Working from home is not ideal, we get it.
Maybe you don’t have a home office where you can shut the door and have some privacy.
Maybe you have four young children who are constantly buzzing around the house from dawn to dusk.
Maybe you are struggling to manage your schedule, with various time zones, calendars, and platforms getting muddled up.
When we go to a conference, we pack our bags, we leave our home, we arrive, and put on the speaker “costume”. Professionalism, in many ways, is much easier.
But if you’re a speaker getting paid to share your ideas, from home or not, you’re a pro. It’s essential for your brand and credibility that you act like one.
We will share ideas on how to exude professionalism during online video events, even when you are working remotely.
Let’s jump in.
1. Do the prep work
Doing the prep work safeguards you from plenty of common pitfalls. In the same way you gear up before a live onstage performance, take the time, care, and effort to prepare yourself before the video call.
From going over your content the night before, to vocal exercises, to logging into the call at least 15 minutes before the start, how you prepare should gear you up to give a great presentation.
If you rush in at the last second, stumble through your intro, are distracted and fail to notice that the audience has disengaged, you run the risk of not getting your message across.
When we struggle, our audiences will empathize with us as they are likely struggling with the same things, it can be very humanizing. It can also be distracting, and seem amateurish.
Below are five tips on how to prepare effectively before a video call:
1. Review: dates, times, audience, and content
Confidence is key, even on video calls.
The majority of us feel more self-assured when we are well-prepared.
Be habitual in keeping your calendar. Know where you need to (remotely) be
Date and time convert to your timezone if need be
Know which platform you need to be on.
If it is a new program or platform for you, make sure you have apps and extensions downloaded if required, and you have a working knowledge of how the program works.
If you have used the platform before, double-check your login credentials, and that you have the right links and rooms for the event.
Be clear on who your audience is, what their struggles are, and what commitments you have made to the event organizer. Being clear on this will ensure you meet their needs.
Go over your material
Set up some time before the call to go over your materials. Use this time to look for ways to adapt your talk to the specific audience you will be presenting to, and if necessary, update with the latest news, trends, and statistics.
2. Set up your space
There are many ways that you can set up your space to optimize your credibility.
From positioning your camera, microphone, and lighting effectively, to making sure your background gives the right impression, spending some time to organize your shot can help you get in the zone and boost your confidence.
This is true for your computer desktop as well.
If it is going to be necessary to share your screen, make sure that you close all browser windows and tabs, that your desktop wallpaper is SFW, and that you have all the appropriate windows, including any videos queued, platforms and tools ready and open, and presentation slides checked and ready to go.
3. Limit distractions
If you are distracted, chances are, it won’t be long before your audience follows suit.
Having message notifications pop up when sharing your screen looks unprofessional.
While very meme-worthy, when your two-year-old stumbles into the background and starts playing, it distracts both you and the audience from your message.
Of course, there is room for balance, and these things happen. But being prepared can keep you and your audience on track, and prevent embarrassing faux pas.
Here are some ways to prepare for this.
Shut down any unnecessary applications.
Enable “Do Not Disturb” mode on your devices, including your desktop, tablet, and smartphone
If you are sharing your physical space with others, tell them in advance that you will be presenting, and ask them to support you. This could mean turning their music off, keeping the kids entertained, securing the dog in the backyard, or staying out of your space for an hour.
One important tip—while you will want to keep your notifications as non-distracting as possible, make sure you have at least one channel open for your co-host or the organizer to contact you in case of emergency, such as your audio has cut out through a segment, or there is something amiss in the background that you haven’t noticed.
4. Do your pre-performance routine
What is a pre-performance routine?
It is any type of routine or habit a performer, athlete, or professional does to enhance their performance, get into the right mindset, and combat anxiety.
If you have a warm-up routine you do in the wings or green room before getting on stage, bring that routine into your bedroom before you go into your office.
If you don’t have a routine, or yours is reliant on going to a venue space, consider creating one specifically for video conferences.
If you’d like to explore more about this topic and figure out how to build your own routine, read this article next “Pre-performance Routine: Why you should consider creating one and how it can help”
5. Be on time
This should be the standard, but working from home can throw out a bunch of obstacles.
When building your calendar, always leave an extra 15 minutes before and afterward as a buffer zone. If a meeting runs late, you will be thankful for the extra time.
While it is unquestionably unprofessional to arrive late to any speaking arrangement, at a live event, there is more room for the event organizer to cover for you—on a video conference there is no room to hide.
Leaving the audience to wait for you can also feel disrespectful. They arrived on time to listen to you, and deserve that you respect their time.
Act like a professional. Be early, and ready to start at the get-go.
2. Look the part
Who can tell if you aren’t wearing pants?
Well, in the best case scenario, just you and your cat.
In the worst case scenario? Your entire audience.
What you wear on your video and audio calls is up to you.
We won’t tell you that you have to suit up at 7 a.m. on Sunday for an audio call with an organization across the world.
Your jogging pants are unlikely to be visible.
That being said, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
When we dress the part, it helps us feel the part. Even if they aren’t visible, the clothes you are wearing affect how you speak and interact.
If you are a professional speaker, dress as you would for the audience you are presenting to. If you aren’t sure, ask. Maybe last time you gave a keynote to the organization, it was a black-tie event and you pulled out all the stops. This might not be appropriate for the online audience. On the flip side, showing up in your favorite, rainy-weekend oversized sweater might look too casual and dressed down.
Top tip: Make sure that your shirt does not blend into your background. Keep jangly jewelry to a minimum, as the sound can be picked up on the mic and be a distraction.
If you want more ideas on how dressing the part can give you confidence and build engagement, pro speaker Rah Gor shares his insights in this interview “World of Speakers E.10: From local to global”
3. Body language on video
Look at the camera, not the screen, when talking.
Expert online speakers make a point to look at their camera when speaking rather than looking at their screen or at their video image.
When we speak in person, we look at the other person, so on video it feels natural to look at your screen so you can see them, but from their perspective, this looks like you are averting your eyes.
Instead, by looking down the lens of your camera, it will make it seem like you're looking directly at your audience, which can help build a stronger connection, and make you look more engaged. It may take practice, but it makes a difference.
Check your image before starting the video call, and make a mental note of how you should position your body and head to be correctly framed. But then if you have the option, shut down your video feed or minimize it as much as possible so that you can stay focused on your talk.
When you are not speaking, give visual listening cues.
Switch between watching the video of the person who is speaking, and your camera. React appropriately to what is being said, by nodding or smiling, for example. This is not an opportunity to check your inbox or browser tab. The audience members will be checking your video for cues, so lead by example.
Position your body to be camera-friendly
“Posture not only shapes the way we feel, it also shapes the way we think about ourselves—from our self-descriptions to the certainty and comfort with which we hold them. And those self-concepts can either facilitate or hinder our ability to connect with others, to perform our jobs, and, more simply, to be present.”
—Amy Cuddy, watch the full TED talk
By sitting up straight, with your shoulders relaxed, you will look confident and ready. It will help you project your voice so everyone will hear you clearly.
Slumping over, or leaning far back in your chair can seem casual at best, and bored at worst. Plus, by consciously sitting tall, your image will stay in the same position, so you will be sure you are properly in the video frame.
Ideally, your camera will be roughly at eye level. Looking down at the camera restricts your throat, making it harder to project your voice clearly. Additionally, it is not the most flattering angle for your chin.
Center yourself in the shot so that there isn’t excessive space to any given side, and try to naturally maintain your position throughout the video call.
While you don’t want to be rigid and robotic, movement is amplified on screen, so try to minimize unnecessary or distracting movements such as bopping, swaying, or leaning too far forward or back.
Don’t come away from reading the last section thinking that you have to glue your hands to the table and not move your head more than an inch in any direction—being completely still during the entire video can have an adverse effect: you will seem stiff and unnatural.
The most effective speakers use their hands at well-timed moments to focus the audience’s attention on what is being said. They use gestures to add extra meaning and importance to what is being said.
When used correctly, gestures can enhance your message and make you seem confident and relaxed. However, when used unconsciously or incorrectly they can be distracting, or worse, send out the wrong non-verbal message.
Nervous energy can be used positively, but left unchecked it can easily turn into performance anxiety. If you are not mindful of it, this nervous energy will show immediately in your gestures and will send subconscious messages to your audience.
When not using your hands to gesture, simply let them rest on the surface in front of you so your audience can see them. Don’t grip or hang onto the edge of the table, or fidget; such as absent-mindedly playing with your pen, shuffling papers, or rearranging the items around you— not only will this look distracting, but it can make unpleasant noises close to the microphone.
Wrapping it up
Being a pro speaker on screen requires the same attention to detail, motivation to engage, and practice as being a pro speaker on stage.
By showing up early, primed and ready to go, you immediately show that you are capable, which will give you a leg-up in establishing credibility, with event organizers and audiences alike.
While you may have to adapt your body language for maximum effectiveness on screen, honing these skills will help you keep your audience focused, while ensuring you look your best.
The content of your message is the most important thing, but acting like a professional, even when this is challenging, will help you make a positive impression on your audience so you can deliver that message, and build your business by getting repeat bookings.