Expert Tips for Making a Great Virtual Impression
Whether you’ve found yourself working from home or are a freelance worker in the gig economy, a key factor for success is the ability to present yourself and your ideas virtually. Being in front of a lens can be intimidating, whether it’s a Skype interview, a Zoom meeting, or an online PowerPoint presentation. But there are some simple strategies you can use to showcase yourself and your work in the best light.
Here are some tips from media coaches Teresa Erikson and Tim Ward, co-authors of the newly published book, Virtually Speaking: Communicating at a Distance.
Tips for Skype consultations/job interviews:
1. Lighting—Soft sunlight on your face makes you look your best. Teresa says, “If the interview is during the day, place your monitor in front of a sunny window across from you. If it’s nighttime, set up two lamps behind your monitor, so they act as the sunlight shining onto your face. The two big don’ts in lighting are: Don’t have a window behind you; it’ll make your face too dark to see. And don’t have an overhead light shining down on you. That will create shadows on your face and make you look haggard and tired.”
2. Monitor placement—Your laptop should be at eye-level, so it appears to your online partner that you are looking at them. Tim advises, “Simply place your computer on a box or stack of books, so your eyes are level with the camera, and look at the green dot by the built-in camera, not the person on the screen. This way you are making eye contact with your partner. Check behind you to see what will be visible on the screen. Is it your messy kitchen or unmade bed? That’s not professional. Sit in front of a blank wall, or some bookshelves, or solid-colored curtains without a busy pattern.”
3. Sound—You will sound your best if you wear headphones with a mic, but Teresa cautions, “avoid the look of over-the-ear headsets with a mic by your cheek that make you look like you work in a call center. Earbud headphones with a mic attachment on the cord look much more professional.”
Tips for creating a profile video for an online freelance platform:
1. Think about what you want people to remember about you after your video is over. Tim asks, “Is it that you are fast? Adaptable? Exceptional? Once you think about the adjective you want people to attach to you, write your script to accentuate that element. Tell people right away how you want them to see you. For example, ‘I’m a fast worker. I always meet my deadlines, I take that very seriously.’ Or ‘I love to adapt to each client’s need, it’s exciting. That’s my favorite part of my job.”
2. Begin with a bang and smile. Teresa says, “Keep in mind that people will decide very quickly whether or not to watch the rest of your video. Don’t leave important information to the end because they might not watch the whole thing.”
3. Write down what you want to say and record it on your smartphone. Teresa advises, “Play it back and listen to it. This is an important step, since written communication sounds so different when spoken out loud. Use short sentences which help with audience retention. Keep it short and punchy. Take out words that are passive or vague.”
Tips for Zoom meetings:
1. Get to the point and keep things brief. According to Tim, “It takes tremendous mental effort to listen attentively in a Zoom meeting, and it’s too easy to check email or Facebook while someone is droning on.”
2. Preparation is key. Teresa says, “First write down the purpose of the meeting. Then think about the participants. Where are they now in their thinking about the topic? Where do you want them to be at the end of the meeting? What you say should move them from where they are now to where you want them to be.”
3. Don’t ramble and don’t go off on tangents. Teresa adds, “People don’t know what’s most important if you talk too much. Use verbal signposts to keep people with you. For example, you can say, ‘So those are our challenges. Now I’ll focus on our priorities…’ Or, ‘This is the most important part of this meeting…’ Then the audience will perk up to listen.”
Tips for online PowerPoint presentations:
1. Don’t let the PowerPoint replace you, the speaker. Tim says, “In Zoom, use the side-by-side feature, so that both the speaker and the slides share the audience’s screen.”
2. When using photos, remember one big, strong image has more impact than a lot of little pictures.
3. Don’t use a lot of text, and don’t read your slides. Teresa adds, “Your audience will read ahead of you and then get bored. Short bullets, not full sentences help guide the reader while you fill in the details.”
General tips for maximizing virtual communication:
1. Dress in bright colors. It’s harder to listen to someone who fades into the background. Teresa explains, “Video conferencing tends to wash us out. Wear bright jewel tones to stand out from your background, it really makes a difference.”
2. Speak clearly and confidently. Tim reiterates, “Facial expressions are flattened on video, you need to work harder to convey warmth and humanity, so use your voice, it’s an incredible instrument.”
By Marsha Scarborough