As a hybrid style of work becomes a reality, what steps can we take to boost our virtual communication skills?
Most of us have been working from home more than usual in the past year – and many predict that will continue to be a feature of a more ‘hybrid’ working life, with people working partly from home, partly from their company HQ and partly from local offices nearer to home.
But it’s not all plain sailing in the remote office. A recent study highlighted that one in six employees are still uncomfortable with seeing and hearing themselves on a video call. As the ‘Teams boom’ continues, and video meetings become an essential part of our day-to-day lives, here are some top tips for feeling more confident on screen.
Warm up those vocal cords
If you live alone and work from home, sometimes the first words spoken in the day will be on the phone or a video call. One way to loosen the vocal cords is with a good old-fashioned tongue twister. A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed the world’s most difficult tongue twister. Try saying “Pad kid poured curd pulled cod” quickly 10 times to warm up those rusty vocals. If that’s too tricky, a couple of rounds of “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood” should do the job.
Take up space
Confident people take up space. “Remember that you belong in any room that you enter – even if you don’t feel like you truly belong, act like you do,” says award-winning TV producer and author Shonda Rhimes on her MasterClass course. Position yourself no further than an arm’s length away from the webcam, so your head and shoulders are comfortably visible on the screen. Sit up straight with your shoulders square – a good posture will help you breathe easier and reduce stress. Remember, if you hide or make yourself smaller it will send signals that you don’t feel important enough to be there.
Maintain eye contact
“Connecting visually is one of the most significant aspects of body language, whether meeting in person or virtually,” says Patricia Peyton, corporate body language specialist and author, in her article for Fast Company. Maintaining eye contact boosts oxytocin, the bonding and trust chemical, and raises serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’. If working from a laptop, make sure to prop it up on some books or a shelf so the camera is at eye level.
Adopt a strong, positive outlook
Remember, first impressions still count when meeting online. Research shows that viewers will form an impression of a speaker within 30 seconds of watching them. A strong smile and a confident voice will go a long way when it comes to presenting yourself over video meetings. While it’s important to be approachable, avoid starting sentences with an apology such as “I’m sorry but…” or “I just…” Neither makes you look authoritative.
If you’re still feeling nervous, spend a minute or two concentrating on your breathing. Box breathing is a simple technique where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and breathe out for four seconds, for four rounds – imagining yourself drawing the four sides of a square as you go. This technique helps regulate your breathing and lowers your heart rate, which in turn will aid concentration and make you feel more confident.
Reframe anxiety as excitement
It’s normal to feel a little nervous when speaking over video, but what happens when our anxiety overtakes us? A study by Alison Wood Brooks at Harvard Business School shows that we can trick our brains into using anxiety to our advantage. Rather than trying to calm down, Wood Brooks suggests reframing your emotions as positive: try saying, “I’m excited about this call” out loud – and using the benefits of anxiety, such as alertness, to help you perform better. Speaker and confidence coach Alexa Fischer, who runs a Confidence on Camera course on Udemy, suggests placing a sticky note with a smiley face on your screen to remind you to smile.