Meeting online? Don’t become "Eye-roll Ruby" or "Angry Andy"
With almost the entire business world operating under the restrictions of a coronavirus pandemic, many of us are becoming all too familiar with meetings conducted online instead of in a conference room or office.
But, as a woman I coached via Zoom recently observed,
“Since your colleagues aren’t in the room with you, it’s easy to forget that they are still observing you!”
Her comment highlights a key pitfall about online meetings – not paying attention to how others see you during a videoconference.
This is especially true if you are not accustomed to presenting yourself professionally online, but now find yourself working from home and using videoconferencing apps to meet with colleagues, bosses, customers, clients, vendors, or even friends and family. It can lead to distracting behaviors that I’ve attributed to such characters as Eye-roll Ruby, Angry Andy, and so on.
These eight examples of what not to do will help you to be mindful of how you are presenting yourself when video chatting:
1. Too-close Cody. We don’t want to see your nose hairs! Position yourself far enough from the camera so you don’t show a tight shot of your face – that is, from forehead to chin. In most instances, you want to show your head, shoulders, and part of your chest.
2. Who knew, Nell? Your background for a videoconference can be a simple wall or a section of a room in your home. Be aware of what others will be able to see behind you. The paintings or artwork on the wall, items on your tables, or books on your bookshelves will reveal aspects of your personality that your colleagues may not know. For example: Who knew Nell collected trumpets! This may be a good thing, as colleagues will discover more about her – or they may learn way too much about her!
3. In the dark, Daniel. Make sure your location has good lighting. You want to be seen clearly, without any shadows hiding your appearance. Be careful if you have a window behind you. If it is bright outside, you will appear as a dark silhouette.
4. Interrupting Isabella. These are unusual times. People know that kids, pets, or grandparents may be roaming around your house during business hours. Your dog coming up to you occasionally might be fine, but being interrupted constantly by your kids or pets will disrupt the meeting. To the degree that you can, manage these interruptions.
5. Eye-roll Ruby. One woman I coached recently complained that her colleague kept rolling her eyes whenever my client spoke. Such behavior is distracting and rude. And speaking of eyes, look at and talk to the camera, not the image on the screen. If are looking at your computer screen, you may appear to be looking down. If you look directly at the camera – usually positioned in the center of the frame above the screen – you will appear to be looking the other person in the eye.
6. Angry Andy. This is the person who has a very stern Standard Facial Expression, which is what I call the expression your face assumes when you are in neutral mode. Your SFE is what people see when you are looking at them, listening to them, or just not talking. Many people have stern facial expressions and don’t even realize it. What message is your face conveying about you? (See my suggestion below; additional information about nonverbal communication can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.)
7. Gesturing George. You don’t want to gesture too much. Waving your arms around can become a distraction. Resist the urge to twist your hair, play with rubber bands, or click your pen. These are all distractions that make you appear nervous. Resting your head on your hand makes you look bored. And, as many people know, crossing your arms can make you appear defensive or “closed.”
8. I’m still in PJs, Poppy. One woman I coached via Zoom looked like she was wearing her pajamas. Working from home is more casual than working in the office, but not that casual! Match your clothing choice to the purpose of the meeting. If you are seeing your CEO, dress more professionally. If you are meeting with your team, you may want to dress more casually. But remember, it’s still business. “Casual” does not mean sloppy. And yes, you do need to wear the entire outfit, not just the top that shows above the table. You never know when something might happen that requires you to stand up suddenly. Need I say more?
Suggestion: A practice session can help you to become aware of the image you are conveying to others. Situate yourself in the same location you will use for online meetings, and then connect with a friend to analyze how you appear on camera – and make any adjustments necessary.