The case against looking sad when presenting online

Many business presenters wonder how to look (and sound) upbeat via web cam. Smiling feels unnatural, many executives have said. I see the challenge—the web cam makes it seem like we speak only to our computer. But with a new Gallup poll showing 43% of us work remotely, the reality becomes most of us (at some point) must present online. This blog post provides tips and wisdom on how to sound (and seem) sincere, grounded, and upbeat when presenting online.

Imagine the web cam as a person vs. a thing.

If you’re feeling irked or awkward vs. happy, imagine your web cam as a person—someone you love even—and your voice and persona will change. Sir Richard Branson (a revered leader with glossophobia, a fear of public speaking) offers this same tip for in-person presenting. He says to lock eyes on a few in the audience and imagine you’re speaking to a loved one vs. strangers.

A related radio broadcaster tip I learned provides another strategy: Put a photo of someone you love behind your web cam (or microphone) and at your eye level. Speak to them, not the camera. The intimacy comes out in your voice, energy, and facial expressions.

Always keep your expressions welcoming, no matter what.

I’ve hosted online business communication classes for MBA@UNC using 2U technology for four years. As hosts using this technology, and for our audience, you can only imagine the curve balls that come our way.

Here’s what helped: My excellent trainers told me to always maintain welcoming facial expressions when I host digitally. Even a small smile helps, they said. The training stayed with me and now I just try getting my mind zen-like before I go live. (After all, as host, I remain captain of the ship. If I look stressed, anxious, or unhappy, my team feels that way, too.)

With this approach, the smile becomes habitual, feels natural, and only occasionally forced. I also used (at the beginning) organic lavender/chamomile and or sandalwood aromatherapy candles and burned these in my room before I went live. Very effective!

Exercise before appearing online. Take a break, too.

What happens when we’re feeling rushed? We feel stressed and our face mirrors that tension. If you can structure your day to break before the meeting, you’ll feel less tense and appear more relaxed. Combine exercise with your break, and you’ll feel even better. On the days I find time for a jog and yoga (and even better when I find time to paint), I’m feeling more serene for that online meeting.

Best of luck with your online meetings, presenters! Let me know what strategies have worked for you, too.


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