How to Engage Your Virtual Audience More Effectively – Without Changing a Word

Uncategorized Oct 08, 2020

Think of the last time you had a video conference call where you walked away thinking, “That was totally awesome!” What about the last time you led a video call and signed off thinking, “Yes, I totally nailed that! People were hanging on my every word!”

Are those crickets we hear? Bueller? Bueller?

If you’re having a hard time coming up with something, you’re not alone. We’ve been inundated with video calls in the last few months and, frankly, they usually aren’t delivered very effectively. We don’t say that to be rude, but rather to bring awareness to the reality that most of us haven’t been trained or coached to deliver a presentation – especially a video presentation – in a highly engaging way. But don’t worry – the MJST team is here to help!

Whether you lead meetings, facilitate discussions, or conduct training using video conferencing, there are small adjustments you can make to reinforce key points, increase connection, and maximize engagement – without ever changing a word of what you say. It’s never fun to deliver important information, only to have it land with a thud. With these small tweaks, though, you can feel confident knowing that how you deliver your message will increase the chances it will be heard, internalized, and applied.

First and Foremost – Body Language

One of the first things we can do to improve our video sessions is look for opportunities to make them more visual. 

You might be thinking, “But, wait a minute – it’s video! Isn’t it already visual?”

Yes...but mostly no.

Here’s why: Even though we can see each other (which does make video conferencing different than, say, text or regular phone call communication), the static nature of a “talking head” and the small frame within which we can move around actually creates an environment where the main method of communicating is auditory.

By shifting our body language, though – particularly our facial expressions, head movements, and posture – we can create and reinforce messages in ways that we can’t do with our words or voices alone.  

Your Face Speaks – Even When Your Mouth Doesn’t

Show of hands: Who’s ever heard of the phrase ‘RBF?’ 

We’re guessing there’s quite a few of you raising your hand, but just in case it’s new, let us bring you up to speed! 

RBF stands for ‘resting b*tch face’ and, while it’s a horribly condescending phrase, it refers to the phenomenon (particularly in women) where people are confused because your facial expression doesn’t match what you’re saying or thinking. A conversation about RBF usually goes something like:

Person 1: What’s wrong?

Person 2: Nothing, why?

Person 1: You just look unhappy.

Person 2: Oh, no, that’s just my RBF.

Whether or not you like the description or have experienced RBF yourself, there’s a good chance you understand what we’re talking about. Whenever our facial expressions contradict our words or thoughts, it can complicate communication.

On a video conference, this lack of congruence between face and words is amplified. Why? Well, first off, your face is likely the largest thing on the screen! When we’re in the same room with other people, they can read our entire body – head-to-toe – which carries over 80% of our message. On the screen, though, our audience only sees our face. Secondly, since the camera doesn’t capture small nuances like the upturn of our lips, the raising of one eyebrow, or the dilation of our eyes (especially if your internet is weak and video quality isn’t great), normal facial expressions – which send much-needed nonverbal messages – go unnoticed.

To become more aware of what your face does naturally, record the next video conference you lead and play it back with the audio off. Notice your expressions. What message is your face sending? The next time you prepare to lead a meeting or training, practice the expressions that accentuate your message – knowing that this adjustment can increase rapport with your participants and increase their emotional connection.

Use Your Noggin’!

Have you ever seen a dog tilt their head in that adorably curious way when they’re unsure of what you’re trying to communicate? Well, you may not realize it, but human beings do the same thing!

How we move our head sends nonverbal messages about connection with other people, as well as communicates our level of comprehension. This is especially true in video conferencing where, like your face, your head is front and center in the video screen. That’s why it’s especially important to be aware of and purposeful in how you move your head.

Small changes – maybe just a slight move to the right, a tilt backwards, or leaning forward – can enhance the meaning of our communication. Tilting our head toward the camera can send a message of, “I want to connect with you,” while a tilt to the right or left can elicit curiosity.

Like with facial expressions, we want to be authentic and intentional in our head movements, which means becoming more aware of what we’re naturally doing. We may not even know that we continually nod (which creates distraction) or that we’re not even moving our head at all (which creates boredom). 

Watching a recording of our video sessions with the sound off, calls attention to what we’re doing. When is your head tilted to the right or left? When do you move your head toward the camera? Pay special attention to why you’re making those movements – chances are, there’s a subconscious connection to what your head is doing and what your words are saying that you might not even notice. 

The Tiny Shift That Communicates Confidence

Do you ever head into a video conference presentation, just slightly nervous about what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it or whether people will like it? We’ve been there! And here’s our little secret… can fake it ‘til you make it with a little shift in your body!

Each of us experiences a mind-emotion-body connection. Since we sense our emotions in our bodies, our feelings show up in our posture. When we feel on top of the world, we’re light on our feet and our head is held high. Conversely, when we experience doubt, anxiety, or uncertainty, our shoulders slump forward and our head tilts downward. As you can imagine, this latter situation can negatively impact how we deliver our important information or how our audience receives that message on a video conference.

So what can you do in these moments where you’re less than sure of yourself? Well, you could try to cover it up with bravado or by speeding through the material – but chances are, that’ll create other issues like running out of breath or getting a higher pitch in your voice. 

Instead we should shift our bodies as a way to shift our feelings.

  • Sit or stand a bit taller.
  • Tilt your head up.
  • And pull back your shoulders.

It takes conscious attention and deliberate practice to shift how we feel by shifting our posture and, when we master the shift, we increase our sense of confidence and certainty.

The Take-Home Message

By bringing awareness to what our face, head, and body communicates, we can practice making purposeful adjustments to our body language when developing both virtual and in-person presentations. When we do, we become not only more confident in ourselves but also more certain of our ability to deliver a meaningful message that resonates with and engages our audience.

Like these tips for making your meetings, discussions and trainings more impactful and effective? Then we invite you to check out Amplify Your Impact . In this e-book, I share my best tips for more effective teaching and facilitation--tips that I've gathered from over 30 years in both educational and corporate classrooms. If you’re someone who leads meetings, facilitates discussions, or conducts training, this is a resource you’ll want to get your hands on!

MarkSteven Reardon
Chief Learning Officer


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