Warm body language for virtual meetings

The setup of your workstation is perfect. You have tested the camera and sound and your body is visible so all your nonverbal cues can be seen. Your index finger is ready to click the ‘join’ button as you are ready to start your meeting in a positive way (if in doubt, read our article about the perfect setup).

Are you really ready?

Have you thought about: Where you will look? What your hands are doing? How you carry yourself?
What you do with your body matters more than you think and is particularly important in the first few seconds of your virtual meeting.

Oops, you might want to wait with clicking the ‘join’ button…

Science shows that the moment we look at someone, we make a quick judgement of the other person. This happens unconsciously, even before you have spoken a single word. We cannot stop people from making this judgement, but we can understand how to make these decisions work in our favor.

To make a positive judgement of you, people instinctively look at two sets of body language cues:
are you warm (likable, trustworthy, and friendly) and
are you competent (capable, dependable, and powerful).
It is important to send a combination of these two body language cues to show
leadership, charisma and engage people.

Research shows that in video calls, we tend to be more influenced by heuristic cues, like your likability, than the quality of your arguments.

This means that warmth trumps competence. If you are the presenter, you need to warm up the emotional side of others before you address the logical side. People must like you to be with you, to listen to you and to engage with you. Otherwise, they will just click you away. It is therefore extremely important to show nonverbal signals of connection and warmth in your first online impression.


Here are four important nonverbal signals that you can use at the start of every online meeting to make an immediate connection with others.

1. Visible hands

Hands are essential to show trust. People are more pessimistic about you if they cannot see your hands as the part of their brain that processes fear, the amygdala begins to fire. It is a left-over survival mechanism as your hands show your intention. When your hands are not visible, others find it hard to fully trust you as they cannot see what you are hiding in your hands. Although we don’t live in a society where you have to be scared all the time about weapons that people might hide behind their back, our brain still works that way. So have your hands visible in the screen, by waving or holding them open in front of you while you welcome everyone in the first few seconds of your meeting.

2. Smile for success

You might think it is a no-brainer to smile at someone. Everyone knows that a smile is a positive thing, right? Well, adults only smile 15 times a day, which is not much compared to preschoolers who smile 400 times a day! carol> Awareness of your facial expression at the start of a meeting can make a huge difference.

Smiles have a powerful effect on the people around us. The human brain prefers to look at happy faces, recognizing them more quickly than those with negative expressions. Smiles are such an important part of communication that we spot a smile at 300 feet — the length of a football field. 

Smiling individuals are usually perceived more favourably than non-smiling ones—they are considered happier, more attractive, competent, and friendly. Because of our mirror neurons, people will smile back at you, which releases endorphins and positively changes their emotional state. It makes them feel good, which means they like to be with you!

3. Watch your eyes

It would be very weird if we had a face-to-face conversation and I looked at your shoulder all the time. But this is exactly the feeling we get online when people look at your picture instead of the camera. A speaker who has eye contact is judged to be more believable, confident and competent and their interactions are more successful. A lack of eye contact creates a lack of trust, cooperation, and satisfaction in a conversation.

We all know by now that virtual eye contact is important online. But why? When you have eye contact, oxytocin is released which is a hormone which increases connection between people. Eye contact also activates our social brain network which makes it possible to have fun together and have genuine social interactions. But having artificial eye contact is very hard as it goes against our instinct to look into the camera instead of looking at the person we talk to. The key is to place yourself into the shoes of the other person. How nice would it be for them if you really looked them in the eyes? You can use devices like a Plexicam to put your camera in the middle of your screen, or prompt yourself by putting a photo of someone you like next to your camera. It is totally fine to lose eye contact while you think or look at your notes. In some cultures, it is also acceptable to have less eye contact than in others. Look into your camera to really connect with your audience during your first impression, but also during the rest of the meeting.

4. Use your eyebrows

Your eyebrows communicate whether they are thick, thin, long or shaped in a nice bow. An eyebrow flash is a way that all primates (e.g., chimpanzees and bonobos) communicate being non-threatening, friendly, and open, especially at the beginning of the conversation. It is like saying ‘hello’ with your face. Where eyebrows go down when you are angry, they go up when you are curious, surprised, or engaged. You want to see more and open your eyes which causes your eyebrows to go up.

An eyebrow flash is also a signal of recognition. It sends the message ‘I know you’, ‘I have seen you before!’. You automatically do this for example when you see your neighbor walking across the street and when you do it, people mirror it 90% of the time without noticing it. Try it out! Just open your eyes a little bit more than normal and your eyebrows go up. Greeting people with an eyebrow flash in the first few seconds of your meeting makes them more relaxed as they will feel more familiar with you. Lastly, an eyebrow flash creates attention to the face as there is movement, which people will automatically look at.  

Do you already show these warm signals? Or are you busy clicking away screens and e-mails when your camera is turned on, lacking eye contact or a smile and showing no hands as you are tightly holding onto your mouse. Remember that warmth trumps competence. You need to show warm signals first to create a strong connection and a trustworthy first impression. While you cannot avoid making a first impression, you can control the impression you make!

*Important note: some nonverbal signals are different in different cultures. In Asian countries for example, people use less eye contact during a conversation. It is important that you are 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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