By Suzanne Bates, CEO Bates Communications
The last few months spent in from of the video camera have been a learning experience. We have all begun to acclimate to the world of virtual video, along with its more casual culture and informal appearance. But as the novelty has worn off, and video has become standard practice, many people are starting to ask, “How can I ramp up my presence on video, and create a real impact?”
The camera can be daunting even for the most seasoned leaders, but the lessons I learned on the front line in my former career as a news anchor taught me some good habits that can enhance any meeting you lead, improve any video conversation you have, and ensure you communicate well to any audience.
Here are six tips from the news desk that can help you bring your best self to the virtual world, communicate effectively on camera, and show up ready to shine.
- Prepare For “Showtime”
In television, when the camera is live, it is “go time.” Professionals have to be ready to go. They cannot be distracted. They have a job to do and they prepare well to be ready in the moment.
Showing up ready in the moment reflects on your leadership and your professionalism. If you come unprepared for video meetings – missing the right documents, fumbling for the agenda – you are not ready for prime time. Make a habit of collecting yourself a few minutes before each meeting. End meetings early, take a break, prepare, and be on time and focused for the next one.
- Leap “Through The Lens”
A computer is an inanimate object. When we look at the computer screen while we talk, we tend to be less animated and more “machine-like” in style. To go pro, you must overcome this tendency. Look at the dot that is your camera, make direct eye contact, and imagine you are there in the room. Really “see” people on the other side of the lens.
It helps to remember the people on the other side of the camera are not just colleagues, clients, or prospects, but friends. Take time to ask how they are doing. Listen and respond appropriately. Let the conversation breathe. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by email or your spouse asking you whether you picked up the mail. Show people you are paying attention by conveying emotion through facial expression and vocal tone. Let them know they have 100 percent of you right now.
- Warm It Up
Warm up the meeting by taking responsibility for welcoming others and setting the tone. Imagine you’re hosting your own show. Give some thought ahead of time about topics that will warm up the conversation before you begin, even for just a minute. Make the meeting more than a transaction.
This is important because working virtually you don’t have available to you all the usual ways of warming up a conversation in the room: arriving at an office, offering coffee, catching up on the weather, are all out the door in the virtual world. The best television anchors consider themselves hosts. They invite intimacy with appropriate small talk and curiosity about others. This rapport builds trust, bridges the technical divide, and makes you a memorable presence in the virtual world.
- Showcase The Virt-U-Al YOU
The virtual you is the best version of you on a small screen. How you appear in the frame matters so be aware of distracting backgrounds and sitting too far from or too close to the camera. There’s also the question of when to stand and when to sit. Sitting works most of the time, so get a good chair that allows you to sit up straight, employing pillows or props if you need them to be comfortable. For formal presentations – whether for internal audiences or external ones – consider standing. TV anchors have a variety of places on set where they can do a demonstration, show you a map, share a visual. Standing also energizes you and communicates respect.
- Leverage Your Virtual Wardrobe
Sweatpants and sneakers – now ubiquitous – are fine for most of the time (except when standing on camera). You may be one of those people who just feels more professional getting dressed for your day and that’s great. What matters for everyone is what is happening from the waist up. I worked with a co-anchor who sailed his boat every day, came in around 5:00 pm, washed his hair in the sink, threw on a coat and tie, and was ready to go. No one in our audience knew he did not own a pair of dress pants.
The key is to pay attention to your “communication center” – your face, head, and shoulders. Think about where you want people to focus – on you. Clothing should be attractive and simple without distracting patterns. Jackets, suits, or ties are rarely necessary anymore but taking casual too far will derail your impact. Wearing your Saturday fleece to a virtual meeting says, “I would rather be watching Netflix.” Make an effort. It is a sign of respect for your audience and your people.
- Ad Lib And Be Liberated
News anchors go with the flow of the news effortlessly even when off script with breaking news because before the broadcast, they talked with sources, prepared for interviews, and reviewed the producer’s scripts. This preparation is part of the routine and gives them the confidence to improvise when they need to.
Just because you’re on the small screen doesn’t mean you can skip rehearsals or preparation for presentations. It’s even more important because sitting alone with the camera is unforgiving if you fumble or get flustered. Take the time to practice your slides, study your notes, and have a game plan. If you have rehearsed and prepared well, you’ll be liberated and able to ad lib when the moment arrives. You will never have to let them see you sweat.
As we have learned from the news anchors who make this look so easy—it is possible to embrace the camera and develop the habits that help you can connect with any audience, inspire them, and energize the virtual room. If you take the opportunity to learn the lessons from the news desk, you’ll be ready to “go pro” in your next virtual meeting.
About The Author
Suzanne Bates is CEO of Bates, a global consulting firm that helps organizations improve performance through communicative leadership. https://www.bates-communications.com/.