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When successful, virtual meetings enable talented peers to work together regardless of location and organizations to mine the collective wisdom of a widely dispersed employee population. In order to tap into this potential, enterprises are increasingly using geographically distributed teams as a key part of their business strategy.
While there are many forms of technology – from texts to emails to teleconferences – that enable virtual interactions, none holds the amazing promise of video. Video meetings are an information-rich medium, in which our brains process the continual cascade of nonverbal cues that we use as the basis for building trust and professional intimacy. One of the keys to success in a video meeting is body language. Here are eight tips for projecting confidence, credibility, and your personal brand of charisma:
It takes less than seven seconds for people to make judgments about your confidence, competence, professional status, and warmth. While a face-to-face meeting gives you added opportunities (entering the meeting room, shaking hands, etc.), your visual presence sets that first impression on the screen. So be sure your grooming and wardrobe send the right message.
Humans produce about 50 distinct types of smiles but there’s one distinction that really matters: is the smile real or fake? Genuine enjoyment smiles light up the entire face and create crows-feet at the corner of the eyes. Most importantly, smiling directly influences how other people respond to you. When you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.
Don’t tell me, I already know: You are more comfortable with your arms crossed. It’s the way you habitually sit. It even helps you focus your thoughts. All that may be true, but with nonverbal communication, it’s not how the sender feels that matters most; it is how the observer perceives how the sender feels. Although there are cultural differences to take into account, crossing arms is almost always perceived as a closed sign of resistance. (And, by the way, since the human brain pays more attention to negative messages than it does to positive ones, what people unconsciously look for and react to the most, are signs that you are in a bad mood or that something is wrong.)
In a virtual meeting, the quality of your voice can be a deciding factor in how you are perceived. Speakers with higher-pitched voices are judged to be less empathic, less powerful and more nervous than speakers with lower pitched voices. One easy technique to do before the meeting is to put your lips together and say “Um hum, um hum, um hum.” Doing so relaxes your voice into its optimal pitch.
Squaring your shoulders and keeping your head straight — especially when making a statement — makes your look sure of yourself. When you hunch or round your shoulders or when you tilt your head, you look more tentative. Hunching minimizes your physical presence and makes you appear less confident and competent, and the only time head tilts are perceived as positive cues are when you are listening to someone else speaking.
Eye contact is hugely important in nonverbal communication, but it is different in a video meeting. In person, you would look directly at someone’s eyes. In a video meeting, you maintain eye contact by looking into the camera. So a good idea is to lower the monitor camera a little so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to gaze up at it. If you can’t help looking at someone’s face on the screen instead of their camera (this is a problem for me), it helps to move the Zoom window to the part of the screen nearest to the camera so at least you’re looking at approximately the right place when you’re looking at their face. (And if you use a teleprompter, keep it at camera-eye level.)
Keeping your movements relaxed, using open arm gestures, and showing the palms of your hands — the ultimate “see, I have nothing to hide” gesture — are silent signals of credibility and candor. Individuals with open gestures are perceived more positively and are more persuasive than those with closed gestures (hands hidden or held close to the body). But too much hand movement tends to look jerky on screen. So practice beforehand and see what gestures work best for you.
When we’re nervous or stressed, we all pacify with some form of self-touching, nonverbal behavior: We rub our hands together, bounce our feet, drum our fingers on the desk, play with our jewelry, twirl our hair, fidget. When you do any of these things, you immediately rob your statements of credibility — or you look like we’re uninterested in the conversation. If you catch yourself indulging in any of these nervous actions, take a deep breath and steady yourself by placing your feet firmly on the floor and your hands palm down in your lap or on your desk.
Since we interpret what people say to us only partially from the words they use, we get most of the message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from vocal tone, pacing, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. Body language savvy can be the key to developing positive business relationships and presenting your ideas with more impact when you’re in a video meeting.
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She’s the author of THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF LEADERS: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead” and (her latest) “THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES IN THE WORKPLACE: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them.” Carol can reached by email: CGoman@CKG.com, phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website: www.CKG.com.
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