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Virtual Presence

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

In this article for The Great Courses Daily, Johnny Lupsha and I sit down (virtually) to discuss cultivating your online presence.

Great Courses Professor Shares Tips for Mastering Virtual Meetings


With much of the country still facing various lockdown restrictions due to the novel coronavirus, video conferencing apps have surged in popularity as Americans have increasingly moved toward doing business online. However, many workers are still new to virtual meetings and can feel thrown off by the prospects of doing video conference calls. Additionally, it’s a new experience not having any one physically in the room, but having people see part of your house. And, how many of us have conducted presentations or meetings from our living rooms before?

The Great Courses’ Professor Melanie Martin Long, who is a professional theatre director, private performance coach, and part-time Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing, has advice for adjusting to professional life in front of the camera.

Setting the Scene One of the most important things to focus on when preparing for a video conference is your background. Professor Long said it’s important to have a light source in front of you, rather than behind you, so you don’t appear in silhouette. She also recommended having minimal clutter behind you.

“Dramatic pieces of art, large titles of books, diplomas, the cat on the couch—visual clutter distracts your viewer from your message,” she said. “Choose a wall or corner with a few neutral items and don’t be afraid to temporarily rearrange your space while you conference from home.”

In terms of tech, Professor Long recommended picking an eye-level, or higher, camera angle, which will provide a flattering and slimming effect for you. Additionally, using external microphones, rather than the mic on your computer, will reduce reverb and help you avoid sounding like you’re at the bottom of a well or in a large, open room. Finally, she said to log on a few minutes earlier than the meeting to test the video and audio of your tech, so you can be sure you’re presenting yourself well.

Putting Your Best Face Forward Just like a regular workplace setting, it’s important to look the part when attending a virtual meeting. Professor Long emphasized proper attire and jewelry when it comes to dressing for success.

“For the camera, avoid busy patterns, all black, or all white to minimize distraction or washed-out complexions,” she said. “Wear flattering colors that contrast with your background so you’ll ‘pop’—otherwise you risk becoming a ‘floating head.’ Most skin tones look best in rich, saturated colors rather than pastels.”

When it comes to jewelry, less is more. Professor Long suggested simple and understated jewelry. Finally, if you wear glasses, check for onscreen glare beforehand and do your best to adjust your camera or sitting angle accordingly.

It’s All about Presence With your setting and yourself looking good, it’s time to go into that meeting and own it. Using verbal communication and body language go a long way.

“If you’re in a leadership position, realize you set the example for your organization of how business will be conducted during this unprecedented time,” Professor Long said. “If it’s ‘business as usual,’ convey this in how you conduct the meeting. What questions will you ask? How long will remarks be?”

Next, keep your posture in mind. Professor Long recommended a “long spine,” sitting up straight and keeping your shoulders over your hips. This, she said, will project your confidence, prime your body for deep and relaxing breathing, and help you find your best voice. Along with this comes focusing on the camera.

“Know where the camera is and look at it when talking and listening,” she said. “As we adjust to this new reality, it’s important to show you’re there, to reassure with your eyes and attention. If your eyes want to stray, try the old trick of putting a little sticky up at the camera lens as a reminder.”

Last but not least, Professor Long said to remember to focus on what you’re doing rather than how you’re doing it, since passion, rather than perfection, achieves results.

Professor Melanie Martin Long contributed to this article. Professor Long is a professional theatre director, private performance coach, and part-time Assistant Professor of Acting and Directing. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of William & Mary in Theatre and English, Professor Long holds a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Her course, Mastering Stage Presence: How to Present to Any Audience is available to stream on The Great Courses Plus.

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