At the start of the pandemic, businesses rushed to move their in-person meetings and events online. The transition was so abrupt that many organizations did so without understanding, acknowledging or discussing the ins and outs of virtual meeting etiquette with their teams.
In our digital-friendly age, it may be hard to imagine virtual meetings require such formalities, especially when they can feel as natural as speaking to someone in the same room. But it’s important to treat virtual meetings with the same professionalism you would an in-person one. And because they are viewed on-screen, your nonverbal communication is just as important as the message you prepare.
If you’ve never heard of nonverbal expert Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 rule of personal communication, you may not know the real importance of body language. As his research shows, spoken words, tone and body language account for 7, 38 and 55 per cent of what we’re communicating to other people. This means actions really do speak louder than words, which is why enhancing your nonverbal skills will not only elevate your next virtual meeting but will also help you appear more professional and confident overall. As a result, you could establish more meaningful connections, deepen existing partnerships or even boost your team’s morale.
From controlling your facial expressions to managing your body language, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to nonverbal communication. But with these 10 tips, you’ll be sure to impress your next audience and keep them engaged the whole way through.
1. Maintain eye contact. Consistent, engaged eye contact is essential to communicating. Though it may be easy to slip away while speaking through a screen, it’s important to stay zeroed in on your audience. To give the illusion of true eye contact, be sure to look directly into the webcam. If you want to help your expression appear more natural, try taping an image you love to the wall behind it.
2. Perfect your posture. It may seem like an insignificant detail but slouching on screen can give your audience the impression that you’re disinterested. Select a chair that helps you sit confidently upright. Keep your shoulders square and try to use hand gestures when speaking. Leaning into the camera slightly will also mimic active listening on-screen.
3. Smile and nod. Just as you would in person, smile and nod while others are speaking. This will let them know you’re listening and engaged. Tilting your head as you do so will also affirm your interest, as this gesture is a universal way to ‘lend your ear.’
4. Don’t touch your face. Avoid touching your hair or face while speaking. Not only is this distracting to the audience but it also makes you appear nervous on camera, even if you’re not. Instead, speak clearly and use your hands to gesture.
5. Look at ease. We’re all guilty of looking tense while others are speaking, particularly after hours upon hours of meetings. Avoid sending the wrong signals by relaxing your face or smiling slightly while listening. This will help intercept any misinterpretations that could occur.
6. Uncross your arms. What’s a surefire way to look disengaged? Crossing your arms. This gesture creates a literal barrier between you and whomever is speaking. Instead, uncross your arms, sit up tall and follow along.
7. Set the stage. Think of your desk as a stage and the items around it are props. Consider whether or not the objects visible on camera are useful or distracting. A clean, uncluttered background will help keep the audience focused on the meeting. But it’s also important to include some personal touches — while still professional — that help you feel assured when you sit down to present.
8. Remember to breathe. What’s one ritual many on-screen hosts can practice before stepping in front of the camera? Take five deep breaths. This calming exercise offers enough relief to relax your nerves, so you can proceed with confidence.
9. Dress for success. That plaid shirt you love to wear on the weekends may be perfect for lunch with friends but a busy print will become blurry and distracting on camera. When choosing an ensemble for your next virtual meeting, think about what your outfit will say. Solid colours in classic styles will strike a professional note.
10. Resist the urge to search. Don’t search, scroll or type outside of the meeting you’re taking part in. With the worldwide web right at your fingertips, this can feel particularly challenging. Turning off your desktop notifications and opening up the meeting screen in a separate window will help keep you homed in on the task at hand.