Our facial expressions, gestures, appearance, body postures, tone of voice and eye gaze express huge volumes of information about our attitudes and our emotions. This makes body language one of the most powerful communication tools we can use on a daily basis, and in every life context.
Indeed, the communication method pioneered by Dr Albert Mehrabian famously showed that 55 per cent of effective communication is conducted through body language and only 7 per cent through spoken words. So, understanding what your non-verbal signals convey can go a long way to helping you communicate more positively with others – and make your presence felt.
Picking up on non-verbal clues
The moment we meet face-to-face, we depend on non-verbal clues to determine how to relate to others. As social beings, we instinctively read and interpret body language as an expression of mood, feeling, or intention, and we unconsciously do this all the time. That includes responding to disconnects, where body language or tone of voice contradict the spoken word.
This has significant implications for our increasingly virtual world of work. Courtesy of the proliferation of video conferencing in today’s Covid-19 day-to-day business life (“you’re on mute!”), people are assessing your body language more than ever before. Which means how you position yourself and behave on a video call will ultimately affect how others perceive you, and how your message is received.
With so much of our working day now being conducted online, it’s easy to become disengaged or suffer from video call fatigue. And that’s the moment when you may find yourself casually slipping into non-verbal communication habits that mean you become a forgettable participant on the video call.
When just being present isn’t enough
With video calls becoming so routine, it is easy to become complacent about maintaining the behavioural and communication etiquette that is appropriate for an online business setting. Especially when during lockdown, so many of our interactions with family and friends have had to be conducted via video.
Taking a few moments to reflect on some of the habits you may have adopted for business video conference meetings may help to elevate both your professional presence and credibility.
Have you decided not to put your video on? What message has this action sent to the rest of the participants? Do you find yourself fidgeting, or leaning back, or slouched in your chair? Do you keep disappearing off camera? Ask yourself – is this the body language I would choose to communicate if I were in the boardroom, rather than the spare room?
Changing habits can be difficult but taking some time out to identify which unconscious behaviours you need to consciously adjust will result in you becoming a better non-verbal communicator and make a bigger digital impact.
Here are five critical body language considerations that will help ensure your participation in video conferences is more polished and notable, for all the right reasons.
Making a positive first, and lasting, impression
Eliminating body language habits that send the wrong message is important, because people typically pay more attention to those non-verbal signs that indicate negative attitudes: that you are bored, angry or lethargic. Even if that is not the case.
The way you hold yourself impacts how others perceive you. For example, crossed arms can suggest defensiveness or irritation, while slumping on the sofa conveys a lack of professionalism or unwillingness to take the task in hand seriously.
Maintaining a proper posture is the key to projecting a positive image and making the right impression from the get-go. That means using appropriate seating to ensure you sit up straight, don’t slouch, and that your head and shoulders dominate the screen.
Sitting up tall communicates to others that you are alert, actively participating – even when not speaking – and confident.
Guard against “resting bored face” syndrome
Our facial expressions are visible at all times on screen, so demonstrating that a neutral response to whatever you see and hear is a must-have.
Things like learning back from the screen can indicate what we are not entirely on board with. Similarly, facial winces, head shaking or rolling our eyes will also convey powerful information to others about our internal feelings. All of which can fuel miscommunication and misunderstanding in a collaborative setting.
Communicating that you are present and mindful at all times is no easy feat during an extended video session when “resting bored face” syndrome can creep in – a facial expression that others register as disassociation or boredom. To counter this, remember to nod, smile and lean forward occasionally.
The eyes are the window to the soul
One of the most fundamental components of non-verbal communication, direct eye contact is difficult to replicate over a webcam. When speaking or presenting, maintaining a focus on your camera, and not the images of the other participants, is the single most powerful way to communicate your message to your audience and enable eye contact.
When in listening mode, guard against becoming distracted by your own thumbnail video image because this gives out a non-verbal visual cue that screams distraction. Instead, focus on looking directly at the feed of the person who is speaking to give the impression you are maintaining eye contact and are interested in what they have to say.
Get to grips with gestures
Gestures provide a visual cue that can help people to really understand what you are saying. But on a video call, you need to be aware that less is more.
Hand motions can be helpful to demonstrate enthusiasm or direct people to focus on a specific point they need to consider. But too much gesticulating can be distracting and overwhelming in a small screen frame – people need time to take in what they are hearing.
When listening to others, glancing at your palms and fingernails, drumming your fingers, fiddling with jewellery or tweaking your hair could all indicate to others that you are either bored or frustrated, or both.
Don’t multitask – be present and engaged
Resist the temptation to check your email or tackle other work tasks when you join a video conference. Even if you are muted, others can see what you are up to.
While you may be confident that you can successfully do two or more things at once, and not lose the thread of what’s being discussed, the non-verbal cues you are sending other participants will say otherwise. Plus, if people can see you are tapping away at IM, they’ll be wondering what you are really thinking and saying to others about the ideas they are presenting.
Video conferences represent a key tool for strengthening relationships with customers, suppliers and colleagues. They are also a powerful platform for building your very own personal brand.
Becoming body language savvy will ensure you are able to present your ideas with more impact, work more collaboratively with others, and reinforce your professional image.
By Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA, Skillsoft