How to improve your body language on video – like Zoom calls

Estimated read time: 9 minutes


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That body language is important isn’t anything new, but in the past we’ve mostly talked about body language in the concept of in-person meetings. Then COVID confined us to our home offices and now all of our meetings are remote. But nonetheless body language on video is a thing and matters. How we pull it off can help us communicate better. Good body language on video can also be the deal maker or breaker when it comes to getting buy-in and getting people to do what you need them to do.

There are tips to consider to improve your body language on video. Susan Ibitz of the Human Behavior Lab joined me on a live recording of the Business Storytelling Podcast to discuss the topic. You can watch our discussion here.

Part of the problem with video calls is that people don’t treat them like they would treat meetings in an office, Susan said. Nobody would show up in pajama pants or with unkempt hair (easy for me to say ;)) to an office meeting. For the record, I do have some Cover Girl foundation nearby if I need to touch up my shiny forehead.

But it’s easy to think of Zoom meetings as way more casual. Some of that can be okay and can be expected. After all, many of us are doing video calls in our homes. Some have dedicated office space and some don’t.  I would recommend a dedicated space – even if it’s a corner.

Read next: Will this virtual background work for my video Zoom business meeting?

Remote or not, we do want to look the right level of presentable. Susan shared some great tips around that topic.

Base line

“Everyone is now an expert in body language,” Susan said. I feel the same about marketing and content. Many seem to have “expert opinions” even though they never worked in marketing or content. Anyway, there are things to consider that work and then there are “expert opinions” we shouldn’t listen to.

The first body language tip to remember is that you need to have a base line with people. Yes, certainly first impressions matter, but not everyone has the same expressions, emotions and body reactions. For example, I’m relatively stoic – especially on calls that go on and on. That doesn’t mean I can’t nod in agreement and ask meaningful questions – which are part of active listening. But, my body language might differ from Mitch whose body language differs from Susan’s.

Another thing that’s different when it comes to body language on video calls to office meetings is that you can see yourself. If you look defensive or make an uninterested face others can see it and you can see it. That can be used as an advantage – especially for those of us who struggled with being aware of our own body language previously.

Framing

The framing can make a difference and I’ve struggled with that. Susan advocated to show more of yourself on the video. For example, you can see her framing here. You can see her just like you’d see her in an office meeting.

framing on video calls

This can be important because it allows people to see the entirety of your body language communication. In reality, most people’s video framing is closer to mine on the left. Just your face and part of your upper body. Her framing is far superior!

On an Amazon Live the day after chatting with Susan, I wanted to try a different framing.

framingAs you can see, I stepped back a bit and you can see more of my upper body and my hands. Overall, I did find the framing and distance friendlier than the extreme close up.

I probably need to work on lighting some.

In this case, I’m on the same shot for the whole live. Very similar to Zoom calls. It’s not like you are changing what’s on the screen constantly. This angle would be harder to pull off if I had to share my screen or change what’s on the screen. I’m a good two or more feet away from my iPad which sits on an iPad tripod.

I have to say I like it better but would have to figure out the logistics some more. Maybe it’s as simple as putting a table next to me with a wireless mouse – similar to Susan’s setup.

Read this: Use these Zoom etiquette tips for better video calls

Facial expressions

Facial expressions are important but again, think about that base line. I constantly find that people from Europe – where I grew up – smile less than people from some areas of the United States.

Looking at others is also different online. When we talk face to face, we look at each other. That’s also where the other person’s face is. Everything aligns. Online that might not always be the case. Even when we get close with our tech setup things can be off.

  • The other person is on the screen in front of us.
  • The camera is on top of that screen.

That has also been a problem with selfies for a while and the solution sounds easy: Look at the camera while you are talking and listening. That looks like you are looking at the other person, though, you are actually looking at the camera with their image to you being on the nearby screen.

Sometimes people ask me where they should look during livestreams. “Look at the camera. That will look like you are looking at me and the audience to people watching.”

Read next: Should I rebrand my webinars as Zoom Meetings since everyone now seems to love Zoom?

There’s definitely a difference in where you look. Let me demonstrate with some older selfies. Here I look at the screen  and basically myself.


In this selfie I’m looking at the camera instead.

Big difference. In one shot I look at you. In the other I’m not looking at you – because I’m looking at myself.

Certainly, this takes some getting used to!

Active listening

Active listening is another important part .

  • Pay attention.
  • Try not to multitask!

I know, I know, I know, there are a gazillion notifications coming in on the same screen.

Verbal acknowledgments can unnecessarily interrupt

In office meetings, active listening can include to verbally acknowledge what you hear: “Yes.” “OK.” And the like might be helpful in an office, face-to-face setting. But verbal signals of active listening can be a distraction on video calls. Imagine if everyone verbally acknowledges everything they hear. That’s a lot of talking over each other and some might even think that person is about to say something.

“Christoph, were you going to add something?”

“No, just agreeing.”

On video calls, just nod your head and look engaged. In fact, when I’m not speaking, I usually mute myself. That includes livestreams, too. Why does my audio need to be on if I’m not talking? That’s just a chance to add to the noise without adding value.

Also, active listening and the appearance of it is easier when not every single call every day is on video. For example, I walk slowly on my office treadmill all the time during phone calls. It helps me listen and participate better actually. I’m away from my computer and don’t see unrelated notifications. I participate via my phone and AirPods.

Walking on an office treadmill during video calls can be a distraction, though. But it can also help me pay more attention.

Read next: Why is my left AirPod not working? Here’s how to fix it…

Equipment

Lighting and audio matter. You don’t have to go overboard on buying equipment. But here are some ideas.

Lighting

Either use a camera with light attached or consider getting a cheap ring light. They do help your face light up. If you wear glasses make sure the light is shining down at you so it doesn’t reflect in the glasses the entire time.

The lighting does make a difference and you can go quite advanced crazy with your lighting. At the least, use a ring light. If you want to get additional lighting that’s something worth considering as well.

My desk looks directly at a window so I also have great natural lighting during the day.

Audio

You can buy different types of microphones on Amazon, but I have used my AirPods for virtually everything in recent history. I record my podcasts with them on Anchor, use them to livestream on Switcher and Restream. They work.

Test your audio and if you don’t like it test a few different setups. Sometimes I ask podcast guests what they use and consider updating my setup based on their audio sound and comments.


At the end of the day, we want to look appropriately on our video calls and livestreams and want them to be successful. These tips should help making the most of our video calls and using good body language for your advantage.


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