3. Get your lighting right.
You want to be seen properly. Lighting is everything when it comes to video. Bad light makes you look tired. Too much light makes you look like a ghost. Too little light turns you into a shadow creature, particularly if the light source is behind you. If you have not played around with lighting setups over the last 18 months, it is time to learn.
Light your face evenly with sunlight or lamps. In the daytime, face a window for natural light but watch for bright morning rays that can disrupt your shot. Artificial lighting can be tricky. Still, you can achieve acceptable results with lamps you may already have at home or purchase from a wide variety of video lighting kits. Ideally, use two light sources one for each side of your face. If you see a shadow under your nose, you will need to adjust the setup to achieve evenly diffused light on your face.
4. Improve your sound quality.
Audio quality influences whether people believe what they hear and whether they trust the source of the information. Make sure you can be heard. Get your sound as crisp and clear as possible. The sound from your computer’s default or webcam microphone is typically poor. Perform an audio check by recording a test video call and listening to the sound in playback. Ask friends and colleagues listen for good articulation, background noise, room acoustics and echo. Try a headset, EarPods, or wired earphones, or invest in a podcast microphone designed to optimize your voice.
5. Curate your background to enhance not distract.
Everything in your shot says something about you. From the objects that appear behind and beside you, to your choice of a virtual background image with or without a green screen, your on-camera staging and styling can complement or detract from your image. Think about how you want to be perceived. Are you in a professional-looking setting that matches your expertise? On video conferences, the visual components comprise close to 90 percent of the data that our brains receive. Only 10 percent is auditory.
With such an overwhelming emphasis on what we see, the rectangle in which you appear becomes valuable real estate where you can make your mark and be noticed.
6. Use your body language to signal interest.
You may be in a rectangle, visible from the waist up, but you still have a range of non-verbal tools at your disposal to call attention to yourself. Hand gestures and facial expressions enhance comprehension of verbal messages by 65 percent. From a head nod to a smile, to how you use your hands, appropriate body movements can be virtual highlighters and exclamation points when you speak. Try leaning in slightly towards the camera when you make bold statement. Raise your hand so that it is clearly visible when you want to be called on if the “raise hand” reaction button is not effective or is not considered part of the meeting etiquette in your organization.
7. Work the chat and reactions features.
Get noticed by posting questions or comments in the chat. Repost it if the waterfall of messages bumps yours off the screen. Use the reaction buttons, if appropriate to express agreement or applaud someone’s idea. Lean on the meeting facilitator or administrator, if one exists, to alert them to let you speak. Establish a buddy system via chat, text, or another channel to help one another have the floor at the right time. Don’t multitask with other work and betray your interest in contributing to the success of the meeting.
These steps, plus overall good meeting etiquette like muting your mic when others are speaking, will help you stand out in group video meetings and afford you opportunities to display your talents and charisma.