EverythingPeople This Week!

Published on Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Body Language & What it Says on Video Calls

Author: Sheila Hoover

body languageRemote work has overcome our culture, and video conferencing has become a standard way of communicating with our peers, teams, leadership, and customers.  While video conferencing existed prior to the pandemic, we now find ourselves utilizing this method of communication as a daily activity.  The way we present ourselves physically on video says a lot to the other participants on the call.  

According to Psychology Today, “55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.”

Wikipedia defines body language as a type of a nonverbal communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey the information. Such behavior includes facial expressions, body posture, gestures, eye movement, touch, and the use of space.  

We were born with the natural capability to communicate through our postures, gestures, facial expressions, and vocals. According to Dr. Thomas Lewis (an expert on the psychobiology of emotions and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco), when we are denied these interpersonal cues, the brain struggles and real communication suffers.  Hence the value of video conferencing and our need for visual communications while practicing remote work.

We all know the “rules” of in-person communication: eye contact, sit up straight or stand tall, smile, don’t cross your arms, etc.  These same basic rules apply when you are on a video call, with a few adjustments.  

A recent Forbes article stated that good posture sends nonverbal signals of energy, enthusiasm, and health. Poor posture makes people appear uninterested, uncertain, or lethargic. When it comes to posture during a video meeting, typically only your body from the waist up is visible, which is by no means a hall pass to jiggle your legs or indulge in other behaviors that may inadvertently rock your body and distract viewers.

Facial Expressions
The simple act of smiling will generate positive feelings toward the team and help them feel comfortable. On the other hand, smiling too often or faking a smile makes you appear insecure and less credible. Not smiling at all makes a person appear cold and stand-offish.  Try to find the middle ground and smile at appropriate moments throughout the meeting.

Hand and Arm Gestures
What to do with your arms and hands during a video conference can be a bit confusing and depends on how close you are sitting to the camera.  Typically, you should be able to view the participants from the waist up.  Place your hands on the table about 8 to 10 inches in front of your torso so people can see them. Keep them relaxed and separated. If you are the speaker, it is OK to “speak” with your hands as you would in a person-to-person conversation. Do not cross your arms, research shows crossed arms encourage others to think critical thoughts toward you. It also makes you appear unapproachable.

Eye Contact
Eye contact is especially important on video calls to show you are engaged in the conversation.  Ensure your camera is set up coinciding with your screen so it does not appear that you are looking down or away from the video.  Try to lean toward the camera at times, again showing your interest and engagement in the conversation.

Your dress should match your company dress code, as if you were working in the office.  Presenting yourself in a nice shirt, clean and put together, communicates that you are committed and engaged in the work at hand.  A sloppy image portrays disinterest. 

As we all gain more experience on video conferences, these tips will become more natural to us.  Remember what we were taught growing up, “Sit up straight!” and we will all be just fine.


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