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Body Language Tips for Video Meetings

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When virtual meetings are successful, they let talented peers work together regardless of location and help organizations mine the collective wisdom of a widely dispersed employee population.

While many forms of technology—from texts to emails to teleconferences—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.

Given the power of those nonverbal cues, 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:

1. Dress for success. 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, and so on), your visual presence sets that first impression on the screen. So be sure your grooming and wardrobe send the right message.

2. Flash a genuine smile. Humans produce about 50 distinct types of smiles, but one distinction really matters: Is the smile real or fake? Genuine enjoyment smiles light up the entire face and create crows-feet at the corners of the eyes.

Smiling directly influences the way other people respond to you. When you smile at someone, that person almost always smiles 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.

3. Uncross your arms. 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 you need to take cultural differences 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 most to are signs that you are in a bad mood or that something is wrong.)

4. Lower your vocal pitch. 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 empathetic, less powerful, and more nervous than speakers with lower-pitched voices.

One easy technique to use before the meeting involves putting your lips together and saying “Um hum, um hum, um hum.” Doing so relaxes your voice into its optimal pitch.

5. Sit up straight. Squaring your shoulders and keeping your head straight—especially when you’re speaking—makes you look sure of yourself. When you hunch or round your shoulders or tilt your head, you look more tentative. Hunching minimizes your physical presence and makes you appear less confident and competent, and head tilts are perceived as positive cues only when you are listening to someone else speaking.

6. Maintain positive eye contact. Eye contact is hugely important in nonverbal communication, but it works differently in a video meeting. In person, eye contact would mean looking directly at someone’s eyes. In a video meeting, you have to maintain eye contact by looking into the camera. It’s a good idea to lower the monitor camera a little so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to gaze up at it. (And if you use a teleprompter, keep it at camera-eye level.)

7. Slow down your gestures. 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 using open gestures are perceived more positively and are more persuasive than those using 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.

8. Reduce nervous behaviors. 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 as if you’re not interested 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 the emotional nuances 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, an executive coach and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events, is the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead; and, most recently, of The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do About Them.

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