STRAIGHT TALK  from The Leadership Speaking School 

In my previous post about online meetings and how to show up as the best version of yourself, I focused on how to set up the right environment from a visual and auditory point of view. Now I want to take you one-step further by focusing on you and your presence in front of the camera.

What you wear 

The first thing I want to mention is that you are what you wear during online meetings. When your audience sees you on camera, you are representing your own brand, and that image comes across through your clothing, your hair, whether or not you are wearing makeup or jewelry, or if you have ironed your shirt. All of these things point to your personal brand, so you need to put some thought into what you wear online, just as you would for live meetings. I want you to get comfortable with the idea that as a speaker, you are actually a performing artist, like a singer, dancer, or actor. Speakers are performing artists, and what they wear is just as much a part of their performance as what they say.

Be careful not to make a statement with your wardrobe that is “too loud”. If you do, it is harder for your audience to pay attention to what you are saying because they will be more focused on your fashion sense than on your message. Stick to neutral colors, nothing too out there. You should also know that patterns like stripes, checkers, or other prints can be distracting and create pixelation on camera. Go for solid colors, and avoid sharp color contrasts. If you are sitting or standing in front of a white wall, be careful not to dress in a fully black outfit. These contrasts are really sharp and can strain the eyes. You want to wear colors that are not only neutral but also relaxing for the eyes that are watching you. 

Finally, avoid wearing clothing that restricts your body. Here, I am thinking about your breathing, so avoid wearing tight belts or undergarments that make it hard for you to breathe. The same goes for a tight jacket that prevents your arms from moving naturally. Make sure that your clothing is comfortable enough so that air can move freely through your body and you can move with ease.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness is essential when you are on camera because you are literally ON! and people are watching every move and gesture you make. Remember the phrase ‘Smile! You’re on camera’? People who are not self-aware will scratch their nose or fidget or do other things that distract (and which may be inappropriate). Again, you are amplified, there is technicolor, there is detail and nuance. One major tip to remember when you are speaking is to look directly at the camera lens. Online speakers that do not have a lot of experience tend to look anywhere and everywhere when talking to their audience and this has a messy effect. You want to appear sharp, professional and crystal clear when speaking to your audience, and you do that by looking at the camera. 

Pay attention to how you are using your face. If you are talking about a happy subject but you are not smiling, there is a lack of congruence because your face and body language are saying something different. Part of being self-aware in front of a camera is being aware of what you are actually saying. If you are talking about something happy, be happy and smile. The same is true for other emotions. Online viewers need to see congruence between what you are saying and what you are doing. This is really important because otherwise, the message gets stuck, and people lose attention because they are trying to pick apart how you actually feel about what you are saying. 

Sitting versus standing

I have noticed that the modus operandi for most people in online meetings is sitting, rather than standing.  And while doing this, they are often in some sort of pretzel formation, meaning that their arms and legs are crossed or they are leaning forward in a closed position. This is less than optimal as it restricts your airways and makes it difficult for your audience to infer a deeper meaning through reading your body language. Overall, you want your body to be open, with good posture, so that oxygen is circulating through your body, refreshing your ideas and making your voice freer. You also want to allow your body to express your words and thoughts just like you would in regular offline conversations.

I strongly believe that you deliver the best version of yourself when you stand up. It is a total game-changer. Imagine someone saying, “I caught a really big fish” while sitting down and without using their hands. You do not get much information about the size of the fish or their elation from catching it, but if they used their hands, you would visualize it more clearly and feel the message through their body language. When you are standing, you communicate supplemental information along with your words, which creates greater impact. Even if you are only using audio, without the video, I recommend standing and moving as you speak. In a nutshell, standing frees your voice, influences how you transmit your message, and makes your presence and energy shine. 

Take care of yourself

The last thing I want to talk about is taking care of yourself. What does this mean? Well, it takes a lot of effort to be physical and concentrate and be present while you are ON! with people watching you. Let’s not kid ourselves, it drains energy. So every now and then try to take a little break to give yourself an energy boost. Make sure you have a bottle of water next to you so that you can stay hydrated and lubricate your vocal cords during the call. Ideally, it should be room temperature water, not ice water or water that is too hot. Having some healthy, energy-packed snacks can also boost you up. I suggest dates or dried fruit, and sunflower seeds. It is great to have these at hand when you need a little pick-me-up.  

Finally, another thing that can help you stay present is to take breaks whenever possible. This is easier to do if you are in charge of the online meeting and you can give participants breaks. If you are not leading these meetings, you could ask for a break, so that you come back into the conversation more refreshed and revitalized. Your aim is to stay sharp and focused. It takes effort not only to be on, but to stay on, so remember to practice some self-care during your online meetings. 

All of these tips can be used to help you show up as the best version of yourself every time that you speak online. Let’s use these speaking opportunities to elevate ourselves and to make our messages matter.

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This is the second in a series of articles from The Leadership Speaking School, based on podcast episodes of Leadership Speaking Radio, delivering golden nuggets of wisdom to help you not only survive, but THRIVE in front of audiences both online and in person.

The Leadership Speaking School, Dr. Laura Penn, best public speaking training for leaders in Europe

I just finished yet another virtual meeting where the person I was speaking to showed up as the less-than-best-version of themselves.

We’ll call the person I was talking to… Ed. For starters, Ed was cast in a dark shadow. Besides the stale, badly lit office he was in, complete with cluttered, asymmetrical shelves in the background, the only other thing I could see was his silhouette from the chin up, a curly haired head, wearing over-the-ear headphones. No facial expressions were visible, I couldn’t read his lips when he spoke and there was no body language.

During the call, I struggled to focus on what Ed was talking about and frankly, I don’t remember much of the conversation. I left our meeting feeling deflated and unfulfilled. I was irritated about the fact that this ‘amateur-hour’, low standard of communication is acceptable. I was frustrated about how we are totally deoptimizing this amazing video-call technology, which I want to remind you, up until relatively recently, was a science fiction fantasy. And finally, I was anxious to do something to disrupt the status quo because it’s not working.

That’s why I’m writing this article… to tell you that virtual meetings are here to stay and that it’s time to professionalize how you show up online. So, roll-up your shirt-sleeves and let’s go.

Begin by noticing that something is wrong

Pay attention to how you feel before, during and after your online meetings. Ask yourself these ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions:

Before the meeting

  • Is there trepidation about the meeting before it starts related to how you’re going to show up?
  • Are you very, very, very nervous?

During the meeting

  • Do you feel tired and like you want to give up and totally disconnect?
  • Do you feel like you lack control over what your energy, your voice and your body are doing?

After the meeting

  • Do you feel relieved that it is over?
  • Do you feel unsatisfied with how you showed up in the meeting?
  • Do you dread the next one?

If you answered ‘no’ to the majority of these questions, you’re on a roll. Go for it! You are self-aware, you care about how others perceive you and you have invested in yourself to improve your online presence. Keep elevating and innovating and rising to be the best version of yourself every time you speak online. Aim to improve something new in every online meeting you have. Never stop.

If you answered ‘yes’ to the majority of these questions, it’s time to switch-up your game and massively improve yourself. You are stuck in a rut of bad habits and low standards and you need to up-skill in order to rise into showing up as the best version of yourself. Stop dallying the shadows and get to work.

The Leadership Speaking School, Dr. Laura Penn, best public speaking training for leaders in Europe

Next, remember that you never get a second chance to make a first impression

As children and all the way through school and into our careers, we are taught to care about how we appear to others. What part of “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is not clear when you are speaking online? In what universe is it acceptable to show up in an online meeting, looking like Ed?

It’s time to professionalize how you show up online

To help you to imagine what this looks like, consider the ROCKSTARS of effective camera/online communication…newscasters, the professional ladies and gentlemen who grace our television and computer screens with updates about the state of our world. When broadcasting in their studio environments, they all have something in common, they:

  1. Have neutral backgrounds which look sharp and clean and don’t usurp attention from the newscaster
  2. Have lighting which enables viewers to clearly see facial expressions and body language
  3. Wear lapel microphones, ensuring excellent sound quality
  4. Can be seen from the torso up (unless they are standing) with their arms and hands clearly visible
  5. Wear makeup (especially powder to prevent “shine” and eye makeup to enhance the communication of the eyes)
  6. Have nice hair styles
  7. Wear professional-looking outfits which support their credibility

Get inspired Folks! and borrow as much from this list as possible to help you to professionalize how you show up online.

In summary

The elements I have highlighted here are an excellent starting point for those of you who feel called to professionalize how you show up online. Understand that it takes effort and real skin-in-the-game to do the work I have described. There is no free lunch. It involves your full commitment of noticing that something is wrong, remembering that you never get a second chance to make a first impression and taking the action steps necessary to professionalize how you show up online.

Also be aware that these points are only the beginning. They constitute the frame of the picture that you are painting for yourself and of the virtual brand that you are building of your online persona. The picture itself is based on your leadership speaking: the choices you make about your presence, your voice, your body language and your audience connection in your virtual conversations.

But alas! That is the stuff of another article.

For now, get to work on your glittering frame and have fun making it sparkle.

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Dr. Laura Penn trains global leaders from the world’s most recognized companies, academic institutions, and not-for-profit organizations how to speak in public. As the Founder of The Leadership Speaking School, world-class speaker coach and three-time TEDx speaker, featured on TED.com, she supports leaders who are hungry for the skills that they need to vastly improve themselves as speakers. Based in Switzerland, she is disrupting the status quo for how we speak in front of audiences both in-person and online.