Calling all leaders and change-makers….

Let me ask you a question:

When you speak in front of the camera, do you care whether or not your audience actually gets what you are saying?

Does that matter to you, or are you happy just being a talking head on the television screen, where the words that you say will not be remembered; where the message that your speechwriter has worked so hard to perfect, will leak out of the room; and where you will fail in your mission to make your message matter?

I ask you this question because I see leaders delivering botched video messages on a daily basis. Look-up any leader, from any sector speaking on camera and you are likely to experience the exact same thing that I do (it is rare to see otherwise): the monotone baseline of lifeless words, the deadpanned faces and disengaged bodies robotically reading scripts from the teleprompter, and an absolute lack of heart and soul.

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As more and more leaders move their conversations online, using the medium to transmit messages to their constituents, the problem of botching video messages has become epidemic.

The reason?

The leaders’ egos are too big.

How often do I hear “I don’t need any help with how I deliver my speech in front of the camera because I’ve been doing this for #% years”? When I hear those words, I immediately know that I am speaking to someone who is tripping over their own gargantuan ego. Unless you are a veteran news anchor or a professional actor, EVERYONE could use feedback and valuable advice about how to improve their on-camera performances. There is ALWAYS something that could be polished and enhanced in order to help make you look good and most importantly, to help make your message matter.

In my opinion, this type of up-skilling is especially urgent for leaders who work in the not-for-profit sector, where their organization’s mission is to help heal the world somehow, whether humanitarian, environmental, or otherwise. As I watch leaders from these types of organizations deliver messages that die as soon as the carefully crafted words are uttered, I wither inside and feel hopeless. I ask myself: “what are the consequences of this message not being heard?”

In fact, I asked myself this question yesterday as I stood on the sidelines as an uninvolved spectator and witnessed a leader from a prominent environmental organization bomb her video appearance.

Resisting the polite suggestions from the film crew and support staff to “move her hands while she speaks” and to “not hold a pen while talking”, she powered on, stubbornly doing what she was used to doing: speaking like a soulless robot and nervously fiddling with her pen.

I remember exactly NOTHING about what she said. I wasn’t motivated, inspired, or touched by anything that she mentioned. No part of her “earth-saving” message landed in my heart or in my mind and tragically, nor will it land in her audiences’. Forests will degrade because of this missed opportunity, wildlife will remain under threat and funding will not be released by stakeholders to protect the environment because this message DID NOT LAND.

The hard truth is that the stakes are too high for this kind of useless communication. Nobody wins. It’s an exercise in futility.

My urgent message to leaders, from whatever sector you’re in, is to get your act together and kick your ego to the curb. You do not know it all and you need to radically shift your focus from “I’ve been doing this for #% years”, i.e. your ego, to “I really care about this message and want to make sure that it lands in the hearts and minds of my audience”.

Get out of your own way and hire professional support to help you to be the best version of yourself on camera and to make your message matter. You can afford it and FYI, doing what it takes to make sure that your message reaches your audience is…priceless.

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 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.


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.

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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.

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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, 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.

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STRAIGHT TALK from The Leadership Speaking School 

We are experiencing a moment in time where people on a global level are using online meetings like never before. Technology allows us to see and speak to one another in a professional context, but more often than not, participants are presenting themselves in a way that lacks a level of quality and professionalism. This can affect their overall impact and performance in meetings and give a negative impression. That is why it is so important, right now, to improve and elevate yourself as a leader and a speaker. 

I want to provide you with key tools (golden nuggets) from The Leadership Speaking School to help you up-skill and thrive in online meetings, on camera, so you show up as the best version of yourself every time you speak in front of virtual audiences. 

The setup

Your setup refers to the immediate space you will be sitting or standing in while you are speaking. It is very important to pay attention to detail, especially in an online environment because everything on camera is amplified. When the camera zooms in on you, you see the angles of your face differently, the hairs that are out of place on your head, and even the wrinkle on your shirt sleeve. So to help you figure out what your environment should look like, I suggest you tune into the main senses that your audience is usingsight and sound. Since they will be looking at everything and listening to everything, it is your job to establish what I call sensory equilibrium.This is where you have a neutral environment, without distractions or competing elements. 


First of all, lets talk about what not to do when it comes to backgrounds. Weve all seen the messy, cluttered hallway with kids toys or family members walking around. Weve probably seen an unmade bed or two, and the list goes on. When it comes to creating the best background, I want you to remember that less is so much more. Go neutral! A plain background will create that visual equilibrium for your viewers. The best is a plain white, grey, or cream-colored wall. No posters. No shelves. No stuff or clutter. You want to be at the center of that camera angle so that your online community can see you, not the poster of the movie Flashdance from 1983. This will only distract your audience so dont give them that opportunity. Create that visual equilibrium with a clean, neutral, light-colored space behind you.  


When it comes to lighting, you also want something that creates equilibrium. You dont want light that is too harsh or too dark. You dont want to be backlit where you have light coming from behind you, and you dont want to be over-lit where you have so much light on you that you see the bags under your eyes and the wrinkles on your facenot very flattering. Again, you want the light to be neutral, comfortable, and warm so it will reflect a more natural tone and illuminate you. This should be incorporated in your setup when using your phone or laptop, or whatever youre using that has a camera. Speaking of your camera, I also want you to make sure that the lens is capturing a clear image of you. Go ahead and use a spray for cleaning eyeglasses and screens, and make sure that your camera lens is polished so there arent any little grains of dust or hair getting in the way of a clean shot. 

Your body and camera placement 

When it comes to sitting versus standing, standing is better. This is because when you stand, fantastic things happen with your voice, your energy, and your presence. You open your airways wider and your blood flows through your body more efficiently, oxygenating your muscles and giving you energy and charisma. To create your setup for standing, build a table stand that supports your device. DIY-it by using books and other bits and pieces to elevate your stand. Make sure that it doesn’t wobble or tip over easily!

If you’re sitting down for your meeting, position your camera in a way that creates harmony with your space. An important tip is to show the area of yourself between your head and your waist, down to your belly button. If you include that much of yourself in the shot, you can communicate so much more through your body. If you only show your head or an image of the shoulders up, you lose a lot of information and it doesn’t look very professional. Therefore, you really want to be able to see the hands, move the arms, and have your body flow in a conversation. 


Having quality sound is key for your online meetings. Your aim should be to create auditory equilibrium by not having any other sounds distract from your voice. No background noise or clicks from your computer, or your voice breaking up due to a bad connection. High-quality sound is everything, so if you can, invest in some great wireless earbuds – the golden standard for online speaking. They have excellent sound, great microphones, and they look nice. Another plus is that you are free to move around and speak using your hands. 

Your impact: Up-skill and thrive

Remember that in order to show up as the best version of yourself, you should focus on creating visual and auditory equilibrium for your audience. Go neutral using a simple, clean, and sharp speaking environment with no distractions. When you get this right, it will truly elevate your virtual conversation. The audience will be able to better focus on you and connect with what you have to say… and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. 


This is the first 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.

Enough…of the ‘talking-head’ camera angle, the messy background with visible clutter and the tired lighting casting shadows on your face.

Enough…of the hunched-over body language, the flat, monotone voice and the endless parade of your PowerPoint slides. Enough.

This worn-out and broken model of speaking online is demotivating your audiences, chipping away at your credibility and sucking the life out of your interaction.

With video conferencing platforms being used at record levels around the world, the right time is now to switch-up and elevate how you communicate in your virtual conversations. Breakaway from the dusty status quo and make your messages come to life with these disruptive tips:

Change your perspective

To help you to determine what you should improve about your online presence, change your perspective. Put yourself into the audience’s shoes and consider what you like as a participating audience member in an online interaction. Make a list.

To give you some ideas, here is our list of what we like:

In the setup:

· High quality video, lighting and sound

· A neutral background that is congruent with the professional presence of the host

· No technical glitches, and if there are any, a pre-rehearsed backup plan

· A camera angle that shows the body speaking, with arms and hands clearly visible, not just a talking head

· The use of wireless headphones enabling the speaker to sit, stand and move around as needed, not being held hostage to sitting near the computer

In the meeting:

· The use of alternatives to PowerPoint slides

· Active audience participation enabling everyone to feel like a valued member of the group

· Comfort/stretching/water/food/fresh-air breaks when the energy wanes

· A clear agenda and sticking to the timeline

· The option to switch-off the camera and just listen in

· The feeling of a shared purpose

In the speaking:

· A energized presence

· An engaged and animated face

· Vocal variety showing an emotional connection to the content

· Generously using pauses to help the audience absorb what is being said

· Body language that is congruent with the spirit of the message

· A variety of movement including sitting, standing and where appropriate, walking around

· More ‘open’ body language than ‘closed’ body language

What’s on your list? Once you know, get to work on incorporating more of what you like when you speak online. Disrupt the status quo of what you’re used to and toggle-up the ingenuity and the quality of your virtual conversations.

Breathe life into your message

Put your monologue and your drab PowerPoint slide-deck to the side and elevate how you deliver presentations online. Get creative and discover innovative ways to make your message come alive.

Here are some of our favorite ways to breathe life into what we have to say online:

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I want to try to shift a certain assumption: the assumption that you can learn a skill like public speaking in a one to two-day training course.

This assumption is false and is not based in reality because public speaking, like any other skill to master – whether it’s learning how to speak a language or play the piano – takes total immersion to learn.

For many years, I offered half-day and day-long training sessions in public speaking for leaders in companies, organizations, and academic institutions around the world. I provided a “quick-fix” solution for a pervasive problem. Although those sessions were very well received, I now know that they were not transformative, they didn’t go deep enough and change the participants from the inside out. Instead, they worked from the outside in, acting like a band-aid solution and only activating participants into wanting to learn more. While this isn’t a bad result, it defeats the main purpose of why these leaders took this training in the first place. They signed up to become better speakers and believed that this course would help them to do that.

Sorry Summertime – that didn’t happen. It couldn’t because learning a complex skill like this in a very short time frame is a total fallacy. It is not how humans learn. We need time-space and mind-space and body-space in order to learn. We need full immersion in order to transform on a cellular level. 

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