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.


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.