Numerous scientific studies have shown women are more likely to be interrupted, talked over or disregarded entirely in meetings. But what happens when the room becomes a Zoom? Zoom is like a conference call on steroids. Everyone in the Zoom room is jockeying to get a word in. You must practically hurl yourself into the screen to get a point across. A recent study by research firm Catalyst found that 45 percent of women found it difficult to speak up in virtual meetings.
In my experience as a confidence coach for women, there are a handful of practical tips to help you dial up your on-screen confidence and improve your overall presence.
Always Wear Shoes
In the early days of the pandemic I too loved to wear my L.L.Bean fuzzy slippers. I quickly realized that soft slippers do not translate to sharp focus. I am not suggesting you wear heals, but wear real shoes. There was a Good Morning America anchor who got a lot of buzz when he was outed by the camera wide shot for wearing a suit on top and running shorts on bottom. The point is that even though you don’t have to dress for Zoom, you will absolutely feel more confident and focused if you do. Have one or two go-to outfits that look sharp on camera. As Jackson Spalding’s coaching team teaches, what you wear matters. Solid, brighter colors look better on screen, busy patterns and white do not. You might want to ditch sweatpants for on-screen appearances to create a sense of professionalism for yourself and others. Your “super suit” will not only boost your confidence and performance but also how others perceive you.
Manage your Setting(s) On and Off Screen
There is the on-screen setting and the in-the-room setting. To manage your on-screen appearance, take a minute to get familiar with the settings on your video conferencing platform. Most have features you can toggle on to touch up or enhance your appearance, and it makes a difference in how you look on screen. Equally important is your room setting. It is part light, part height and part background. While you do not need to invest in a selfie light that attaches to your computer or phone, you should take a page out of the influencer playbook and be sure to have light in front of you as well as even lighting in your room. Ensure your laptop camera is at eye level for your meeting and that you are centered on-screen. You can stack books or buy a laptop stand. Proper light and height are key to Zooming like a boss. When we coach clients to prepare for TV interviews, we always advise to manage what is behind you. This is true for Zoom meetings as well. Your appearance now goes beyond you to your room, and you want to make sure your background is even, not cluttered and not a stark white wall.
Use the Chat to Stake your Ground
Hopefully, you have a skilled person leading the meeting (if not, check out our JS Facilitation tips) who is monitoring the chat function in the meeting. This is a great way to create space for yourself to speak rather than having to interrupt. I do not recommend putting your whole point out there on chat because it might create an opportunity for others to only briefly acknowledge you, or worse, to “bropropriate” your idea. I recommend just stating that you have something to contribute or expand the conversation when there is a moment. It can also put meeting attendees on alert that they need to make room for others to contribute meaningfully.
Stay off Mute
Being at home can create sounds that are distracting, whether it’s the barking dog, crying toddler or garbage truck on your street. You want to make sure you are joining the meeting from a quiet and controlled space. Check your sound quality whether you are using headphones, ear buds or the computer speaker. Watch what you are wearing too. I have heard sound issues coming from earrings, scarves or necklaces hitting the microphone on ear buds and headphones. It’s easy to dismiss someone if their sound quality is poor or worse – you may be asked to mute if it is disrupting the meeting. There is no way to build confidence on mute. Vocal tone and quality matter too. Make sure you have water on hand. I once worked with a female sportscaster who would only drink room temperature water so that she could keep her vocal cords warmed and ready to go.
Grab Some Me (On-Camera) Time
Before you Zoom with others, Zoom with yourself. Open the app and check the height of your laptop camera to make sure it is not too high or too low. Make sure you have enough distance to gesture on screen but not too much that you are too small. Shrinking your image can translate as less presence, so you must strike the right balance. My JS colleague Scott Hartman, who is a former anchor and now video director, suggests a go-to bank of gestures for virtual meetings. He says, “It’s not about vanity, but it’s about understanding what your face and body are doing while on webcam, getting used to it and finding a comfortable and confident ‘home base’ stance so you can be at rest while looking professional and engaged as a participant.” Studies show that gestures count for 55 percent of the impact you have on an audience, and tone of voice makes up 38 percent. Bottom line, 93 percent of how others will size you up in a meeting is non-verbal. That means gestures still matter on Zoom. Be sure you sit up straight and use your hands and arms to help you communicate. It needs to be natural and not forced – avoid a Ricky Bobby moment.
Lights, Camera, Eye Contact
You may be tempted to turn your camera off to dial down the meeting pressure. Being in a meeting by name only is not a way to build your confidence. Confidence is a muscle. Few people are born with it, and most must exercise it over time to grow it. You create what I call a “confidence muscle memory” by speaking when you are uncomfortable – even when you fail or flub. The next time is easier and then easier, until you are eventually able to flex your confidence muscle. Zoom meeting eye contact is challenging because it is essentially with your camera. If you are looking generally in the direction of your camera and have your laptop set at eye contact level, you will create a sense of eye contact for the participants. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more you look at people, the more you gain confidence. Consistent eye contact creates a sense of control for you and imparts an impression of strong focus for your viewers.
I like to think of confidence as a team sport because we play better on the field as a team. Master these skills and then teach them to other women. One of the best parts of my role as a coach is seeing women empower each other in my sessions. Please share these tips and Zoom on!