Before a recent video presentation, I conducted an audience survey that revealed that 20% of the people on the call were burned out from too many virtual meetings and that another 30% didn’t like attending videoconferences. This means that before I even began my presentation, 50% of the people I was talking to were having trouble engaging with the meeting.
These types of headwinds should be expected. As I observed hundreds of virtual meetings since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I noticed audiences disconnecting from the programs and not benefiting from the information presented. Here are tips you can use at home to make your videoconferences look professional and to engage your audience.
Your home office probably has windows that allow natural light to illuminate the room. When presenting online, avoid being lit from behind because it’s harder to see your facial expressions. Instead, put the light source in front of you, behind the camera. This make you the best-lit figure in the audience’s field of vision.
The camera in your home computer isn’t designed to enhance your features. If possible, buy an external camera and position it slightly above eye level so that it looks down on you from above. You want your forehead and eyes to be slightly exaggerated and your lower face to be diminished. This makes your head appear more baby-shaped (larger forehead and eyes and smaller chin) and activates an instinctive positive reaction in adults.
Until you get an external camera and learn how to use it, elevate your laptop on a box or pedestal so that the camera looks down on you. Keeping it flat on a table at eye level exaggerates your chin and jawline and diminishes your eyes, forehead and temples. This creates a cartoon-like appearance, making you seem less real. Some people find this distortion emotionally disturbing and will struggle to follow your narrative.
Regardless of which camera you use, it’s critical to look at the camera, not your monitor. Your innate desire for eye contact causes your eyes to naturally move to the faces on your screen, often your own face, rather than toward the camera. When you look at the monitor instead of the camera, you appear to be looking past or away from your audience instead of at them. Consciously focus on looking directly at the camera.
Unfortunately, even if you appear to be looking directly at the audience, in virtual meetings you’re unable to see subtle feedback from your listeners, which is part of what stimulates your engagement with the material you’re presenting. Staring at the unblinking camera lens requires intentional discipline and expends energy that makes it difficult to maintain your focus. Actors use a simple technique to overcome this challenge: they imagine one or more familiar faces smiling at them. By superimposing happy faces on the camera, you will unconsciously respond positively to them, which will be subtly communicated to the audience.
In live meetings, nonverbal communication is part of the conversation. Research suggests that more than 50% of information is exchanged through microfacial expressions, subtle tonal shifts and body positions. None of these translate well in a virtual meeting because of the limits of the speakers and the computer screen.
To overcome these limitations and bring life to your presentations, become more expressive with your face, especially your eyes. Think about how a stage actor bridges the distance between himself and his audience by exaggerating his voice, gestures and facial movements. To maintain engagement in virtual meetings, add energy to your face and avoid gestures that exceed the boundaries of the camera’s lens.
Setting and Sound
Setting the right scene is a powerful way to communicate with your audience. In my home office, the positions of my desk, camera and lighting allow me to speak in front of my personal library; the colorful books set the context for the presentation of ideas.
Consider how you can frame yourself with art and furniture that’s visible to your audience. Avoid windows that force the camera to darken the foreground, and try to eliminate the chance that other people will walk through your space.
We recommend avoiding an electronically generated background, because a single-color background becomes dull and provides little richness to stimulate the visual cortex of your listeners. Also, the background can leave gaps if you shift position. Remember that your audience is accustomed to well-produced visual experiences on television. Subtle breakdowns in your background are distracting and can leave a poor impression.
Poor-quality sound can also reduce your audience’s engagement. Recording studios use specialized panels to dampen the way sound waves bounce off walls, floors and ceilings. An easy way to address the sound quality in your virtual meetings is to get a noise-canceling microphone that automatically eliminates undesirable sounds.
We anticipate that virtual meetings will continue to be an important tool for months to come. These simple tips will go a long way toward helping you overcome the built-in challenges of these meetings so you can rock that video call.
For more resources from the AB Advisor Institute visit http://alliancebernstein.com/go/abai.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.