The art of presenting yourself online

The art of presenting yourself online
Published: 7 May 2020

As a society we have been suddenly thrust into widespread homeworking on a scale we have never seen before.  Many professionals may be sitting in front of their cameras unsure of how to make the best impression on bosses and peers.

This new era also means that people will be doing all their job interviews and appraisals for the jobs they already have, online. So, everyone needs to quickly deepen their understanding of how to come across well onscreen for those important occasions. With all that in mind, we share tips on how best to present yourself online.

Should you have two looks for online meetings? A formal one for interviews or appraisals and one more relaxed for everyday catchups?

Over the last decade, the conventions of work attire have been evolving faster than ever, never more so than in the depths of this health crisis. Formal or informal, the same rules apply; make sure that your audience is focused upon the messages you are seeking to share, rather than your sartorial flair (or lack thereof!). In reality, both ends of the spectrum have been trimmed. Fully suited and booted can look incongruous for a normal catch up from a home office setting, and overtly casual or scruffy gives the wrong pause for thought.

There has been much commentary around ‘dressing for the job you want’ rather than the job you do. It is important to present yourself in the best light possible for interviews, appraisals and other formal work meetings. A video interview should be treated in the same way as a face to face interview. So yes, it is useful to have a different ‘formal’ look to your everyday look. In any formal meeting you want the attendees to understand you are giving the meeting the importance it requires.

How should those looks differ?

For any interview, I would always advise a candidate to dress in accordance with the dress policy of the company they are meeting. Most organisations now have a more relaxed policy than what we have traditionally seen in the corporate world. Fewer people wear ties and it is more common to wear a smart dress or a blazer and shirt with casual trousers at interview. I would encourage smart attire for a formal occasion.

For everyday catch ups, as is the norm in most offices, a slightly more relaxed appearance can be adopted. Many organisations have adopted a ‘dress for your day’ policy. This generally means you dress as you feel comfortable, providing you are neat and presentable. However, an air of professionalism should always be maintained in any work setting. Just because we are working from home, it does not mean you can or should conduct video calls in your pyjamas or dressing gown! You should always be mindful of how you come across to your peers and seniors.

What sort of physical posture should a professional adopt when speaking to colleagues online that will help them to make a great impression and conversely, what should be avoided?

Much of posture is influenced by the setup of your camera, which needs to be positioned so that you can look directly into your screen and camera at a natural angle. This will enable you to sit comfortably and engage easily with the person on the screen in front of you for the duration of the call.

Body language is clearly an important part of communication; it is more difficult to pick up on non-verbal cues over video conference, so I would suggest a more smiley appearance, strong communication and greater interaction. Most people have very quickly established whether they are a waver or not. It is a nice way to open a call and indicates you are pleased to see your colleagues.

You probably also need to make more of an effort with your communication and make sure you articulate yourself clearly – explain how you feel about projects and decisions where appropriate as your physical reaction may not be immediately obvious. How you appear is also very important. I would ensure your laptop or computer allows you to sit in a comfortable position, so you do not appear hunched over on the other side. Additionally, the lighting needs to be flattering. Regardless of how well you interact, if there are shadows and you cannot be seen easily, your efforts will be in vain.

When we are ‘in the room’ it’s relatively easy to read an audience. Expansive gestures, constant fidgeting or readjusting of camera and screen all distract from delivery of clear concise communications. Similarly, being positioned too far away from the screen, or slumped back in a chair, arms folded, can project a degree of disinterest or distance which similarly detracts away from your content delivery. As a rule of thumb, you should ask whether the body language you portray would be the same if you were in a face to face meeting?

Let's think about the other stuff that colleagues will be able to see. What sort of objects would be great to have around you onscreen - as in furniture, decor, pictures on walls etc - that will lend you authority and clout? Or should you go with very sparse, or even blank, surroundings?

The situation we have found ourselves in has meant people have had to set up a home working station very quickly and with relatively short notice. Most people are unlikely to have a ‘professional’ home office which they can work from. When you are on a video conference what people will be able to see is whether you have a neat, organised background. That is likely to have more of an impact than any particular type of décor. If you are unable to find an area which fits these criteria, most video applications provide virtual backgrounds allowing you to change what people can see. If you don’t have an uncluttered, neat space these can easily be utilised.

I would avoid clutter or anything which may be deemed to be controversial, visible in the immediate area around you. When you are conducting a video call you want the focus to be on you and what you are saying or presenting. Any sort of distraction will take the attention away from you and your colleagues’ interest will be diverted. Be aware of your surroundings and ensure you present in a positive and professional manner to those you are speaking with.  

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