Before your working life was disrupted by Covid-19, your view on what constituted Executive Presence in a virtual world was probably somewhat different. Who can forget the embarrassment of Professor Robert Kelly back in March 2017 when his children gate crashed his BBC interview? Or, one of my favourites, in July 2018 when Polish political scientist Jerzy Targalski’s cat leapt on his head during another TV interview?
Ok, most of you aren’t being interviewed on national news channels, but you are spending a lot, if not most, of your working hours on Zoom, Teams, and other virtual platforms. So how can you maintain Executive Presence in this world? And is it even important anymore? My answer - in fact one of my favourites when delivering leadership skills workshops and programs - is, “it depends”.
For those of you connecting with your teams, the research suggests that you welcome seeing into others’ personal lives, including seeing each other’s children and pets. You can also have a little snoop around at what people have in their “Zoom Rooms”, particularly in their background.
But what about when the meeting is with an important client? For some, a virtual and often company-branded background is the answer. Yet, unless used in conjunction with a green screen, it can become quite distracting to watch the presenter fade in and out of this chosen background. So probably best to stick to reality. But here, care must be taken, as what might be a conversation starter with a team member - that running machine that never gets used, general family detritus and, for one lady being interviewed by the BBC, what looked like a marital aid on a shelf behind her - could seriously undermine your Executive Presence.
Then there is your body language. Here we are, a year after the first lockdown was introduced in the UK. Isn’t it time people thought about how they position themselves in front of the camera? Whilst nostril views and being peered down on may have been acceptable a year ago, you’ve had a whole year to up your game. But if you’re still needing guidance, then it can be achieved by following these simple top tips.
The essentials of Virtual Executive Presence
- Be at eye level
Firstly, raise your laptop or computer so that the camera is level with your eyes. The best way to do this is by using a dedicated adjustable platform. However, piles of books, the kitchen bin and even a suitcase all do the job just as well. Then concentrate on looking into the camera not the person(s) on your screen. This takes a lot of practice.
- Frame yourself
Secondly, position yourself so that you take up most of the screen. But not too close and not too far away. The danger of the first is that it can be intimidating. Whilst for the latter it can appear you aren’t engaged, and can also mean you are hard to hear, especially if using an internal microphone. Also, think about your lighting and other equipment. A halo light can be a very useful, as can an external microphone and camera.
- Be aptly dressed
Thirdly, think about what you are wearing. If it’s important wear something smart, not necessarily a suit, just something appropriate to the occasion. And, if your band width isn’t great, avoid busy patterns and stripes as they can cause optical illusions.
One top tip here: If you do only dress the top half of your body, remember not to stand up for any reason!
- Be in a room that gives a professional appearance
Even if you’re tight for space when working from home, you should make it appear that you’re well set up. You shouldn’t have a bed in the background, for example.
- Make sure you’re facing the camera
Some people have two screens and spend the call looking at the wrong screen. You have to know that this means you look disengaged, and it is not helping to build rapport with the people you are on the call with.
- Maintain your focus!
Even if you are not speaking or in a direct conversation, you must remember that you are still on show. Your attention to show that you are interested in the conversation is one aspect that builds your personal brand.
- Never take a call whilst in a meeting
This one should be a no-brainer, but you should never be muted and seen to be taking a call whilst in a meeting. If the call is unavoidable, please turn your camera off, and make up for your absence with increased presence once you’re back.
And what about when the unexpected still occurs? As recently happened to me when my cat knocked over a cup of coffee during a workshop? Just take it in your stride, as did Mr Targalski!
If you would like to know more about iOpener’s Achieving Executive Presence in the Virtual World workshop for your team, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with us below.