Virtual meetings aren’t simply in-person meetings that have been ported to a new platform — they’re unique experiences in their own right, with their own specific etiquette and supporting technologies. Instead of the conference room, the projector, and the classic hand-raise to ask a question, there are now online collaboration software with integrated chat, screen sharing, and the mute button to ensure everyone can have a chance to speak.
But taking full advantage of the virtual meeting format can take concerted effort. As the David Foster Wallace novel “Infinite Jest” predicted in 1996, video-enabled meetings in particular can be anxiety-inducing for some people, in a way that voice-only calls aren’t. There’s also the challenge of getting in a word, edgewise, when multiple other participants are talking over each other or someone hasn’t muted their distracting background audio.
With these challenges in mind, it’s important to know how to show up and have a voice in virtual meetings. Here are six tips to help elevate your presence during a meeting.
1) Make it easier for your voice to be heard
Online meetings are at the mercy of your internet connection and the microphone you have access to. Before the meeting even starts, consider:
- Setting up your device in close proximity to your Wi-Fi router, or connecting it directly via Ethernet cable for a stable connection.
- Grabbing a wired headset or a pair of wireless headphones, preferably with noise-canceling built-in.
- Conducting the meeting from a quiet space with minimal distractions, visual or aural.
Once you’ve checked off these boxes, you’ll have a better foundation from which to speak clearly. Using a loud but non-disruptive voice is ideal – you want to make sure everyone can hear you, in order to avoid having to repeat anything. A strong voice is also helpful in projecting authority and credibility.
2) Pay attention, even when you’re not speaking
“Sorry, I was on mute” is a common phrase in online meetings. While sometimes it’s genuine, in other cases can be used as a way for the person in question to buy time when scrambling to get back into the flow of the meeting and review any relevant materials.
For smoother proceedings and an overall elevated presence, stay plugged-in to what’s happening, even when you’re not speaking or presenting. This is easiest to do by keeping your video on. Since everyone can see what you’re doing, you’ll be less likely to multitask if you have the camera on. And when it’s time to speak again, you’ll be able to respond more quickly and accurately than if you’d turned off video to do something else.
While the atmosphere of a virtual meeting can vary from casual to tense, it’s worth maintaining this consistent approach to how you listen and respond to other speakers. It’s the best way to stay focused and in sync.
3) Get your visual background just right
One surefire way to diminish your virtual meeting presence is to have a camera setup that distracts other viewers and/or makes you seem somehow unprofessional. A few common issues to watch for include:
- Tilting your laptop lid at the wrong angle: You can easily have your head look cut-off in a video if you don’t adjust your camera just right. A good work around here is to elevate your laptop on some books or other riser, so that the camera is more level with your face.
- Poor lighting: Natural light from nearby windows (if available) is always nice, but you will also usually want a light source near your face. Otherwise you can look like a ghost, due to the combination of darkness and the light coming from a backlit device screen.
- Weird backgrounds: If there’s something visible in your camera that could distract other participants, reconsider your space, or try out a virtual background if that’s not possible. The latter can blur objects or present a custom image instead of your actual surroundings.
Also, be sure to test your camera beforehand, if you are not accustomed to using it. This way, you can make any necessary last-minute adjustments.
4) Toggle audio and video as needed
In most instances, it’s prudent to mute your audio but keep your video running when you’re not speaking. Going on mute ensures that background noise or any offhand remarks you make aren’t heard by other attendees.
At the same time, maintaining your video link is useful so that it feels like you’re still “present” alongside all the other video-enabled participants. It also keeps you focused, as we discussed in the second tip in this list.
Still, you may need to turn off video to perform some tasks like eating or drinking. Toggling audio and video is easy in most solutions, requiring just the press of a button.
5) Look in the right places
A common mistake in virtual meetings is trying to look directly at other participants’ faces, rather than at the camera. People won’t see you making direct eye contact unless you focus your gaze on the camera itself — looking at their faces will only produce the image of you looking sideways or downward, which hurts your presence.
6) Take advantage of messaging
Online meetings offer multiple modes of communication — namely, audio, video (including screen share), and text.
The chat interface in your virtual meeting software is a good forum for strengthening your presence. For example, you can share links to documents that participants can look at later, or insert questions for the current speaker without interrupting. Doing so saves time and keeps the meeting on track as well.
Overall, virtual meetings offer unique opportunities to communicate in real-time, in a way that email cannot. They also improve on the in person meeting experience in some ways, like the ability to screen share without a projector. Make sure you unlock their full potential by focusing on elevating your own presence.