The COVID-19 pandemic has seen billions of people being sent home to work remotely and this trend will continue into the foreseeable future and may even become the norm. This means more meetings and presentations are being done from behind the webcam without the normal access to the multitude of human visual and non-verbal cues. How to improve your virtual impact on a screen is an issue everyone should be addressing.

We have to find ways to be influential, attract respect, keep calm and maintain our authority in this virtual space. How to raise your presence in front of the webcam is now a challenge that must be considered by every business person, presenter, or educator who wants to connect strongly and be taken seriously.

As a professional speaker myself and as President of the Johannesburg Chapter of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa, I present webinars and run online meetings every day. I also coach clients on how to raise their presence and impact in virtual meeting spaces. There are some basics that many people miss that would help to lift their game enormously before doing anything else.

Some common mistakes and how to fix them

  • Camera angle
    • You just have to watch the news on TV to see how most people get this very wrong. Their laptops are too low so they are looking down their noses at the audience who, in turn, are entertained by a nostril view which is not generally very attractive.
    • The easy way to remedy this is to place one’s laptop on a box or a pile of books so that the camera is at eye level
    • Then work with the angle of the laptop so that the audience is not getting a view of the ceiling and a little of the face, but that one’s face is in the center of the frame.
    • Avoid looking at your own face or the person who you are speaking to and look straight into the camera lens if you really want to connect like a human being. This is probably one of the most difficult things to get right as we are drawn to other people’s faces.
    • Stick something bright near the camera lens to remind you where you should be looking.
    • Clean your camera lens regularly to avoid a blurry picture.
  • Backdrop
    • Avoid sitting with a bright window or slatted Venetian blinds behind you as the viewer’s eye is instantly drawn to the light and sometimes you will appear as an angel with a halo around you.
    • If you are sitting in front of a bookshelf or any form of shelving, make sure they are neat and tidy. The eye is drawn to things that are not lined up or are skew.
    • Make sure you do not have a plant growing out of your ear or any part of your head.
    • Remove pictures from the wall behind you if they are distracting.
    • Try and position yourself with as little visual clutter behind you as possible.
    • A plain curtain or a plain wall is usually good.
    • Virtual backgrounds work well on MS Teams and you don’t need to use a green screen. However, if you are using something like Zoom you will need very good lighting and a green screen (blue or green fabric) behind you to make it work or you will end up with a fuzzy green halo around you and when you move your hands they will make green streaks on the screen. Better to go without a virtual background in most cases.
  • Lighting
    • Your face needs to be seen in order to really connect. I can’t tell you how many people are literally in the dark and you can’t see their eyes or their mouths at all. This is not conducive to connection and communication.
    • You need, at the very least, two sources of light coming towards you. If you are sitting at a laptop, two bedside lamps with bendy heads, like those in this picture, positioned either side of your laptop, will help a lot.
    • You will have to play with the positioning on the lamps to create a good look and feel. Ask someone to help you and check it out with others on the other side of you screen.
    • Once you have light sources in front of you, there might be a shadow on the wall or curtain behind you which you will have to dissipate by positioning a lamp without a lampshade on the floor behind you. See the lamp behind me in the picture.
    • Watch out for the moving sun on your windows – you may need to reposition yourself as the day wears on.
  • Sound
    • You want to come across as crisply and clearly as possible.
    • You can use your cellphone hands-free set plugged into your computer for better sound than just talking into the microphone.
    • Watch out for echo in a room. To avoid that, close curtains, place duvets and blankets on hard surfaces, put towels over mirrors, etc to stop your voice from bouncing back. It makes an enormous difference.
    • Avoid squeaky chairs.
    • Put pets away etc.
  • Body position
    • Do you sit or stand?
    • Most people sit for meetings when they are speaking and there is a limit to how much you can move your body to express yourself in this position. If I am presenting, I prefer to stand. There is more power, energy and authority when you stand and much more scope for movement sideways, forwards and backwards. You can use your space.
    • I sit for long meetings but stand for presentations.
    • Remember that you need to make the necessary adjustments to the position and height of your laptop when you decide to stand.
    • You may want to invest in a standing desk, or keep a number of boxes of different heights handy, as I do.

How you appear on a screen and your comfort with being ‘under a magnifying glass’ and making direct eye contact will go a long way to helping you to raise your presence and impact in front of the webcam. There is much more to this topic that I will discuss at a later stage from improving your lighting, sound and camera equipment to utilising a variety of different audience engagement tools and apps.

For now, just get the basics right and you will be amazed at the difference it can make.

Listen to my Radio 702 interview on this topic here.

Book me for my interactive webinar to improve your impact behind the webcam

Much love,

Nikki Bush

Human Potential and Parenting Expert helping you to win @ work and life