One-fourth of all professional jobs are expected to be remote by the end of this year, and that percentage is projected to grow in 2023. In fact, Pricewaterhousecoopers projects that hybrid workplaces will soon become the norm.
Fortunately, workers report they are at least as productive in remote settings as they are in person. But companies are also concerned about the loss of professionalism in remote environments. There’s good news here too. Any professional communication skill for in-person environments can be adapted to mediated environments.
If you are an employer or employee who wants a professional, collaborative workplace even in a remote setting, start by adopting these visual communication practices in video conference calls.
Visual Communication in Video Conferencing
In-person guideline: Keep an open, symmetrical stance or posture.
- Mediated adaptation: Maintain an open, symmetrical appearance by squaring your body to the camera and keeping your appearance unblocked. This means you should not make a habit of folding your arms, covering your face, sitting at an angle, crossing your legs, and so forth.
In-person guideline: Maintain eye contact when speaking.
- Mediated adaptation: You cannot make real eye contact in mediated settings. In mediated settings, look directly at the camera at the top of your monitor for extended periods of time. At the very least, keep the camera at eye level and avoid letting your eyes dart about the screen. Research shows that steady eye contact improves your confidence as well as the audience’s perception of your confidence.
In-person guideline: Use purposeful gestures.
- Mediated adaptation: You should continue to gesture in a mediated setting. In person, you should not point or wildly flail your arms about, or put your hands in your pockets, or cover your body by folding your arms, and so on. The rules are the same on camera. However, on camera, your gestures can seem somewhat exaggerated and distracting. So keep your hands visible and use open-palmed gestures to emphasize your points, BUT make the gestures a little smaller than you would in person, and use them a little less frequently.
In-person guideline: Use facial expressions that match the mood of the message.
- Mediated adaptation: This guideline simply does not change. If anything, it should be more strongly emphasized. There ought to be some emotion in our face. Stone faces have always been a thing for amateur public speakers. The problem is even worse in mediated communication when there is an additional barrier between us and our audiences. Smile, nod, frown, show some emotion with your face to reveal that you are engaged.
In-person guideline: Dress for the occasion.
- Mediated adaptation: No change here. Again, if anything, this point may need additional emphasis. If the culture of the meeting in person would be to wear a blazer, wear a blazer. If you would normally wear makeup, wear makeup.
In-person guideline: Prepare the meeting space ahead of time.
- Good presenters and meeting leaders arrive early and make sure the room is arranged well for the meeting. Likewise, in a mediated setting, you should ensure a professional on-camera environment. Avoid backgrounds of an intimate nature, such as beds, bathrooms, kitchens, family members, inappropriate artwork, and so forth. Feel free to use a simulated background, but often a clean, professional, real background is best. When it comes to lighting, use soft lighting in front of you, so as to eliminate as many shadows as possible. Natural lighting–for instance, from a window–in front of you usually looks great. Avoid lighting that comes from behind you, lest you turn into a silhouette.
In forthcoming blogs, I will address how to adapt good vocal delivery skills to mediated environments. I will also provide highlights of how to handle video conferencing logistics in such a way that you can maximize collaboration and engagement with your teams. For now, enforce the basics of visual communication to ensure a professional standard is maintained.
Ben Crosby is a professor of rhetoric and a communication skills consultant. He teaches courses in public speaking and presenting, argumentation and debate, technical and professional communication, persuasion and selling, and the history of rhetoric.
His work is regularly published in his field’s top academic journals and conferences. He is also the author of Presentations as Performance: A Professional’s Guide to Better Speaking.
Ben’s areas of expertise are Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, Argumentation, Sales Training, and Professional Writing.
In his free time, he spends time with his wife, Rebecca, their four kids, and their cat, Arza. He is an avid Utah Jazz fan.