Many studies have emphasized the importance of body language in meetings. For example, slouching in your chair can be seen as unenergetic and lethargic, and not making eye contact shows lack of confidence. While subtle, these differences in your positioning can have huge impacts on the productivity and success of your meetings.
However, many of these studies used in-person meetings as reference points. With the rise of flexible work and distributed teams, meetings are increasingly moving online. The question becomes: does body language still apply when you’re in a video meeting?
The answer is: yes. While traditional face-to-face meetings have a lot in common with video conferences, there are certain aspects of your body language that you may want to think about and modify when you’re facing a screen.
Here are seven body language tips you should keep in mind to help ace your next video call.
1. Wear clothes you would wear to an in-person meeting
You don’t need to wear a ball gown or a three-piece suit for your next video call. But if you typically feel a little anxious or awkward in video meetings, taking the time to look and feel your best can definitely boost your confidence and help you make a positive impression on your attendees.
In fact, many studies have found a connection between how we look and how we’re perceived. This is a cognitive bias known as the “halo effect,” which suggests that people who look good tend to also be perceived as having other positive qualities. Don’t be afraid to use this to your advantage!
2. Sit back from the camera so colleagues can see your gestures
Hand gestures can help you boost your charisma while you’re on a call. For example, you can wave hello to welcome your meeting attendees to the call, use explanatory gestures while you’re speaking to clarify your talking points, or simply rest them in your lap to show your colleagues that you’re actively listening (and not scrolling Twitter).
If you’re sitting too close to the screen, your attendees will miss out on these important nonverbal cues. When you sit down for your next call, remember to push back your computer or phone or camera so your hands and upper torso are showing.
3. Make eye contact by looking into the camera
One of the biggest mistakes people make on video calls is that they look at themselves and not at the dot (aka your camera). While it can be a little tricky over video, looking directly into your camera will give the impression you are making eye contact with the people you are meeting. This can help build trust and rapport with your meeting attendees, which, in turn, can help strengthen your relationships with them.
Speaking to your camera instead of the faces on your screen can definitely take some getting used to, so take a few minutes to practice before your next call. You could even record yourself so you can see the difference between looking at your screen and looking at your camera. This can also be a good time to check your room’s lighting and the angle of your camera to ensure you’re well lit and centered.
4. Show engagement by refraining from looking down
While most of us wouldn’t look at our phones or openly check our email during an in-person work meeting, it’s a little easier to succumb to these distractions when you’re working remotely. However, just because your phone may not be in full view of your attendees, doesn’t mean they won’t see when you look down to check it.
The best way to show you’re listening is to remain focused on the discussion or presentation. Try not to look around the room too much and use nonverbal signals like nodding or smiling to show the speaker that you’re interested and engaged in what they’re saying.
5. Sit straight to project energy
It can be tempting to take a call from the couch when you’re working from home, but it can make you appear uninterested and a little lazy on a video call. On the other hand, good posture signals to your meeting attendees that you’re energized and ready to be an active participant.
During a video conference, remember to sit up straight, put both feet on the floor, and then take a deep breath and exhale through your mouth to relax your neck and throat. You’ll also want to lean forward slightly to the camera to show that you’re fully present.
Similar to your physical appearance, your posture can shape the way you feel and how you think about yourself. In other words, when you sit up straight, it doesn’t just make you look more engaged—it’s also a physical reminder to your brain that it’s time to listen and participate.
6. Calm your nerves by avoiding face-touching
Research by the University of Cambridge found that nervous people tend to comfort themselves by engaging in face-touching behaviors like smoothing their eyebrows, tugging at their earlobes, itching their nose, or chewing on their lower lip.
Therefore, if you want to convey to your fellow meeting attendees that you’re calm, cool, and collected, try to avoid touching your face. If you need help breaking the habit, you can keep your hands occupied with a stress ball or other object. You can also try practicing meditation and mindfulness exercises before a call to calm your nerves.
7. Use hand gestures to show warmth and agreement
Want to present like a pro? Use your hands. A recent analysis of the most popular TED Talks found that viral speakers used an average of around 465 hand gestures—nearly twice as many as the least popular TED speakers.
Studies have also shown that people who use their hands are even seen as more warm, agreeable, and energetic compared to those who remain still or have robotic hand gestures. If you’re not used to talking with your hands, you can start with basic listing gestures (like counting on your hands) or a pinching gesture to indicate something small.
Set yourself up for video call success
You don’t need to be a professional actor or speaker to get comfortable on camera. All you need to do to put your best “foot” forward’ is to be a little more aware of your posture, facial expressions, and general mannerisms. And don’t forget to smile.
Learn about how to prepare your home for video conferencing in our post “How to Prep Your Home Office Network for High-quality Video Meetings.”
Originally published Apr 18, 2020, updated Sep 10, 2021