Mastering your virtual meeting presence

Top 3 pro tips for upping your game  

Wearing a headset can reduce background noise and feedback

The right stage presence can make or break any performance regardless of whatever words may be coming out of your mouth.  But as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world into lockdown moving our world on-line, many new “off-stage” rules apply, particularly in the widely accepted world of Zoom or maybe Microsoft Teams and the latest Google Meet.

An off-stage presence goes beyond a virtual stage presentation. It may take the form of an on-line meeting, a webinar, interview, recording a podcast, or just anything, anytime you’re working from in front of a computer screen.

As humans we’re not trained for the virtual world- but rather for a live audience. Professional speakers, facilitators, trainers and even Toastmasters, tend to train for a live stage. Managers may train to present in a boardroom while someone looking for work typically prepares for a face-to-face interview. So special considerations are needed when “presenting” on-line to take you from good to great.

The thought hit me about 15 months ago. I had just been on a somewhat disappointing webinar. Although the content was good, I pondered as a speaking professional, how much better the attendee experience could have been had the presenter been more cognizant that his audience was not before him but rather sitting in front of a screen, in the comfort of their own homes, possibly multi-tasking and likely faced with other distractions. (The original ToastCaster podcast episode #113 from 2019 is below.)

I boiled it down to three major areas: The audio, the video and you, the presenter.

Think About Your Audio

For starters, think about the sound, not just the verbiage, what you’ll be saying but about what people will be hearing.  Know where your microphone is located what it’s picking up and determine its sweet spot – the place where the sound is optional. Are you too close, too far, or too much off to the left or right?  Are you speaking too loud or too soft? 

Being too close or too loud may cause distortion. Volumes may be adjustable through hardware or software, but if it’s overly distorted you may be out of luck.  If you’re too distant, you may be inaudible and upping the volume may simply boost the noise.

Find a quiet place to present. While street noise my not be totally unavoidable, you may be able to turn off ceiling fans or temporarily switch off your furnace or air conditioning and put your dog in the basement.

Using a headset rather than a built-in microphone and speakers, which can pick up stray sounds and reduce audio feedback, can reduce some noise. Rustling papers and the squeaky chair can also add to the distractions. And maybe turn away when sipping water of coffee.

Furthermore, when delivering, like a stage presentation, remember to ensure you introduce some vocal variety – the volume, the rate that you speak, the pitch or the tone, and don’t forget the pause to let people absorb what you just said.

At first, this may seem unnatural in a sitting position, but doing so makes you more engaging, which is even more critical if you are presenting audio only with no visual.

In general, people may forgive bad video, but not bad audio. Think about that dreaded newscast you heard this morning

Ensure you know what the audience sees

Consider Your Video

The video, of course, is what people will be seeing. The viewer’s experience depends on the lighting, what the camera sees and your positioning.  If the light is too bright, let’s say from direct sunlight or even a bright screen you will appear washed out. In dim light, you will appear dark and the video will also appear grainy.

Test your lighting ahead of time – ideally at the same time of day you will be online. A naturally lit room is ideal but it’s not always available.  If you have the luxury of adjustable lighting, make sure it’s in front of you. I find that having LED style lighting pointing at you at about a 45-degree angle works the best.

Like the microphone, know where the camera lens is.  That’s where you should be looking, not at your screen. Ideally it should be placed at eye-level right in front of you – you may need to raise your laptop with a phonebook or two like I do, otherwise it may appear you are looking down at your audience.

Also consider your background, what’s behind you. Is it neat and tidy or rather distracting? Is your audience watching the TV you have on behind you or perish the thought you suffer the agony of Filipino journalist Doris Bigornia as her two cats broke into a fight during her live news show being broadcasted from her home.

Next, think about your positioning. How much of you do you want people to see?  Personally I like to be nicely centered in the window with the top of my head closer top, but not at the top. I also like when possible to leave a little viewing area to be able to see some of my gestures.

Body language can enhance your message and audience engagement

Watch You Body Language

The third key to a great virtual presentation is Body Language – a balanced combination of facial expressions, gestures and body movements.

People often forget to use their body language when sitting.  That smile, frowns, rising of the eyelids and movement of the body. We all know that they too tell a story and add impact to your message.

When presenting virtually, people often go to the extremes. Some sit still like a statue, mouth poised on the mic and staring directly into the screen. Presenters on the other hand are trained to exaggerate gestures on stage in front of a large audience so they flutter about like the cartoon character, the Tasmanian devil, waving around their arms, swiveling, bouncing and rolling in their chairs. Often unbeknownst to them those movements are further amplified to a distracting level due to the close proximity of the webcam.

You also want to watch your posture. How serious will someone take you if you’re slouching?

Remember, body language is important even for audio only delivery. Can you hear a smile through the phone? Of course you can.  Even subtle inflections of your voice can act as an amplifier for your body.  Try it. Be yourself.  It will help you come across more genuine and natural.

Bonus Tip

And finally, here’s a little bonus tip. Record yourself using Zoom. Their free plan that offers up to 40 minutes for a group presentation and unlimited time when you have two or less people including yourself on the call.  You’ll get both a video and an audio file that you can listen to and review.

This article originally appeared in March 2019. It’s based on a GoPro Speakers presentation, March 2019 and included a companion podcast (below). The article was updated to its current format in June 2020.

Photo Credits:  Zoom Video Communications Inc.

A syndicated version of the article also appears at Troy Media and affiliated syndicated sites.

Greg Gazin, also known as the Gadget Guy and Gadget Greg, is a syndicated veteran tech columnist, communication, leadership and technology speaker, facilitator at Crestcom International, blogger, podcaster and author. Reach him @gadgetgreg or at

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