Whether you’re hosting a meeting, leading a class, or holding a conference, right now you’re doing it in a virtual space. As the coronavirus pandemic affected daily life, the world quickly adapted to working virtually— and it appears this will be the new reality for the foreseeable future.
In March, businesses and organizations quickly — albeit often sloppily — shifted its in-person functions to an online space that allowed employees to abide by stay-at-home and social distancing orders. Now, video calls are a daily reality. Many industries pledge to continue remote working options even after pandemic restrictions are lifted, so it’s time to accept video calls as a new reality and recognize that there are ways to improve our speaking skills on these platforms.
From presentation to the audience to equipment, here are several considerations that will help you improve your video call speaking skills.
Before jumping into a meeting or hosting a workshop, it’s important to consider the equipment you have and how that might affect your video call.
The built-in microphone and camera on your computer might be functional, but often are not the best choice for quality sound and video. Whether you regularly host small meetings or have a one-time opportunity to lead a large presentation, it is worth investigating other equipment that will improve your presence. There are plenty of affordable options available.
First, if you have an older computer, video conferencing apps might eat up too much energy, making it difficult to do other things while on the call. If you need to take notes, send documents, or run through a presentation, it could be too taxing on your equipment. Upgrading your computer is a great investment if it improves your presence on video calls.
Another option is to use the tools you have at home. The HD video on your smartphone is better than what you have on your laptop. Purchase a small tripod and offload the video call to your smartphone. It will free up your computer and, in most cases, provide higher quality video and sound.
Other small purchases can make a big difference by improving your presence on video calls. Provide a clearer, richer sound to your audience with a stand-alone microphone, and illuminate your face with external light to avoid harsh backlighting.
If your company does not already offer a video call platform for you to use, determine your needs before you invest in one. Popular platforms include Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and many others. As with most services, there are usually several levels to each pricing structure. Some are more basic with fewer features and work better for individuals or small businesses. Others are equipped to support multiple users or collaborative presentations across a large company. Decide what features are most important for you or your company. Also remember that in many cases, you are spending less money on in-person meetings that might require catering, travel, or rental costs. Spending a little more on your video conferencing software will be worth it to deliver a professional video call.
Whatever you decide to use, be sure to check your sound, microphone, and internet connections before you start. It’s also a good idea to have a backup plan in case you have difficulty and still need to remotely collaborate with participants. If you lose your video, maybe it’s possible to connect over audio and work from a shared, live, online space, like Google Docs. Hopefully, everything works as planned, but better play it safe!
In the early weeks of stay-at-home orders, it was understandable that home offices included kitchen tables, bedrooms, playroom, and, well, wherever there was a place to put a laptop. Now, though, we’ve been doing this long enough to take a breath and clean up our space. As working from home continues, it’s important to have a professional space prepared.
Find somewhere in your home that is quiet, which might mean a room that allows you to lock a door. This is particularly challenging for working parents with children, but not impossible. Make sure that whoever else is in your home while you’re working knows that you are on a call or in a meeting and should not be disturbed. If you anticipate interruptions, lock the door during the call.
Choose a space that is not overly personal. A bedroom might be quiet, but it is distracting. Even if you think you’ve cleaned it up, it is likely that you have personal items in the background. Also, try to avoid a room that is too stark and plain. Just as you would at work, space should be welcoming and professional.
If it’s too challenging to find an uncluttered, professional space, consider hiding what’s behind you. Zoom has the ability to include a background photo. Choose a background that compliments the tone of the meeting or presentation you are in. You can upload your own background, use something supplied by the company, or choose a preloaded image from Zoom. If using Skype or Microsoft Teams, you are able to blur the background.
If all else fails, consider using a backdrop as a last resort. This could be as simple as a sheet behind you. Your audience might wonder what you’re hiding, but it’s better than the messy distraction in the background.
Once your equipment and your background are ready to go, it’s time to consider your on-camera look. If sweats don’t cut it for in-person work meetings and conferences, then it doesn’t work online either. It’s also important to remember that video calls often portray people more harshly online than in person.
Dress for a video call the same way you would for an in-person work meeting. Wear clothing that is office appropriate. Although some people believe it’s fine to wear professional clothing from the waist up, there is always a chance—as recent viral videos prove—that sweats, boxers or pajama bottoms will make an appearance on screen. It’s best to stick to a head-to-toe professional dress.
When choosing a top, wear something that is a solid color. Shirts or tops with stripes, checks, or other busy patterns will be distracting on a video call, and the patterns may appear to “dance” on the screen. For women, consider how your top looks on the screen so that it does not appear too revealing.
Do your hair as you would for an office meeting or conference. And both men and women should consider some makeup. The camera often washes people out or accentuates shiny skin. A light powder and a little color will prevent a shiny, washed-out face as you present. Too much makeup, though, also becomes a distraction. And, avoid distracting jewelry that might be too shiny or make noise while you are talking.
If you are the person hosting the video call, it’s important to understand your audience and set expectations for the meeting from the start. In an online space, it’s harder to control what someone else is doing, so engagement is key.
Take time to know your audience before your presentation. If it includes people from work, you probably have a good idea of their habits and preferences. If it includes participants from outside of your work, for example, during a workshop or conference, see what information you can glean from their registration information. Are they from a local area or logging in nationwide? Do they come from the same industry or represent a variety of jobs, skill levels, and businesses? That background information can help you cater your presentation to their knowledge and expertise.
It’s difficult for an audience to stay engaged in a video call. There are plenty of distractions. Try to avoid covering information your audience should already know. If you know the attendees or provided a bio previously, then jump right into the content and don’t bother with a lengthy introduction. If there is an expectation that your audience has some background knowledge or pre-requisite for your presentation, then don’t bore them with content they should already know. Keep the content concise.
Now that you’ve considered your equipment, outfit, space, and audience, it’s time to host your video call! There are plenty of tips that will help your meeting or presentation go smoothly once that video call is live.
When it’s time for the meeting, sit close to the camera so that your face takes up most of the screen. Set the camera at eye level or slightly higher to provide the best perspective for those who are watching. If you’re able, it’s even better to stand for the presentation—adjusting the camera height appropriately, of course—because standing opens up your diaphragm for clearer speaking.
Also, get in the habit of looking at the camera instead of looking at the screen. This helps to make the video call feel more personal, and it will keep you from getting distracted by your own appearance or movements.
If you are hosting the meeting, be a good facilitator. Set expectations early. Create an agenda that lays out the purpose of the meeting, and stick to it as closely as possible. The audience will appreciate a concise, efficient, and organized presentation.
Mute participants upon entry, and encourage people to use the chat and Q&A functions of the video conferencing platform to minimize side conversations during the meeting or presentation. This also prevents participants from speaking over each other. If you plan to address questions at the end, let the audience know that.
If you are a co-host or co-presenter, it is beneficial to run through the presentation beforehand to work on flow from one person to the next. When you are not speaking, be sure to mute the microphone. If you’re still on screen, stay engaged. It’s tempting to multitask while it’s not your turn to speak, but video chat tends to amplify your movements. It’s hard for an audience to stay engaged if a speaker can’t stay engaged.
When you speak, talk slowly and deliberately so that what you say comes across clearly to participants. Be aware of your gestures during your talk so that you keep your movements on screen. If you have a presentation, use a remote or the spacebar to advance slides smoothly and without additional noise.
If you feel anxious, try to turn that anxiety into excitement. Video calls provide new opportunities to engage, share, and work with a broader audience. If you are well prepared and ready to go, that feeling will quickly disappear as you start to speak.
Above all, smile! It will help you look welcoming and approachable.
Everything from daily meetings to international conferences has shifted from an in-person to virtual space this year. The logistics of the meeting might be different, but the purpose remains the same. The way you appear, talk, or present yourself in a virtual setting should mimic what you would do in person.
It’s important to plan ahead for your video call. Be sure to check your space, lighting, and equipment to ensure that everything works and that it enhances your video call. People quickly lose interest when equipment or network failures cause Interruptions and distractions.
Find ways to engage your audience. Show participants, you value them by investing time in understanding their backgrounds or skill level. The more you know about those in the meeting, the more you can tailor your presentation to their needs and preferences.
Remember to set expectations for the video call. Be upfront about things like the agenda and time for questions so that your audience knows what to expect.
And remember to look the part! Just because most people continue to work from home does not mean they are ready to see you in pajamas at your messy kitchen table. Your appearance and background should match the topic and mood of the video call in which you are participating.
Considering all of these pieces will help you to develop a professional and high-quality video call.