“You’re on mute” became the quote of the year in 2020 and was said 1,000% more times in virtual meetings between executives compared to 2019. Chances are you have said or heard it once or twice when you joined more virtual meetings since the start of the pandemic.
This new way of conducting business is hardly new at all, but it has now become an indispensable way of getting work done across groups during the quarantine. Governments and businesses now substitute official meetings with virtual meetings, indicating the trend is here to stay. While this is a convenient solution, it has led to a new style of communication that requires intentional planning to be effective and efficient with your time.
It is estimated more than 300 million people use Zoom daily, and uses range from regular meetups, presentations and sales calls to relationship management. This level of virtual engagement can leave people feeling “Zoomed out” or burned out. If you are someone who regularly schedules virtual meetings, the pressure is on to ensure your meetings are enjoyable, engaging and interactive to leave your guest or audience feeling fulfilled and energized.
As someone who hosts many virtual events, I offer these nine tips to ensure you create a positive impression at every virtual meeting or event.
- Use lighting to your benefit. Have you ever been on a virtual meeting and the presenter looks like a mysterious creature in the shadows? To avoid this, you can find all kinds of home lighting kits such as ring lights or traditional lamps online for less than $50. If you do not have this kind of equipment, try moving your camera in front of a window and take advantage of natural lighting. The key is to make sure you are well illuminated so your audience can clearly see you as the presenter and not a mysterious creature in the shadows.
- Fix your frame. Have you ever been on a virtual meeting where the presenter is slowly sinking in his or her chair and all that is left is a floating head speaking through the screen? To avoid this, make sure you position yourself on screen by leaving only about an inch of space between the top of your head and the edge of the top of your screen. You want to sit in the center of the frame and close enough for your audience to read your body language. Yes, body language on screen is critical to create a stronger connection with your audience. Where you position yourself on screen will make an impact on how you build that connection.
- Make your background represent you (change it up or brand it up). Have you ever been on a virtual meeting where it was hard to focus on the presenter because of a distracting background? To avoid this, stick to a few basic rules: Keep it simple, keep it you, and keep it professional. If you have a green screen, you can set up a few background options with your company logo to avoid any visual distractions. If you want to show your workspace, then spend a few extra minutes to clean it, and only show no more than five items that can serve as conversation starters, such as art, musical instruments, awards or favorite memories. Avoid showing your bed, your kitchen or your bathroom in your professional background.
- Dress the part. You have probably seen memes on social media of people dressing in their work outfits on top and pajamas on the bottom. That is fine to do and, in some cases, having a standard selection of outfits can help you save time getting ready. Remember, people will see the top half of your body, so make sure it is dressed nice.
- Check your camera and audio equipment. Nowadays, you can find a good HD webcam for less than $100 and a solid microphone for around the same amount. Invest in an external camera and microphone if you find yourself conducting more and more virtual meetings. The visual difference is remarkable in comparison to built-in cameras and microphones. This short-term investment can help elevate your virtual presence.
- Polish your listening and facilitation skills. Unlike in-person meetings, where you can be in the room if someone has a question, virtual meetings will require more attention from the presenter. Encourage your participants to use emoji features to raise their hand to comment or use the chat box. If possible, use gallery mode to see all your participants while you are presenting. This will help you catch any raised hands and engage everyone in the virtual meeting. Say hello to your guests when you have many in attendance. Use their name — this small gesture goes a long way to make people feel welcomed and present in your virtual experience.
- Find your quiet times and eliminate distractions. With babies crying and dogs barking, there is no end to what can interrupt a virtual meeting. Encourage your participants to mute their mics while you present. As the presenter, finding a quiet spot to present from will be your most important task to ensure a smooth virtual event.
- Use body language to communicate with intent. As mentioned before, your position on screen is just as important as your gestures. Use your hands and facial expressions intently to connect with your participants. It can be as simple as nodding your head when someone is speaking or using your hands to communicate sizes of things. We are visual creatures and pick up body gestures better than words. If you are a natural presenter, this should come easy. If you are presenting for the first time, try practicing in front of your camera before you start the virtual meeting so you can see for yourself what you look like and refine it over time.
- Maintain eye contact. Have you been in a meeting where it feels like you and the presenter are talking to some object away from the screen? Many times, people work with multiple screens and have their camera positioned away from the center. As the presenter, make sure you set up your camera at eye level and try to make as much eye contact as possible. A quick trick is to purchase a teleprompter and small screen like an iPad. Place the teleprompter in front of your desk and mirror what is on your actual screen. You will be able to see everything on your teleprompter. This works like magic to create the illusion of eye-contact with your audience.
Virtual meetings are a solid substitute to build relationships, grow audiences and establish new connections. Use it well and it can become your secret weapon to grow your career or business. Investing time and a few dollars in setting up your home studio will go a long way toward making a great impression in your virtual meetings.
EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.
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