Libby Sander and Oliver Baumane point out that “our feelings and attitudes are largely conveyed by nonverbal signals such as facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, gestures, posture and the distance between the communicators. In a face-to-face meeting, we process these cues largely automatically and we can still listen to the speaker at the same time.”
During in-person meetings we take in visual cues to determine the participants' emotions and responses. Is the listener fidgeting? Is their leg shaking? Does their body seem tense? During video conferences we need to pay closer attention to pick up these visual, nonverbal cues, causing us to consume more energy. Add to this, the fact that we can't alway see as many visual cues on our computer screen, it’s no wonder we’re exhausted after being on one Zoom call after another.
What can we do to make our video call days less tiring? While you cannot control how others present themselves on your next Zoom meeting, you can make sure you present yourself in a positive light, making interactions with you engaging and less exhausting. In fact, many of the body language tips presented below for virtual engagements are simply revised tips for in-person body language communication.
Below, we will review why each non-verbal cue is important and what they tell others. The table at the end are tips on how we should present ourselves in our next meetings - whether in-person or via video.
Tip #1: Posture & Body Position
Walking and standing up straight exudes confidence and energy. The same applies to sitting. Slouching in your chair projects a sense of lack of energy. Straightening your shoulders and back – but not being stiff as a board – presents you in a positive light.
Fun Fact: Planting your feet firmly on the ground helps you “to be rational, creative and have great presence of mind.”
Tip #2: Hand Gestures
Your brain gives more weight to gestures. Fiddling and tapping your fingers or frantic movements when gesturing can indicate nervousness. To help portray honesty and confidence, keep your hands above the table but below your collarbone and show your palms when using hand motions. When on video, move away from your desk so other participants can see your hands and don’t be afraid to use hand gestures – this motion is engaging.
Tip #3: Breathing
Our breathing can indicate whether we are nervous, excited, tense, or relaxed – both in person or on camera. To portray calmness in your meetings, even if you’re tense, slow your breathing. This also helps slow our speech, which tends to speed up when we’re nervous or excited. A tip to help control your breathing is to inhale while listening and exhale while talking.
Fun Fact: Controlling your breathing allows you to “lower the heart rate, blood pressure and reduces stress associated with the event.”
Tip #4: Don’t Appear Hurried
When you appear bored or hurried your body language is often saying “I’m not paying attention.” Looking at your watch or phone frequently makes you look like you’re not focusing on what is being discussed. While on Zoom meetings you portray this message if you are looking at a different screen, looking away from the camera, or turning your head to glance around the room you're in. Remember, it is noticeable on camera when you're looking down at the phone on your lap, to sneak a look at or reply to a text or email.
Fun Fact: According to researchers at Florida State University, “a single notification on your phone weakens your ability to focus on a task…they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering.”
Tip #5: Entrance & Exit
How you enter and exit a room – even a virtual room – sends a message. When you arrive with a smile, firm handshake (when in-person) or wave (when virtual), use an upbeat tone, and have eye contact with others, you are showing you are present and listening. Just like a yawn can be infectious, so can a smile. Smiles present trust and friendliness to others in the “room” – as long as the smile is sincere.
Fun Fact: People are more apt to recall smiling faces.
Tip #6: Body & Head Movements
Different body movements can send different messages, so pay attention to what yours are. Nervousness or boredom can be portrayed by nail biting, twirling your hair, clicking the pen, tapping your fingers, or adjusting your collar. To show you're paying attention, smile and nod your head– but don't nod so much that you look like a bobblehead. Avoid touching your face, as it may send a message that you're being dishonest.
Tip #7: Dress for Success
You know what the dress code is at your company, so when you’re at in-person meetings follow the dress code. Regarding dress for video calls, since you’re working from home you may find your everyday attire is a little less casual than when you’re at the office. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to what you’re wearing on that next Zoom call.
Unless it’s your company's dress code, get rid of the t-shirt or sweatshirt and put on a nice shirt for your video meeting. A solid color one is better than a busy design – which can show “movement” on the camera or be distracting. Also, steer away from a very dark shirt or stark white shirt, which can blend into the background, giving you a floating head appearance.
Fun Fact: You communicate through your choice of colors. Did you know that red denotes “aggression, violence, desire, power and greed,” while “white denotes peace, purity, simplicity, and goodness?”
Tip #8: Tone of Voice
Your tone of voice sends messages to the listener. It can signal your level of confidence, as well as contradict the words you are saying. People tend to trust a deep tone, but not too deep which “conveys a dark feeling.” A quiet tone portrays weakness, awkwardness, or insecurities. And a really high tone of voice is not seen as credible. If you find your voice going up in pitch when you’re excited or getting too deep when you’re mad, refer back to the breathing tip for controlling your voice.
Fun Fact: The volume of a person’s voice “generally defines how someone interacts with themselves and others.” Normal volume indicates self-control and listening ability. High volume denotes weakness, selfishness, and impatience, while low volume portrays inexperience and inhibition.
Tip #9: Facial Expressions
Your facial expressions can give you away, so make a cognitive effort to keep looks of anger, annoyance, or disgust from showing – even if that’s how you're feeling. While meeting in-person you know when others are looking at you and when they’ve caught you rolling your eyes or looking disgusted. The problem with video meetings is you never know who or when someone is watching your expressions. Because of this you may try to have no expression at all, but this zombie look will also project a message - one that may not be favorable. If you're trying to control your facial expressions, remember that focusing on posture and breathing can help you do this.
Tip #10: Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact during meetings and conversations lets the person know you're paying attention. Eye contact indicates honesty on your part. It also tends to “make people more honest when confronted.” When you're looking them in the eye they may have difficulty being dishonest.
How can you have eye contact while on a video call, when you're looking at your screen to see everyone's faces? To give the impression of "eye contact" while on a Zoom call look at the camera lens on your computer or video camera - it's the small "camera dot". You will appear to be looking at the person on the other end. When someone else is speaking, move their picture as close to the “camera dot” as possible on your computer screen. That way, when you are looking at that person’s image on your computer it will appear as if you are looking directly at them on their end.
Fun Fact: Studies indicate that “if you want people to remember what you said long after you’re done talking, maintain good eye contact.”
Check out our video: Video Conference Tip 3: The Importance of Making Eye Contact
For more Alpha videos on click: Video Conference Tips
Tip #11: Stop Multi-Tasking
People know when you are multi-tasking. Whether it’s during in-person meetings or video conferences, it is obvious. Have you ever been having a phone or virtual conversation with someone and you could hear clicking on their keyboard? You knew they were responding to an email or working on another task. You may be in a meeting and see the other person looking down at their lap - clearly not paying attention to you - you know their checking something on their phone. Remember, while multi-tasking you are telling others that what you are doing is more important than the meeting at-hand, or that your time is more important than theirs.
Tip #12: Mirroring Body Language
To create a bond and build rapport quickly one tip is to mirror the body language of the person you are speaking with. As you talk with another person begin to mirror their rate of speech, gestures, posture, or tone of voice. If they’re leaning in while they speak, lean in towards them slightly - which is also a good practice to show you’re paying attention. If you find you’re speaking rapidly, but the other person has a calm voice, try to slow your pace and match theirs (remember the breathing tip above). The mirroring should be subtle and not obvious, otherwise it might look like you’re mimicking them.
Fun Fact: Mirroring someone’s body language “is a phenomenon that occurs naturally between friends and people of equal status.”
Body Language Tips: In-Person and Virtual
Now that we have discussed why body language is important, how it impacts a conversation, and the message it sends to the recipients, a few body language tips are provided in the table below to assist you with success during your next meeting - whether it's in-person or virtual.
Video conferencing is not going away. But that doesn’t mean you have to remain in Zoom fatigue on a regular basis. Practice some of the tips provided above, share these ideas with friends and coworkers, then go make the most out of your virtual meetings – starting today.
Don't forget to check out The Alpha Group's videos on video conference call tips
- Zoom fatigue is real – here’s why video calls are so draining. (Ideas.TED.com)
- 12 Body Language Tips for Business Meetings (eduCBA.com)
- 15 Amazing Tips to Look Good on Zoom and Webcam Videos (Science of People)
- Zoom tips: 7 ways to improve on-screen body language(The Enterprisers Project)
- 6 Gestures You Should Avoid When on a Video Conference (247meeting.com)
- 8 Body Language Tips for Video Meetings(Zoom Blog)
- Keep your Mental Focus (AARP)
- Detecting Deception by Observing Hand-to-Face Touching (Psychology Today)
- What Does Your Tone of Voice Convey?(Exploring Your Mind)
- 7 things everyone should know about the power of eye contact (Business Insider)
- How Multitasking Affects Productivity and Brain Health (VeryWell Mind)
- Body Mirroring: How We Enhance Personal Connections (Westside Toastmasters)