First, think about what other participants in your online meetings see. By now, you’ve seen too many online presenters – even those who should be professionals, such as news reporters – who are literally talking down to their audience, as if speaking to a small child or pet. In addition to being generally unattractive, this does not look professional. Use a laptop stand so that your webcam is about 2 inches below eye level. And do not sit during your presentation. Standing allows you to express energy and enthusiasm for your topic and feels more realistic and engaging.
Second, set the laptop about 2 feet away, so that viewers can see your gestures. This helps retain attention and emphasize and clarify what you’re saying. Finally, position a light source in front of you so it shines on you. This can be anything from a ring light to a lamp with an ordinary 60-watt bulb. This light helps give you a warmer, more realistic color, rather than the blue-gray tinge the light from the screen often gives speakers.
If you’re showing slides while speaking and using Presenter View, take the window out of full screen mode so you can resize it. Size it down and place it at the top of your screen below your webcam, so that you can comfortably glance slightly left or right to see your slides and notes when looking at the middle dividing line. If you have a large screen, this may be less than half the screen size. Adjust the divider lines so that the notes are closer to the top of the screen. On a Mac, you can’t resize the Presenter View window, but you can adjust the divider lines so that the notes are closer to the top of the screen. All of this helps keep you from obviously glancing down at your presentation and/or notes, which can be distracting for your audience.
What about sound? Special microphones, headsets and AirPods are generally not needed for a typical online meeting. Your laptop is designed for this type of interaction, and everything you need is included. A laptop microphone is fine for picking up the human voice, especially since you’re so close to it. Your built-in speakers should also be perfectly acceptable. Conversation uses a far narrower range of frequencies than, for instance, orchestral music. Plus, it just feels weird having a conversation with someone wearing headphones!
One of the strengths of Zoom and other online meeting options is the intimacy they can create, even though the participants may be thousands of miles apart. Because you’re literally very close to the tool that is transmitting you digitally, the more natural you look and feel, the easier it is to communicate.
The more you think of your online communication as a conversation, rather than a presentation, the more natural and effective you’ll be. There truly is a difference between the sound of someone simply delivering information and the sound of someone sharing information with others. Remind yourself WHY you need to get this information across to the people you’re speaking with, what’s in it for them. The information may be important, but your listeners are far more important. Put your focus and energy into getting them to understand your message, and you’ll sound and feel more in the moment, rather than virtual and distant.