You need to maintain a strong presence on video calls. Most contact for meetings is via video these days following the pandemic. A higher proportion of people work from home to some extent now, especially in the US. For instance, a report by Zippia in October 2022 observed that the number of people working full-time from home in the US had risen dramatically from 5.7% of the workforce in 2018 to 26.0% in 2022 – and that “66% of US employees work remotely, at least part-time.” Also, the UK government Office of National Statistics reported in February 2023: “Among working adults who have worked in the last seven days, 16% reported working from home only and 28% reported both working from home and travelling to work over the period September 2022 to January 2023.”
These figures show that you need to present yourself well on-camera so you look professional to your team, your boss and higher management – in fact, everyone you deal with. These perceptions of you are vital to your career. But a stronger presence means taking into account more things than you might expect.
Here’s how to impress people with the way you present yourself
Do all the following actions regularly – even daily – and especially before important meetings. These will ensure you on-screen presence is impressive and professional.
1. Properly position yourself
Where and how you sit affects other people’s view of you. If you sit too far away from the camera, you obviously look smaller. This can send a subconscious signal to others that you are less powerful, nervous or disengaged. Sit too close and your face will loom large and round, and skin blemishes embarrassingly obvious. Test position to your own satisfaction.
Fix this by positioning your seat so the area from your upper chest to your head is visible. Make sure the top of your head is in sight, and desirably there are a few inches above your head also within sight range.
Also, sit leaning forward slightly so you look like you are engaged warmly with the conversation.
2. Eyes level with the camera
We all know that keeping good eye contact with people is a priority. But many people don’t give enough thought about positioning the camera on their laptop, iPad or smartphone. The device will be too low if it just sits on your desk, bench or table without due thought to how you appear to the audience. If the lens is too low, you will seem like you are talking down to people, and they may even feel they are looking up your nose. So place your laptop or webcam on a stack of books or similar things that are stable so the eye of the camera is at your eye level.
3. Ensure lighting is at the front of you
Check for shadows on your face and body. You should face the light source coming into the room, eg a window or room lighting. Light behind you makes you look like you are in the shadows. Facing a source of natural light is best, although not direct sunlight on you because it will be too strong and variable on a cloudy day.
4. Face the camera
Put the camera close to the side of the screen where you can see your image. If you are talking, look at the camera lens and minimize glancing at yourself in the screen image. You can practice this:
- Put a sticky note with a smiley face behind the camera or just above it, where it will remind you to face the front.
- Turn off the self-view option on Zoom
- Use the active-speaker mode.
5. Don’t use virtual backgrounds
Zoom offers a virtual background feature for when you are speaking. But often the software will not display properly – showing the image over your head, or some other fault. These problems can distract you too much and reduce your presence. So don’t use it unless you can’t find a suitable natural background.
Speaking of backgrounds – select a fairly neutral and professional background, such as in your office with fairly neat shelves in view. These are great for conversation and connection with others.
6. Speak strongly and clearly
To hold people’s attention, you need to speak slightly faster and a little louder than you would in person. Practice this ahead of time if you are going to make a presentation. Also, ensure you have a good-quality headset so you don’t misunderstand parts of what others are saying.
7. Your body posture should be stable
If people aren’t confident, this can show in their body language. Check your posture – don’t slouch or hunch during calls – another reason to put the eye of the camera at your own eye level, and to keep at that posture height. But don’t stiffen up your body, either. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders. This helps you look self-assured and stable.
8. Mute notifications
Other people find it distracting and annoying if they keep overhearing pings on your computer or other devices as texts or emails arrive. Make your fellow audience feel respected by turning off these types of noises.
And also minimize other distractions to you and your audience. Not so long ago, I was on a committee of my professional association, and attended a conference call. The committee chair had the nerve to run the meeting from the beach because she was on a break – with disruptive background noises. We all lost a lot of respect for her as a result! At least it wasn’t a Zoom call.
9. What to wear
Your attire should suit the audience and the occasion. What you wear for a WFH meeting should be similar to what you would wear in an office meeting. It would take pages to cover every detail of what to wear to look professional in a web meeting, so I suggest you go to Google and key in a search like “Clothes to wear during a videoconference.”
10. Further information
You can also read helpful information about video calls in my article, “8 ways to help people feel connected during a virtual meeting”.