What is Virtual Body Language?


It is the non-verbal language we use, and that other people see, when talking on camera via the internet.  We are in an age where online conferencing, webinars, presentations and training videos are the norm and so it’s important to consider how your body language can help or hinder your virtual meeting.

Nov 2019

What can affect the quality of good virtual communication? 

One

We think at approximately 800 words per minutes and we speak at roughly 100 wmp.  Our body movement is a reflection of what we are thinking and becomes the visual messages we send out. If what a speaker is saying is at odds with what they are thinking, then their body language will reveal all.

Two

Repetitive or annoying gestures will distract whoever is watching and they may stop listening, focusing more on the arm waving, hand flashing, hair stroking or nose touching gestures they are seeing, and so lose track completely of what the presenter is talking about.

Misinterpretation of the gestures can give the viewer the wrong impression about the speaker that will remain until they have the opportunity to meet face to face, if at all.

Three

Camera placement is vital. Many people rely on a desk camera that is built into their PC. The angle makes it difficult to have a comfortable conversation. The cost of a separate camera that can be placed level with your head is minimal and the extra height it will offer is well worth it.

Four

If you are on a two-way link remember that the person you are watching and talking to is also watching, so your own body language is also important. Your non-verbal reactions will be a difference to whether or not you are building rapport. 

How do some people get it so wrong?
Nov 2019
How do some people get it so wrong?

One of the biggest problems for the virtual presenter is that (with the exception of a Skype-type conference call) they have no direct feedback from their audience. They are talking blind.  They must assume everything they are saying is met with approval and interest. 

On the one hand they can stay positive throughout the webinar or presentation, but without any direct contact or feedback it’s difficult for the speaker to gain enthusiasm and encouragement from the invisible audience or to use interesting and responsive body language as a result. When asked questions by a live audience the presenter can press home confidence in their ability and knowledge, build rapport,  and also reveal if they are telling the truth or not.  If a presenter is losing their audience through bad VBL, there’s no way of knowing and correcting.  They might as well be talking to an empty room. 

So, they get it wrong because there is no way for them to learn from their mistakes – apart from poor feedback comments which might not be specific enough to be helpful for next time.

What are the biggest problem areas?

Some of the most important areas to focus on, where the worst mistakes occur, are facial expressions, head, arm and hand movements (if upper body shots), add to this walking and swaying movements if full body presentations.  Nervous gestures stand out more.  With a lack of audience interaction it is very easy for body language to become rigid, lacking animation or enthusiasm.  Facial expressions will become more serious and there is a tendency to over-use the same hand gesture until it becomes the only focus for the viewer. 

Hands hands Hands
How to get around this?

If you are going to be delivering a virtual presentation, webinar or record a video training session then there are several ways you can improve your body language.

Identify your own bad language

The best way do to this is to record yourself delivering a webinar or presentation.  Then play it back without sound.  Focus only on the habitual gestures you are making.  Are you constantly using the same hand movements?  Are you touching your nose, tugging your collar, straightening your jacket or ruffling your hair?  These may sound caricature gestures, but you’d be surprised how these nervous movements creep in unnoticed by the speaker. 

Where are you looking?  Are you reading from an auto-cue that will make it appear you are staring non-stop at the camera, or are you making friendly eye contact with the imaginary viewer and glancing away occasionally as you give thought to something? 

Some online video communications are just head and shoulder shots, which make it even more important to focus on smile, eye contact and thoughtful expressions.  You’re not an automaton, so get some gentle animation in there and be enthusiastic and inspiring. 

How do others do it?

Watch other webinars, presentations and videos. Find those presentations that have held your interest, that you watched through to the end that taught you something. 

How did the presenter speak?  Was his tone friendly, authoritative, excited?  What gestures and facial expressions did they use? 

How did they move, irrespective of whether standing or sitting at a desk? How did they break up the sections of their discussion and how did they keep your interest?  

How did they vary their eye contact so that you felt they were talking just to you, but still glancing away occasionally? 

Learn from the bad stuff

Look out for presentations and even TV documentaries where you lost interest. 
Was it because the voice was monotone and you nodded off, was their body rigid, how bad were the habitual arm and hand movements? How did their facial expressions affect you?

You can learn from the bad just as much as from the good.  So go back and take another look at your own recordings and see where you can make improvements.

Out there forever!

We should be taking extra care to manage VBL because once that video or webinar is out there that’s it.  There’s no taking it back and having another go.  The internet can be unforgiving when it comes to trying to take something down once it’s been set free and circulated and re-posted.  It’s best to do everything possible to get it right first time.

To what extent do people make allowances? 
Everything today is fast moving and if interest isn’t captured within the first couple of minutes, it’s all too easy to discard it and move onto the next fast fix.  So yes, people will make allowances, but for only a limited amount of time, unless what they are seeing or hearing is full of awesome information or they are following someone who has already proven their worth.

What next?

Companies should be investing in some form of VBL training.  It is an important tool for all companies to make use of if their contact is online either within their organisation or externally with their customers via visual conference calls. 

At the end of the day it’s all about building rapport and getting the right message across.  

Contact: info@bodylanguageatwork.co.uk