When remote work first began, you were likely focused on getting your work done and not using the webcam any more than necessary. As weeks became months, and months may lead to a new way of working long-term, we must begin to conscious consider our virtual presence. How are you being seen? And is your virtual presence serving you, your teammates, and your future?
Presence in a face-to-face world has mental, physical, and emotional components – and the same is true for virtual presence. Here are a few tips to help you be aware of and build your virtual presence in all three realms.
Presence starts with focus – whether you are physically with others or communicating across the internet with your webcam on. Here are a couple of important points to keep in mind.
- Minimize distractions. While in your meeting or one-on-one you need to be fully present. This means to consider what might distract you and do what you can to keep them out of sight and out of mind. This might include agreements with others in your living area to minimize noise or interruptions when you are in a meeting, putting your phone or other devices out of your field of view, turning off notifications or closing other windows on your computer that might divert you.
- Changing video view. Depending on the nature and size of the meeting, you might consider changing your video view. You may be less distracted if you use the active speaker view, which keeps you focused on the topic at hand.
A large part of your virtual presence relates to your visual presence. There are a variety tips to help you be seen more as polished, professional, confident, credible, and energized while on your webcam.
- Get your camera at eye level. Have you seen someone who seems to be “looking down on you” while on their webcam? How does that make you feel? Make sure you aren’t doing that to others by getting your camera at eye level. This small change will make a big difference in how others see you.
- Center yourself. People are used to seeing people on tv screens. New anchors and nearly everyone else is horizontally centered on the screen. You should be too.
- Sit back. People want to see more than your head, and many of the later points on this list can’t be used if you are simply a head on someone’s screen. Max Headroom (don’t know who I mean? ) might have made interesting TV for awhile but that was the mid 1980’s and you aren’t on television.
- Work on lighting. You don’t have to create a studio in your workplace, but you do need to be seen. Ample light will help, except behind you. If you look like you are in witness protection with your face too dark to be seen, you have too much light behind you. Shift where you sit, close a blind, move a lamp, or put an inexpensive ring light on your computer or in front of you.
- Check your sound. Make sure you minimize exterior sounds in your environment or use headphones to keep those noises from distracting you or others in the meeting. You do not need a professional microphone, but you do need to be clearly heard. Check your sound settings on the different platforms you might use, and you will be better equipped to be heard clearly.
- Make eye contact. In face-to-face encounters a big part of presence is conveyed by eye contact, the same is true in the virtual world. Sometimes you do need to look at others you are conversing with but spend as much time as you can looking at the lens of your webcam. When you do that you are seen as making eye contact with those at the other end of the connection.
- Consider your background. Technology allows you with most platforms to include a virtual background. If you are going to use one, pick it for its value in portraying your message and persona. A family vacation or Marvel character background might be fun but might distract from your virtual presence. Make sure too that you aren’t blurred or otherwise look funny with your virtual background. If you want to “hide” your real location, you can also use a sheet behind you or buy one of the screens that fit on the back of your chair (here is one example).
Connection and communication with others is about more than the words we say but also how we connect on an emotional level. Eye contact is a part of that, but there is more we need to consider here.
- Gestures. Now that you have yourself centered and framed in the camera, remember to use your hands. In face-to-face conversations people use their hands to help them make their points – become comfortable doing the same on your webcam. Whether using it to make a point or proving a thumbs up to signify agreement, your hands will help with your virtual presence when used appropriately.
- Vocal tone and pace. Your voice matters too. You will communicate your messages more clearly when you consider how you say your messages. In a virtual setting you may need to slow your pace a bit. Be careful too with your volume as you don’t want to be seen as shouting. This is one reason why understanding your sound settings in each platform will help you with our virtual presence.
- Facial expressions. A big reason we are using our webcams is so that others can see our facial expressions. Relax and allow your face to express your emotions and reactions, especially if thy are positive and help move the meeting or message forward. While an eyeroll might need to be avoided, you probably can’t smile too much.
- Note-taking. Beyond your physical movements and presence, taking notes as others talk will not only help you be focused and clarify your thinking, but will show that you care about hat others are saying as well – building your credibility and perceived virtual presence.
There is far more that could be shared about creating your virtual presence, including some specifics if you are a leader or leading the meeting, but these basics will help anyone be seen as more credible and confident, more polished and professional.
If your future includes working or leading remotely, we have a variety of tools and learning experiences to help. From videos to virtual learning, from blog posts to books, you will find it all at RemoteLeadershipInstitute.com.