Getting your message across in virtual meetings is very different from face-to-face meetings. As your listeners only see a small part of your body in a two-dimensional frame, their brain needs to work really hard to understand you. It is one of the most important reasons why people feel so ‘zoom fatigued’ after an online meetings.
By giving your listeners enough nonverbal signals you can make it easier for them to understand you. But what do we do online? We tend to give less signals! Sitting makes us move less and holding a mouse does not help either. This means that your listeners lose a lot of important nonverbal cues that help them understand the message. And if they do not understand you, they will tune out.
There is a second problem. In online meetings, we get distracted. This means we look at our e-mail while we talk or listen. We are finishing a document while someone is presenting the agenda. This distraction causes our body to send body language signals which do not align with our words. We say we like an idea, but have no eye contact or positive, body language that underline our words. Unintentionally, we often send a nonverbal message of disinterest or even dismissal because there is incongruency between your verbal and nonverbal information. Your listeners hates this confusion, and they will dislike you for it. And again, they stop listening.
Awareness of what your body is saying when you want to get a message across is therefore essential. Online, we need to pay even more attention to our nonverbal messages as they do not come naturally to us, like they do in face-to-face interactions. To make it easier for the other person to listen to you, comprehend your message and engage with you, you need to send enough of the right nonverbal signals.
Here are four body language tips that will help you instantly in your next virtual meeting.
Sending out warm and competent nonverbal cues starts with a good set up of your workstation. Your laptop is now your communication device, and it needs to be set up with that purpose in mind. Make sure your torso is visible and that your hands can come into the screen. The more others can see of you, the more data they get and the more optimistic they are going to be. Sit (or stand) about an armlength away from your screen and have the camera at eye level so you can look into the camera while you sit up straight. It also creates an equal connection with the other person. Have a look at our article that tells you all about the perfect set up.
Using your hands while talking makes you look more warm, agreeable, and energetic. Not using them, gives a more logical, cold, and analytic impression. Hand movements that illustrate verbal information aid the speaker to talk with less pauses and lessens their cognitive load. It also helps the listener to grasp what you are saying and to remember more of what you just said. It is a win-win for both of you!
In any interaction, symmetrical, fluent hand movements make you look more credible. On video you need to make your hand gestures a bit smaller, higher, and closer to your body, so your hands stay in the frame. Articulate your gestures in a clear way by giving them a clear beginning and end and create distinct pauses between the different gestures. Make sure your hands are not blocking your body as people need to see as much as possible from you. If using your hands is hard for you, start easy by showing for example three fingers when you talk about three things. Or by pointing out different phases of your talk by moving your hands from one side to the other.
an important nonverbal signal that influences your competence and credibility is your body posture. There is a lot of contradictory research if having a broad posture will make you feel more confident, but we know this for sure: power and defeat look very different. A broad posture communicates strength, energy and confidence, a low posture weakness and insecurity. We like to be around confident people as they give us leadership and protection. It creates an approach response and makes us pay attention and engage with them.
To look confident online, you need to create space between your ears and your shoulders while you sit up tall. Make sure there is some space between your arms/elbows and torso. Slow movements with your body make you look credible and competent. Chase Huges, a brilliant body language expert says, ‘you should never move faster than you would under water’.
Lastly, front your body towards the camera. It makes you look more friendly, trustworthy, and open–minded. We tend to front less when using a second screen. Tell people it is there and that you need to look at it sometimes, but front to your camera when delivering an important message.
Research shows that an expressive face makes you look more likable, warm, and charismatic. Seeing what you are feeling makes you more transparent, predictable, and easier to understand. Your listeners can anticipate on what you are going to say. A happy face that underlines a happy verbal message is much easier to understand than a tight face without any expression.
It is impossible to control all your facial expressions. You can only control your posed facial expressions; expressions that you show for social communication. These expressions are consciously created and pass through our cortex, which means we can be aware of them. Emotional expressions that are fed by emotional stimuli leak through without awareness. If you realize you have a face without much expression, you might want to dial up on other signals, like hand gestures to make it easier for others to understand what you are saying. Too much expression (think of Jim Carrey in his older movies) distracts from the message and might make you look very likable, but less competent.
Would you like to know which nonverbal signals you show to others or be able to decode the signals others send to you? Acquiring this knowledge and skills will make you more confident, credible, and successful personally and professionally.
Have a look at our training opportunities! We would love to work with you!
*Important note: some nonverbal signals are different in different cultures. In Italy for example, people use more hand signals during a conversation. It is important that you become aware of these differences and show nonverbal respect to the people you talk to by adjusting your body language.
Ted Toussaint is a behavioral scientist and body language expert and founder of Beyond Expression. By combining her knowledge of psychology, neurology, and nonverbal communication, she creates inspiring and engaging training and coaching sessions which build people’s confidence in their nonverbal presence, leadership, and charisma.
Have a look at our services here.
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