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The Dos and Don'ts of Body Language in Virtual Meetings

June 22, 2021 Collaboration and Productivity
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

In the past year, virtual meetings have become the norm and most workers now spend a sizable portion of their time in online meetings. Whether communicating with customers or an internal team, effectively connecting with others can make or break success. 

But the rise of virtual meetings has left out one of our most powerful communication tools: our bodies. Millenia of living in close proximity to one another has given humans the powerful ability to read others' meaning and intent from their body language. Communication happens through facial expressions, posture and gestures we use, as well as what is spoken.

"People are social animals and automatically absorb non-verbal cues as a means to understand the people in the world around them," said Alexis Harrison, vice president and director at public relations agency Golin.

Body language is crucial for interpreting tone and meaning; without it, our ability to pick up social cues and 'read the room' is significantly damaged. Which leads to one of the great challenges of the digital workplace. Just as we've become increasingly virtual and remote, our ability to connect with one another has diminished.

While some body language can be picked up in virtual meetings, many other cues are not. And other physical cues actively give the impression that you've tuned out. It's important to know what those cues are, both good and bad, and what do to to maintain an open dialogue and build rapport with colleagues, one of the fundamental building blocks of collaboration.

Here's a look at some virtual meeting dos and don'ts to ensure your message always comes through loud and clear.  

Don't Do Anything You Wouldn't Do in a Face-to-Face Meeting

Even though many are working from living rooms or home offices, it's still critical to be in control of body language and present a professional face.

"Don't fidget in your seat," said Reuben Yonatan, CEO at Manhasset, N.Y.-based GetVoIP. "You'll see people bouncing their legs or tilting from side to side when they speak and while it's understandable, it's also distracting. Translate that energy into hand gestures rather than letting it flow through your lower body."

The main rule is not to do anything you wouldn't do in an in-person meeting. Focus on the other person. Don't use your phone and maintain a straight posture. 

Related Article: Can You Create 'Water Cooler' Culture in the Virtual Workplace?

Do Keep the Camera and Microphone On

Yonatan shared another trick here to avoid video fatigue.

"Keep your eye contact just below the camera," he said. "Staring directly at the screen where the person's eyes are can trick your brain and tire you out, while looking directly into the camera can be a bit hypnotizing. Use your peripheral focus to stay engaged with the speaker while listening to their words."

It might seem unnecessary but it's just as important as turning on your microphone to make yourself clear and prevent miscommunications.

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute to Relay Important Information

Clear communication is paramount, especially with remote and distributed workforces. If important information is shared as an afterthought at the end of the meeting, that risks misalignment and missed intention and meaning. By the end of meetings, listeners aren't always giving their full attention. Worse still would be sharing new information in a communication channel flooded by irrelevant noise.

Related Article: 8 Ways to Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging

Do Record Meetings 

For meetings that do not discuss sensitive issues and strictly confidential information, it is also a good idea to record the meeting. By recording meetings, you make sure that what's going to be passed down is the same thing that the person actually said. Another good idea is to create a file via Google Doc or other shared format that can be accessed via a sharable link. All you need to do is share the link and employees will be able to access the vital details of the meeting without hassle. 

Don't Look Disengaged

Always be mindful of gestures and facial expressions, especially when having meaningful conversations. It's critical to be mindful of gestures and facial expressions because things can quickly get miscommunicated when meeting participants are not in the same room.

Sammy Courtright, chief brand officer at New York City-based Ten Spot suggested framing as the way to address this challenge.

"Make sure your camera captures your upper torso so that your hand gestures come through," Courtright said. "Smiling, nodding and eye contact can go a long way in replicating those feelings of talking with someone in person."

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