Conventional wisdom has it that the majority of our communication is non-verbal, and just a small fraction of our meaning is conveyed by what we say. Whether this proportion is strictly accurate or not, our non-verbal behaviour is very powerful indeed, because that’s what people most immediately and emotionally respond to.
Long before humans developed complex systems of language, our primitive ancestors had the innate capability to communicate through posture, gesture, facial expressions and something called “vocal prosody” — variations in pitch, volume, tempo and rhythm of speech (even if that was grunting) to convey different meanings.
So in the modern, technology-driven world of email and instant messaging, where we’re denied these interpersonal cues, the brain struggles to cope. Misunderstandings occur, and it becomes harder to establish rapport. That’s where video conferencing comes in.
Video etiquette — classic howlers
There’s no doubt that video conferencing is a powerful way to communicate when you can’t be there in person — whether that’s a one-to-one catch-up, a team meeting or a webinar. But it’s important to not get so fixated on the technology or the task at hand that you forget how crucial body language is to the success of your interactions.
Some people are painfully self-conscious in front of a webcam, while others have no self-awareness whatsoever. Over my years of video meetings, I’ve seen it all. I’ve witnessed all kinds of distracting behaviours, from frantic gesticulation (accompanied by the soundtrack of multiple bracelets jangling) to snacking and even personal grooming. So I’d like to share with you my top three tips for mastering body language during online presentations.
Tip 1: Animate your face
Whether your audience is in the hundreds or just a handful, you want to win and keep their attention from beginning to end. But there’s a fine line between being animated and fidgety, or making eye contact and staring fixatedly. Allowing your facial expressions — such as raised eyebrows or smiling — to reflect your enthusiasm for your topic will make you more engaging and trustworthy, but try to be mindful of excessive blinking, lip biting or covering your mouth with your hand, which can undermine your credibility.
Tip 2: Keep your hands where we can see ‘em
If you tend to talk with your hands, remember that in a video meeting your gesticulations may be off camera, so don’t rely on them to underscore your point. Equally, expansive arm waving or moving around can distract attendees and make you look flustered or unprepared. Controlling your movements on camera will give your audience the impression you’re confident in what you are saying. But crossing your arms, putting your hands on your hips or tapping your fingers are no-noes. They can indicate defensiveness, aggression or frustration.
Tip 3: Vary your vocal delivery
To keep your audience engaged, ensure your vocal delivery isn’t being flattened by nerves. Before you start your video conference, say a few words or practice the first few lines of your presentation so your voice settles on a natural, comfortable pitch. You can also avoid monotony by varying the tone, volume and tempo of your delivery.
First impressions count
Once you’ve got a couple of video meetings under your belt, you naturally tend to forget about the camera and relax. But it does pay to remember that first impressions count. We’ve put together a handy guide on The Power of Body Language that you can use to brush up on your on-screen presence (or share with video-conferencing newbies before they meet online with you).
Or if you prefer to learn by listening, check out this full webinar from body language expert Tonya Reiman.
Do you have any additional tips that you could share with everyone? Any body language no-nos that you hate to see? Please leave a comment below.