It’s Monday morning.
You’re on a conference call with Singapore, the Philippines and Australia. (You haven’t even washed your face.)
As more and more companies transition to remote work, virtual presence has become increasingly important in advancing one’s career. Meetings, pitches and client presentations have migrated to Zoom, Skype and a plethora of project management tools. There’s no going back and this will be the way we work and interact with colleagues and bosses.
And oftentimes, those conference calls are all people have to form an opinion of you. And when that’s all they have to go on, they’ll extract every tiny bit of information and run with it.
Virtual presence is important because how you come off in those moments will impact:
- your trustworthiness as a colleague
- your credibility in the eyes of your clients
- your professionalism in the eyes of your boss
These are heavyweights that affect the trajectory of your career, from the type of projects you get to the perceived value of your work, and to the money that goes into your bank account.
“Virtual presence” is not one big thing but a confluence of many, tiny, details that combine to become a palpable, irresistible quality.
Maybe you’re a boss who wants to walk the talk or an employee with big plans, here are the things you need to do to skyrocket your impact on those calls.
Virtual Presence: The Definitive Guide
#1 Leave your camera on.
Okay, first things first. “Virtual presence” has a lot to do with visual impact.
If you turn off your camera, you are forfeiting the most important tool for establishing yourself.
People turn off their cameras, slouch back, marinate in the shadows, get through the meeting unharmed, and think they pulled a fast one. They just missed some tremendous opportunities to pad their future with the company.
People turn off their cameras for self-conscious reasons. Their room is probably a mess and they’re wearing 3-day-old pyjamas. So it’s better to go incognito.
Another reason is that they will be multitasking during the call and don’t want to be seen engaged in some other activity—like making food or dozing off.
But the worst reason people have when turning off their cameras is that they think that their visuals don’t add anything to the meeting.
Nothing can be further from the truth!
Notice that if you’re the last individual to leave the video on, speakers will be turning to you, asking for your opinion, addressing you, and referring to you. You’re given more speaking time. In short, you will figure more prominently in the meeting—exactly because you seemed more “present” than the others who present themselves as lifeless avatars.
Now I understand many folks want to stay in the shadows, but when the time comes, guess who the boss will consider for that promotion.
(And if you’re the boss, kindly ask your guys to leave the video turned on. It will let you check up on your guys and see how they’re doing physically. It will also ensure they are fully engaged in the meeting and not warming up the Xbox.)
#2 Beware the “dirt drip.”
One of the advantages of a work-from-home arrangement is that you’re away from the prying eyes of the public. You can walk around the house half naked, as if it’s April 2020, and still contribute to the company that you love.
And as a remote team becomes more familiar and comfortable with each other, as the group gets into a productive rhythm, other things slowly go out the window.
Professionalism sags and people start thinking it’s okay to wear shirts with stains or have a couple of unwashed dishes in the background.
Little by little, drip by drip. Until one day, you walk by the mirror and look nothing like your official company title (eg. Chief Ideation Officer).
Guys often fall for this “dirt drip.” Haircuts get delayed, and shirts are worn again just to extend laundry day. These things add up.
Be bothered to actually look good during these virtual meets. Look like you mean business.
But you don’t even really need to dress that well. Just put in a little effort and clean yourself up.
Here’s a trick. Go to a full-body mirror and ask yourself, “Do I look like I smell good?” If the answer is yes, then you’re good to go.
#3 Present a congruent environment.
Professional streamers know this. The environment heightens the experience of those watching. So they bring in big gaming chairs, coloured lights, and even action figures to add to the experience. They even dress up in one of the game’s characters.
Being clean is not enough. The environment you exhibit needs to be congruent with the personal brand you want colleagues and clients to associate you with.
If you’re a client looking to buy some factory equipment, for example. Would you buy from a salesman who, judging from the looks of it, is on a vacation in Hawaii, or someone with sales figures in the background and prominent photos of the equipment at work?
When you come into those traditional law offices, lawyers are flanked by books, diplomas and awards on all sides. Their fingerprints are not on those books, they’ve never opened them, but they help scream, “Hey, you’ve come to the right place!”
Be surrounded by objects, props or visuals that help advance your cause. If you’re a marketing guy for example, and you want to hook a new client, some of the credentials plastered on your screen could include the following:
- books on marketing, advertising, branding, or consumer behaviour
- a whiteboard of marketing plans, campaign strategies, or analytics data
- poster of a past marketing campaign
- a slogan you’ve made
These help people get the specific message you want to convey. You’re not there showing off how your interior designer is worth the money.
A clean, well-lighted place, that goes without saying. But clean and visible doesn’t cut it. Not when you want to make the most out of the medium. You might be the sharpest political commentator being interviewed on TV, but if you’re speaking from your kitchen, no matter how bright and well-designed it is, you’re really just making homeowners’ eyes water. Your message, however insightful it is, will soon get lost in, “Oh, her kitchen looks lovely!”
#4 Secure talking time.
You will never establish any virtual presence if all you do during a call is sulk in silence and nod at everything said.
Your impact and influence over the group are proportional to the time you hold and engage people’s attention. So you must, at all costs, secure for yourself some talking time. If you’re the boss, this goes with the territory. But when you’re one of a half dozen in on the call, you might never get a word in edgewise.
You have to be proactive about this. It doesn’t have to be a long, uninterrupted block of speech. Just be engaged in the whole thing. Don’t simply accept everything put on the table. If somebody says something, let’s say your colleague is giving the quarterly sales report. Ask something about it. Not in the spirit of testing your friend’s knowledge or putting him on the spot, but as a way to engage with the topic and show your interest to everybody.
People keep quiet because they don’t think they have anything of value to add to the whole affair. You can sidestep this feeling. If you’re going to be doing this, you have to make it count by prepping. This means getting your thoughts squared up or talking points listed.
Seriously. Write something.
Never go into virtual meetings blind.
Do not underestimate the power of good prep. This is one of those few things that will turn night into day. Just try it once. Prep for a meeting like your next meal depends on it. You’ll notice the difference in confidence and virtual presence this makes.
#5 And when you talk…
Do you think voice-over actors for commercials sound like that all the time?! No, they modulate their voices for the specific purpose it’s being used.
Here are some things to remember:
- a) Go for a note or two lower than your speaking voice.
It’s best to use lower voice registers. Studies have found that this tends to increase the speaker’s credibility, and thus, ups the acceptability of what he’s talking about. (They’ve also found that when people are lying, the pitch tends to go up.)
- b) Speak a little louder than you’re speaking voice.
This demonstrates confidence and encourages everyone to listen up.
- c) Speak moderately.
Not too fast so as to trip over your words and become unintelligible. Not too slow as to become boring. Too fast means you’re nervous and lack preparation. Too slow just invites people to wander off to dreamland.
- d) …Pause…
Pausing gives emphasis to the words spoken before and after it. Pausing before heightens the interest and expectation of the next words and phrases. “Guys, I have news that’s gonna make your week…(Pause)…we got the account!”
Pausing after gives people the chance to absorb what was just said. “Twelve hours ago, we lost the Comet account…(Pause).”
- e) Move!
You’re not sitting for a painting, so when you’re getting some talking time, make sure all cylinders are firing and sending the same message.
Use your hands, head, and facial expressions to deliver your message. Be more animated than you’re used to. You might think you look like a cartoon for exaggerating those non-verbal cues, but from the point of view of your listeners, you’re just really being a good communicator.
Talk to the camera and not the screen. This helps with the “eye contact” thing that’s very hard to establish in virtual communications.
#6 Equipment matters.
- a) Invest in a good camera and microphone.
Especially when you’re the boss. It doesn’t bode well for you when you have the grainiest video out there. It will definitely affect your sway, and make you look like a boomer trying to ingratiate himself to a bunch of zoomers.
- b) Test your equipment and software.
Tech has a good habit of throwing curve balls. Dry runs do not totally eliminate them, but they’re a good way to reduce a good number of surprises. (eg. Try opening that file…if you can even open it.)
- c) If possible, position the camera a little lower than your eye level and slightly pointing upward.
This is a low-angle shot, and in filmmaking, they use this to convey a character’s dominance and power. Use this trick to up your virtual presence.
- d) Last and certainly not least, when all’s been said and done…don’t forget to turn off the camera and the mic!
Very, very important.
There you go! You’re now ready to conquer the virtual world.
Remember, take care of the details. It’s the little things that combine to make a big impression!
Just a friendly reminder from Kinetic Innovative Staffing.
We help companies, big and small, find remote workers who not only have a “virtual presence,” but the right mix of skills. We have a rich pool of IT workers, writers, virtual assistants, lawyers, accountants, project managers, etc. who are seasoned and ready to contribute to your organisation’s success.
Where are these talents located on the globe? Kinetic knows and we make hiring these remote professionals like a walk in the park. We guide you every step of the way, and continually support you after you’ve made your pick.
And all this comes at a cost that’s 70% lower than what you might expect.
Contact us to know more.
Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.