Face-to-face meetings have become a luxury. Thanks to the pressures of time, budget, distance, and over-scheduling, the “location” field in so many meeting invitations is populated not with a conference room number, but with web/phone connection instructions.
That means the stage where you present your professional self lacks some useful dimensions.
- Eye contact is impossible, though maybe you can fake it by looking squarely into a camera.
- Viewers may see your visuals on a conference room wall, a desktop screen, or a tiny device—or they may not glimpse your fancy slides at all.
- Mostly, you depend on your voice to catch and keep attention.
If you want to convey presence and professionalism, here are six ways to win the room in an online meeting.
1. FOCUS your message and your attention.
Plan your points ahead of time. Calculate the minutes you can afford on each topic, and stick to that schedule. If the conversation veers off track, steer it back.
And never, ever multitask—especially when you’re the host or presenter.
2. SHOW what needs to be seen—no more, no less.
If you’re sharing slides, try to share just that app, rather than your whole desktop. (We’re fascinated by chat, email, and calendar alerts popping on screen; but wouldn’t you prefer that we see your message instead?)
Keep your slides clean and simple. Cover one idea per page, or use animations to reveal information as you speak to each point. This helps people tune in to what you’re saying, instead of reading ahead. To catch eyes that may have wandered, appeal to ears by calling attention to key visuals. But stop short of describing every detail, so your audience stays curious enough to view what you’re sharing.
“Notice where this trend line goes. Is that the direction you expected?”
3. COMMAND attention with your voice and your body.
Use the full range of your voice to keep the audio interesting. Shouting is a no-no, but your inside voice doesn’t have to be monotone. Get a little louder—or even softer—when you want to stress a point. And don’t be afraid to leave moments of silence to let an idea sink in. There’s power in a pause.
“When we spoke with customers about this issue, they had one major concern … [pause to generate interest].”
Beyond your voice, use your body to express yourself. If you have a stand-up desk, now is the time to use it. On your feet, you’ll sound (and be) more energetic, and you’ll be more likely to stay plugged into the conversation. Do stay in one place, though; if you pace or wander, listeners may fixate on your footsteps or exertion.
Even if your camera is off, use facial expressions to emphasize what you say. Smile when you introduce yourself. Wrinkle your forehead when you ask a question. Lean in and raise your eyebrows while you listen to an alternative idea. Talk with your hands.
4, ENGAGE your audience with something to do.
In smaller meetings where conversation is possible, call on people by name and ask for an opinion or response. In mass meetings where participant mics are muted, use interactive tools built into your meeting software, such as polling questions, multiple-choice quizzes, and chat windows.
And before all that, how about bolding asking for a distraction-free meeting?
“We’re all busy. But this discussion is worth at least XX minutes of our undivided attention. Right now, I’m going to pause for one minute, so we can all close apps, silence devices, and shut doors. Is everyone with me?”
This may not halt all multitasking, but it may prompt an honest response from someone who admits that they can’t ignore other work for the next XX minutes. If that person is critical to the discussion, reschedule your meeting. If not, suggest that they sign off to focus on the other matter, and ask a volunteer to take notes to share.
5. MASTER the technology, so you look and sound like a pro.
If you’re using a camera, test it in advance. Not just to know how it works, but to study how others will see you. Find an uncluttered backdrop, check the lighting, and angle your camera so it’s capturing you head-on. We want to see your head and shoulders, not the top of your head and a generous view of ceiling.
When you get a new laptop, headset, or even a new internet connection, test it by calling someone who will give an honest assessment of your sound. Jill Pollack is my sounding board. She won’t let me settle for echoes or static or background noise. Do whatever you can to be sure your voice comes through loud, clear, and uninterrupted by connection issues, barking dogs, traffic noises, or nearby conversations.
6. PRACTICE, practice, practice.
Practice your key points. Review your visuals and know what you will say about each one. Rehearse by standing up, smiling, and speaking your opening, closing, and call to action. If your message matters, do at least one dry run. And if it doesn’t, why bother with any of this?