I’ve spent the past few years coaching people on how to present themselves and their ideas well on-camera. Early on, one of my clients asked me to share some techniques for wardrobe quick-fixes, ways to spruce up one’s casual stay-at-home garb for onscreen business meetings. And the 60-Second Fix was born. To be honest, it only takes 30 seconds to do a fast upgrade—it all depends on how handy the extras are.
No one cares what you’re wearing on the bottom half of your body, as long as you keep it hidden intentionally (and unintentionally). As for the top half, Simple and Solid are always good guidelines. But what can you do to elevate the rock band T-shirt or frayed-at-the-neck college sweatshirt?
Here’s the secret the next time you see the meeting reminder pop up: Whatever you’re wearing on top, ADD ONE MORE PIECE.
If something doesn’t have a traditional collar, add something that does, like a jacket or shirt.
If your top is super-casual (T-shirt, sweatshirt, jammies), add a pullover or cardigan to upgrade the look.
If it’s a nice top or blouse, adding a necklace will fill in the bare neckline that shows onscreen.
Anyone can put a top and bottom together. Adding an additional layer conveys that you are taking the meeting seriously and want to look pulled-together and polished. Just keep an emergency piece or two stationed close by and you’ll be camera-ready in a jif!
For the past year and a half, my business has been focusing on teaching presentation delivery skills for virtual meetings. Here are some of the strategies I’ve been sharing with others which may be helpful to you.
The problem with virtual meetings is it’s impossible to have direct eye contact with someone. There is no way you can both be looking at each other simultaneously. But eye contact is just what you need to influence others and establish trust with them. So how do you do that?
You’ve got to develop a love affair with the camera. Just like the anchorman on the evening news, you need to look directly at the little bright light on your device, NOT the little faces along the side of your screen. Yes, you can glance away occasionally to gauge their reactions, but it’s important to snap back quickly to the camera light. I know it feels strange to not look at your audience, but in the virtual world – you ARE!
On the receiving end of your message, participants feel like you’re talking right to them, and your message becomes engaging and impactful for them. If you spend your speaking time looking off to the side, audiences begin to feel disengaged from you and your content, as though they’re observing a meeting you’re conducting with another group.
So plan on looking at the camera 95% of time and 5% looking at people and their body language. I suggest you even look at the camera when someone is talking TO YOU. The only way to display active listening (nodding, smiling, etc.) is to look at the camera while they speak, not at their face.
Though largely unseen, gestures can add vitality and inflection to your delivery. So go ahead and get your hands involved when you speak. If they occasionally appear onscreen, all the better.
Two tips –
1. Use more lateral gestures, not forward and back. Gesture toward the camera and your audience will literally recoil.
2. Try 1-handed gestures instead of two hands. One hand is scaled perfectly for the small screen and will support your message, not overtake it.
Keep in mind there will always be at least one set of eyes looking at you at all times in a virtual meeting, even when you’re not the speaker. People love to scroll through the gallery of faces to see what everyone is up to. Do your best to show you’re actively listening. And if you are the speaker, guard against a monotone face; that’s as dull as a monotone voice.
We all tend to get slouchy in our chairs as a day full of virtual meetings wears on. I fight that by putting a small airplane pillow behind my back. No, I didn’t steal one from my latest flight, you can buy them in stores – really. Tucked in the small of my back, it reminds me to sit up straight. Check your camera positioning, too. Are you filling the screen—1 inch of space above your head at the top, down to mid-chest at the bottom?
Remember you’re always “on” when you’re on-camera. Don’t let your delivery skills derail your message. Try these tips and sell your idea! If you’d like some expert coaching and feedback, contact me at [email protected].
Video conference calls have become the norm these days and will probably stay that way as organizations reevaluate the need for people to report to an office five days a week. Just as Business Casual dress arrived on the scene decades ago before the “rules” were written, online video meetings have become commonplace and we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly as people try to figure out the best executive presence practices for the medium.
I, like you, have witnessed some strange and downright shocking choices onscreen and thought, “I can’t believe they did (or said) that.” Eating, drinking, nail filing, bed making, bathroom trips, yelling at spouses/kids/pets are just a few of the things I’ve seen. I’m sure you have a few you could add to that list.
The problem is we can let ourselves become overly relaxed on these calls. I mean, we’re at home on our couch or at the dining room table wearing fuzzy slippers, right? And we can’t help it if the kids interrupt with a math question or the dog barks. I think those disruptions can be fine from time-to-time, it’s more about how we react to them. But when we’re at home, comfy in our happy place, we often reveal a side of ourselves others have never seen before, and yes, I mean the part with no pants. Or the part that screams (unmuted) at the cat.
Our brand, our executive presence, that we’ve worked so hard to build can be damaged, or knocked down a few pegs, in a single online meeting. Here’s a short list of some things to avoid. Have you seen any of these?
1. Dress for the audience. An employment lawyer told me about being part of an online hearing with a judge (in judicial robe) and watching a young attorney argue his case wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. A memo about appropriate wardrobe was blasted out to the attendees the next day. Think about who will be on your call and how they will likely be dressed. An internal meeting full of people who know your closet contents better than you may not need to be impressed. But meeting with anyone outside of the regular crew means you need to be thoughtful—and respectful—with your attire.
2. Don’t log on with a funny onscreen name left over from last night’s online cocktail party. I was guilty of this one and found myself languishing for a long time in the “waiting room” for an important meeting the next day because the host had no idea who I was. Learn from my mistake—change it back to your real name before you leave the party.
3. Conferencing in from your bedroom is just TMI. No one needs to see that particular room in your home, it’s just too personal. I’m not a fan of virtual backgrounds, but better to use one in this case. Another good option is to buy a foldable screen or something portable to throw up quickly behind you.
4. Many regrettable words have been spoken over a live mic.The best advice I can give is always to keep yourself on mute and only unmute when you want to speak. With Zoom, you can select an option in Settings-Audio to “press and hold Space key to temporarily unmute yourself.” That way, you’ll automatically be muted in meetings and can hold down the space bar when you want to speak and lift your hand up when you’re done. It’s a great insurance policy for filtering yourself and whatever is going on in your surroundings.
5. A banker I know shared that on a group call she had with an association, she watched as the incoming President got up from his chair, walk to the frig, pull out two beers, and walk back to his seat with one in each hand. Better options—turn the camera off any time you leave your seat and pour all beverages into a mug before logging on. Why a mug and not a glass? No one can ever see what’s inside a mug.
6. The best engagement tool we have in online meetings is eye contact. As in live interactions, observing other’s body language and facial expressions can reveal much about how they feel about things. But, most speakers make the mistake of looking at their own image and the other attendees as they speak, when they should be looking directly at the camera lens. I know, it feels awkward to stare at that little light when everyone else’s face is off to the side. But if you’d like to capture everyone’s attention and be considered a dynamic, persuasive speaker, look at the camera! Shoot for 99% camera time, 1% glancing at the others.
Your executive presence can take months, sometimes years, to develop. Don’t ruin it by forgetting you’re still “on” when you’re online!
You’ve just been told you’ll need to do a presentation next week. You know the topic for it, who’s coming and why. The first step to writing a presentation is to sit down at a your computer and open up Powerpoint, right?
Nope. In fact, that’s probably the worst thing you could do. Why?
When you start writing a presentation in PowerPoint, you often end up with enormous slide decks and no clear compelling message. You begin with a mindset of “what all can I show them” rather than “what do they need to understand” or“why should they care?” The result is too many slides that have no connective tissue between them, no story to tell.
What’s the better approach?
Opening up Word. Create the content first; the visuals can be designed at the end. As someone once said, “You can’t decorate a cake that hasn’t been baked.”
Start thinking about the profile of the audience. Define some of their basic demographics – titles, experience level, generation, how much they already know, how do they already feel about this, and what “language” do they speak.
What do I mean by language? You can look at it two ways:
1. Do they “speak” quality, speed, efficiency, profitability, low risk, etc. If you can define what motivates them, you should develop content that promotes those features.
2. Is English their first language? If not, be very careful of words and phrases that are confusing to non-native speakers, such as “ballpark figure”, “low-hanging fruit”, “pick your brain”, “jump on the bandwagon,” and so on.
Next, decide what you’ll need them to understand by the time you’re done speaking.
Remember, good presentations boil down to “it’s not what you want to say, it’s what they need to hear.” So when you’re all finished, what will they know now, how will they feel about it now, and what will they need to do now?
Then, define the key points that will get them to your finish line. Remember, less is more. A good presentation will be memorable, and it’s a lot easier for audiences to remember (and share) 3 dynamic takeaways than the 11-point process. Make sure these key points are strong with compelling takeaways that have a natural build or clear beginning-middle-end.
As you start to flesh out the verbiage, throw in some examples, for-instances, and anecdotes to liven up the data. Remember – facts fade, data gets dumped, stories stick! Also add thoughtful transitions that connect slide to slide and section to section. Ask yourself: Am I connecting the dots for everyone?
The very last step in your development process is to design your visual aids.
Try storyboarding them first—on paper or as a skeleton deck with some rudimentary ideas or sketches. Practice restraint, always asking: What is the least number of visuals or minimum amount of data I need to make my points? Is that bullet, spreadsheet, or chart really necessary? For the slides you do use, enlarge your font size, include only high-level text, and make your data more “glanceable” than “referenceable”.
Try this approach the next time you need to develop a presentation. And remember—content should drive the Powerpoint. Powerpoint shouldn’t drive the content!