4 strategies to improve virtual body language  


Having better virtual body language will improve how you connect and engage with your audience online.

You may have noticed that presenting face to face feels different to presenting virtually.

Take reading the body language in a room for example. Today’s wall of muted participants can leave you feeling funny, or unfunny should you have attempted a joke. And if they aren’t on mute (how dare they!) then all sorts of background noises can create interference, distracting your audience and potentially interrupting your flow.

Indeed, now that an audience is no longer held captive by the auditorium or meeting room, viewers can multitask whilst still appearing to be listening. Or they might hide their video feed to obscure possible inattention or children. Or we get distracted by said children or pets (hurrah!). Oh, and they just left! Did the wifi drop or did they just pretend it did? Like that old “oh, I’m losing signal” escape when on your mobile phone… (cue amusing verbal sound effects).

This change in the presenting dynamic has drawn attention to the fact that it’s less easy to see engagement, so our natural reaction (rightly) is to work on engagement.

I’ve read ‘new’ advice for presenters suggesting that more slides and more variety will hold attention better when presenting virtually. Well, I have a newsflash: this has always been the case for all presentations! Looking at one slide for more than a few minutes gets boring quickly. Even in an auditorium. Presenters often believe they are doing a mighty fine job spending 10 minutes on a slide because no one told them any different. They’ve done it that way for years. But those audiences couldn’t escape and we simply didn’t expect anything else from a presentation experience.

So yes we do need to work on engagement. Aside from interactivity, better slide variety, breaks, break out rooms and other energy-changers, body language still plays an important role when you’re essentially presenting to your own monitor.

You may feel it’s challenging to show body language in the virtual environment. But it’s still important to be aware that it does play a role. Our physical gestures can be subconsciously interpreted by those we are communicating with – this can work for or against us depending on the type of body language we use.

No matter how pretty a set of slides is or how informative the content, if the speaker is stiff and awkward the audience will feel uncomfortable too. So how can you appear confident and assertive when you are really a bag of nerves inside?

1: Smile when talking.

Smile because it helps your delivery. Try it (do it now if appropriate): say “smiling helps your delivery” both with and without a smile. Does your intonation change at all?

Aside from a smile helping your voice. It lights up your face. Yes, even yours, it really does. Indeed be aware of all your facial expressions. Show them, hide them if it’s wiser, but remember your face is in your power – so use it.

2: Make eye contact.

When presenting virtually you should stare down the barrel of your camera lens. It takes some getting used to. Keep practicing.

Or think of it like you’re delivering to your monitor. But you love your monitor, don’t you? Take a good fond look at it, go on, bat your best heart eyes. (This should make your eyes smile…)

3. Maintain good posture or stand up.

Good posture and positioning is important. It makes you look confident. Slouching, fidgeting or leaning back on your chair do not give a good impression. For presenting virtually, experts recommend a standing desk. You’ll be bigger (in stature), feel more in control, feel more confident and your body language will come more naturally. (Because, yes, we do recognise that sat-down-body-language can feel a bit fake).

4. Don’t be a sitting duck.

Whether you are sitting or standing your movements can contribute to your message. Leaning in adds emphasis (whether you are talking or listening), although a good guide is not to let your face take up more than 30% of the screen. So lean in “a little”.

Using hand gestures is a useful way to support the point that you are making. To make this natural position the camera so that the top half of your body is framed, and not only your head and shoulders. Relax and use your hands sparingly to emphasize your words.

Definitely don’t pop your elbows on the desk and move your hands about. You’ll end up looking like a Thunderbird. I’ve seen this happen, trust me, it’s awful.

Body language overview:

It may take a while for this all to come naturally to you. Don’t stress. Be authentic to yourself.

Do watch the virtual body language of other people and see what works for them… and what doesn’t. And of course video yourself in rehearsal or watch your live presentation back. You will find that you can easily spot your own presentation body language triumphs and wayward moves. Being aware of what you do and what others do is the first step to improving! Never be afraid to make mistakes: you’ll learn better and faster if you do 😊

Enjoy your next presentation experience! Read this related blog on body language.

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