This informal CPD article Body Talk: Making a positive impact in online meetings was provided by Hannah O’Sullivan of Host Media Consultants. Hannah is a specialist personal impact and presentation skills coach, media trainer, and communication specialist for leading organisations including The Bank of England, John Lewis & Partners, Tesco, P&G, Nestlé, and the Department for International Trade.
While running webinars and online coaching during lockdown, I have found myself in a somewhat schizophrenic state of dress: My top half may be a plain jumper or shirt but below the waist can be a riot of mismatched Ibiza-ready yoga pants (always with an elasticated waist). Only yesterday, I was discussing a client’s exciting new technology, but beneath the desk, my skirt and woolly socks made me look like an escapee from an institution…don’t judge me!
So, we have had to adapt to these new ways of working and socialising over the past year. I can’t stress enough that we must not be afraid to remain ‘old school’: The telephone can often be a less distracting and more potent vehicle for difficult messages, as we are not distracted by mind chatter caused by visuals or unfamiliar technology.
What we wear is part of setting boundaries. Wear what makes you feel good about yourself in each situation but bear in mind what the other people in the meeting would expect of you. I’m just a little less formal than in an office, as a suit would look plain weird.
‘Nothing about you should get in the way of the story’ was the first piece of advice for me as I was learning to read television news bulletins all those years ago at TVS in Maidstone. I have held this as a principle since. In terms of patterns, less is usually more. Personal grooming can be a challenge in these times, so men should shave beforehand as domestic lighting can bring out the Alice Cooper in the best of us. In terms of our ability to influence in the semi-detached virtual world, we only have the frame of a screen to impact others positively. Once you have decided what you want to say, the way you deliver it can be crucial to landing your message successfully.
I am including some tips and insights from clients and titbits from the media - watch out for the pearl from designer/ director Tom Ford:
- When positioning your screen for an online meeting, try to sit at a desk facing a window to avoid dark shadows and a gloomy impact. Be aware of what your audience will see in the background. I would be lying if I said I didn’t check out the books, photos, curtains, wallpaper, ornaments I can see behind people. You may have seen a screenshot of the misfortunate BBC TV interviewee who had forgotten to remove what might be politely referred to as a ‘marital aid’ on the shelf behind her.
- Avoid wearing black, especially if you are of a certain vintage like me, as it accentuates shadows. Pale skins are warmed up with mid-tone blue, off-white, sage green, lilacs, navy, and chocolate brown: Avoid baby pink or blue as they wash out lighter skins. Darker skin tones look good with primary colours, particularly yellow hues. Busy patterns and fussy collars and untidy hair are amplified within the small rectangle of a computer screen.
- Make sure nothing about you is distracting, such as hair in your eyes or clinking jewellery.
- If you’re vain like me, use a desk light with a warm white bulb for a flattering effect. I read a tip from style guru Tom Ford that placing a sheet of white paper on the desk in front of you helps bounce a flattering light onto one’s face. (I tried this, and I think it worked).
- Raise your laptop onto a box about 5cm off the desk so that you are looking straight at the screen rather than looming down onto it. It is a challenge, but the most impact will be gained from looking at the tiny pinhole of the camera on the top of your screen. We are all drawn to look at the face of the person we can see or our own image.
- Find reasons to use your hands for emphasis when speaking – counting on your fingers and open hand gestures add impact to our delivery.
- It is important to maintain facial expression in virtual meetings as we are not in the same room as our colleagues or clients. Our passion and commitment are shown through facial expression. I try to move around between online meetings. Just walking to the kitchen or looking out of the window can help revive us.
- Remember that you are transmitting information about yourself even when you are not speaking, so ensure that your listening skills are positive i.e., nodding, notetaking, and summarising. Looking away, doodling, yawning, or worse, will be considered rude at the very least.
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