In the wake of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, millions have been thrust into a world of video conferencing. Downloads of video conferencing apps surged past 62 million the week of March 14-21, 2020, according to research firm App Annie. Bloopers, memes, and spoofs of video conferences abound, lightening the mood during a stressful global pandemic. But they point at something important: There’s a lot of bad form out there.

A significant part of communication is nonverbal. Body language, tone of voice, and energy all help us convey lots of information rapidly. We lose much of this when we’re not physically together, making it easier to misunderstand, make negative assumptions, and get lost in translation. So if you’re serious about keeping your job and maintaining your professional influence via video, how should you approach those video chats? Here are some things to keep in mind about your virtual presence.

Check out our article on Building Professional Influence Virtually for additional tips.

Interact with the people, not the computer.

Staring at a computer screen is different than looking at a person, and it shows in our behavior (cue the blank “Zoom thousand-yard stare”). For good virtual presence, you’ll want to avoid this. Instead, pretend that your computer is a person, and interact with the person rather than the machine. Make sure that your body language and facial expressions indicate that you’re engaged, and give the speaker the gifts of non-verbal and verbal response so they know you’re listening.

Focus on engagement first.

You have to “warm up” a virtual room, much like you do when you’re speaking in public. Don’t skip the human connection – make sure that you check in emotionally with everyone, add some humor or group activities, and break up sessions with variety to keep people interested.

Make “eye contact”.

Equate your camera with others’ eyes. When we listen or speak to each other in person, we typically make eye contact, look away, then make eye contact again to indicate attention. To make your virtual presence feel more realistic, you can mimic this behavior with the camera. Don’t focus exclusively on the pictures on the screen; it can be the equivalent of staring at someone’s navel, which is always awkward.

Pad the agenda.

Many “typical” work activities will take longer via video conferences, because we have fewer nonverbal ways to communicate quickly. They’ll also rapidly sap participants’ energy, so schedule your meetings accordingly.

Do not give “Presentations.”

“Giving a presentation” implies mostly one-way communication: the speaker presents, and the audience listens passively. This can be even more terrible on video conferencing (YAWN). Speakers have to dial up their energy levels to draw in engagement, and give space for others to respond. If you’re speaking or leading a meeting, don’t be afraid to actively call on others to encourage engagement. Be sure to embrace silence so people have time to unmute and respond.

Be seen and heard.

If no one can see you or hear you because of bad lighting or sound, little else matters. Test out your lighting at different times of day to ensure you can be clearly seen, and adjust your camera so it’s at eye-level in front of you and your face is fully in the frame.

Roll with distractions.

Many people suddenly have interesting new coworkers on video – exuberant children, pets, unsuspecting spouses, roommates – who sometimes crash the session. Roll with it. Embrace that life happens, use it as a break for humor, and get everyone back on track. Seeing others’ home lives can help build stronger relationships – take advantage of the opportunity!

Check out some creative remote team building activities.

It’s easy to allow communication channels – video conferencing, email, Slack, text, phone – to become barriers to clear connection. By being intentional about how you’re working to connect and communicate clearly, you’re a step ahead on staying on track. Even in a sea of Brady Bunch-style video conferences!


Here at EWF International, we’ve gone virtual with Emerging Leaders, Executive Forums, Coaching, and virtual happy hours. Reach out to learn more about how we’re helping keep businesses, leaders, and members in our community connected through all seasons.