Monday 31 May 2021

Position Your Body on Video Calls and Look like a Pro

How you position yourself on video calls directly affects engagement. 

Written by Robyn T. Braley

How you look on screen is determined by lighting, camera position, and what you wear. Conference speakers and tutorial presenters may even require light facial makeup in some situations (Note shiny bald spots). But, it's how you position yourself that makes the greatest impact. 

We have now spent 18 months locked in a virtual world. While COVID protocols may soon be further relaxed, video calls will be with us forever! That means we must constantly strive to look and sound better in the virtual world. 

Why? Let me repeat. First impressions are everything in Virtual Land.

In my last post about lighting, I stated the obvious. People who see you on a zoom call consciously or unconsciously compare you to TV Anchors.

That’s not a bad thing. Television professionals spend many hours refining every element of their look and performance so that viewers will only think about what they are saying. 

Side screen, off-screen, floating heads, and nose hairs don't cut it. 

Onscreen body positioning involves trial and error to find what is right for you in your space. In my previous 2 posts, I talked about lighting and sound. But, getting those elements right doesn't matter if you're too close or too far away from your webcam.

Body positioning is the secret sauce that will make you look like a pro. In the virtual world, perception is reality!

Body Talk

Interpreting body language is a primary focus of mine. I have been interviewed many times by radio and TV stations across Canada during elections before or after Political Leadership debates. 

I will write an in-depth article about Body Language for Video Calls in a later post. Without going into great detail here, it only makes sense that being too close or too far away from the camera makes a subtle - and sometimes not so subtle - statement.

The best advice I can give is to look engaged - even if you aren't. 

  • Smile when it is the right time to smile
  • Nod 'yes' or 'no' in the right places
  • Slight moves of your head show you are engaged

Don't be a Grumpy Gus!

Start With a Solid Base 

Start by choosing a solid chair to sit on. I use a bar stool and put my laptop on our breakfast counter.

A solid chair eliminates the temptation to twist and turn as an office chair on wheels does. Often the moves are subconscious. In a board or client meeting sitting on wheeled office chairs around a board room table, you can move as much as you want and no one notices or cares.

In virtual land, the slightest movement is magnified by the camera and looks bigger to the people watching than it actually is. Movement could trigger a dizzying attack of vertigo for some viewers. 

There is another reason. On the performance side, sitting in a solid chair with feet planted firmly on the floor also acts as an energy base. It's an essential training tool for actors and athletes.

The Eyes Have It

Set up your camera so you can look directly into it. We say that the eyes are the window into the soul and that truth is never more apparent than on video calls. There is nothing more distracting than watching people give a report or talk while looking furtively everywhere but into their cameras.

Ali Velshi, host of MSNBC's 'Veshi' described Zoom all setup.

I was recently on a call with MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi. He was in San Francisco on a reporting assignment, and called into our meeting from his hotel room.

Ali is a consummate professional and TV-news veteran. It was comforting to hear the host of 'Velshi' describe the makeshift base he had built with a box of chocolates and other handy material that he had assembled to lift his laptop high enough so he could look directly into the camera lens.

I place a box under my computer lifting my camera to just the right level. Nobody in the audience will ever know what you've needed to do unless you tell them. 

Body Positioning 

For spacing, the rule of thumb is to place yourself approximately one arm's length from your camera. Position yourself so that you are centered on the screen from left to right. 

The top of your head should be lightly touching or about 1 - 2 inches below the top frame of the shot. The bottom of the frame should be about mid-chest.  

Too close is too close. Just as respecting personal space is important when having in-person conversations, it is also important in the virtual space. Being too close to the webcam distorts your features making viewers feel uncomfortable. 

Move it Baby

You can change how you look space-wise by moving slightly moving your chair or your computer. Moving either item backward or forward by an inch can dramatically change the look. 

If you use a laptop, gently moving the screen towards or away from you will also adjust your positioning.  Again, trial and error will guide you.

At the risk of offending by repeating it too many times, please allow me to repeat it one more time. Look directly into your camera. 

Square To The Camera

The implication here is that your body will be square to the camera. Turning slightly to the left or right makes a visual statement, but doesn't usually work for virtual calls. 

However, the move could be used to make a dramatic point during a presentation. That is a performance often move used for TV, video or film performance. Placing yourself in a quarter turn for the duration of a 15 minute or more video call is distracting.  

Looking down at the webcam guarantees a multi-chin look!

I've witnessed calls where a participant placed his webcam off to the side while watching the meeting on his computer monitor. To make things worse, he was eating his dinner. I don't think he realized we could only see his profile. The sight and sound weren't flattering. Nice ear, though!

Turn Them Off, Eh?

To state the obvious, if you need to leave during a call, scratch yourself, blow your nose, eat your lunch, answer the doorbell, text someone, take a phone call or leave your Zoom spot for any other random thing, turn off your sound and video. 

I've witnessed the above zoom call violations - and more! They are not pretty sights!

Bonus Tip 1 - Food Etiquette

It doesn't matter how hard you try to be discreet, it is impossible to eat during a virtual call and not create some type of unwanted image. The camera and mic amplify every action - biting, chewing, drinking, slurping, and crunching. 

And, it gets worse! You might spill, drool, or stain your cheek with that miss-directed fork filled to overflowing with that bite of yummy blueberry pie. 

As for the misdirected fork, stabbing yourself and bleeding during a call is also to be generally avoided. Turn your camera and sound off when you eat. 

Bonus Tip 2 - Drinking 

If you drink from a water bottle, coffee cup or glass, turn slightly to one side as you lift your drink. If you lift your drink full-on, the bottom will extend towards your webcam lens. It will automatically adjust the focus on the bottom of the item causing it to amplify into a very distracting image! An evil eye comes to mind. 

Bonus Tip 3 - Make a Statement

An easy way to make a statement about yourself is to choose a coffee cup that - well - makes a statement about you. Cups showing a cool design, quote, vacation destination, or the facial image of your 4-year-old come to mind. These can be definite conversation starters during chat time before your formal meeting begins. 

Bonus Tip 4 - Zoom and Alchohol

This is a stretch, but it should be mentioned. Many companies and organizations have been hosting virtual socials. 

Participants are encouraged to enjoy some form of beverage in an effort to capture a sense of being together as in pre - and hopefully soon - post COVID get-togethers. 

If your choice involves alcohol, ask yourself this question. Is there any scenario where that could be a negative? 

Virtual calls are often recorded. At the beginning of the COVID lockdown, participants were often asked if that was a problem due to privacy concerns. Now, it is often a matter of course.

Could a collection of video clips from a series of socials showing you drinking alcoholic beverages be edited together to make a statement that isn't flattering or true? 

There is also the possibility that you may have one swallow more than you should. That could cause you to say things you shouldn't say, show things you shouldn't show, or act in a way that you wouldn't on a normal call.   

The End

Your Opinion Matters. Please share your comments below. What have I missed? What caused you to think differently?

Looking for a conference speaker? A tutorial presenter? Check out the Brandit Academy page on this website for speaking and webinar topics!


Websites: and

Twitter: @robyntbraley

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