Thursday 21 October 2021

Look Good, Sound Good, and Be Good on Video Calls!


Help your audience better understand you and what you're saying.

Have you been on a video call when a speaker talked so fast that you couldn't understand what they were saying? Or, when they spoke so quietly, you couldn't hear them, even after turning up your volume up to the max?

It soon became apparent. The speaker was rattled! 

Their gestures were frenetic. They stared wistfully at some distant planet as their voice grew shaky! Soon 'ums, you know's, and, as I said before's' were salted between meaningful content.  

It was obvious they would have rather been on a faraway planet than making their presentation. But then, it got worse.

The coup de grâce came as he reached for a glass of water and promptly spilled it. While the spill happened off-camera, the sound of the speaker's shrieking curse startled the audience. The lasting image of him frantically leaping up to shake the water off his notes and the half-eaten sandwich was chilling, to say the least. 

How do you recover from that? Even though he apologized profusely, the session was done for all intents and purposes. 

Improve Audience Engagement Levels

I do TV and radio interviews. I also attend hybrid meetings with my Rotary club and various professional organizations. In addition, I coach clients online and give, or take seminars. Most important I have weekly FaceTime calls with my grandsons.  

I understand how easy it is to make mistakes on camera. Trust me; I've made them.

My goal is to help you deepen the engagement levels of your virtual audience by helping you improve your performance skills. 

If you're a headline speaker, team leader, meeting chair, give reports, or speak one-on-one with clients, this post is especially for you. 

Even if you only ask a single question following a keynote speech, my tips will help your audience better understand you and what you're saying.  

A few coaching tips can dramatically up your video call game!

Be Prepared

In a future post, I will provide a downloadable call checklist. In the meantime, the list below will help you to prepare.

  1. Clear the clutter from your desk, table, or video space
  2. Organize note pads and pens, so they are easy-to-reach
  3. Place notes, (talking points) to the right or left of your camera so they can be easily seen without looking down.
  4. Place a capped bottle of water within easy reach
  5. Adjust your camera
  6. Position your chair
  7. Adjust yourself or your camera so you are centred on the screen. Not too much space above left or right. Think news anchor.

Finally, place any props to be used on the side of your dominant hand. Never be that guy clumsily reaching across the camera to retrieve it while bumping, thumping, and scratching for all to see and hear. 

Avoid the Choir of Negatively

Unmuting yourself before you speak seems apparent. However, we've all watched speakers enthusiastically launch into an impassioned talk when 50 people simultaneously unmuted themselves to 'help' the speaker. 

All we hear is a cacophony of voices simultaneously chanting, 

'You're muted, your mic is off, you're on mute, TURN ... YOUR ... MIC ON!'

We've also heard the cry when the speaker failed to turn on their camera. As the pandemic progressed, we noted a 'tone' of annoyance and an attitude of superiority creep into the sound of these voices. Of course, the 'helpers' would never forget to unmute themselves or turn on their cameras before speaking. 

The bottom line is this. The 'intervention' can throw you off your game for the rest of the presentation. 

I've also watched experts finish an excellent TV interview. We watched as they frantically searched for the 'End Session' button while the studio feed lingered at the end of their segment. It made them seem merely human.  

Follow the Arrows

Use a black marker and draw 4 arrows on a regulation-size yellow sticky. Cut it into slivers.

  • Point an arrow at your mute button
  • Point the 2nd arrow at your video button
  • Point the 3rd arrow at your camera if it is hard to see
  • Point the 4th arrow by your 'Leave Meeting' button

This advice seems basic when you've been on a gazzilion calls. However, in the heat of the moment, the bright-coloured stickies and bold, black arrow combination will guide you to the correct location every time. Think of them as visual anchors.

Vocal Delivery - Speak Up, Speak Out

Not long ago, I heard a professional speaker talk too fast using a monotone voice. He lost his audience soon after he started speaking. Speaking too softly, loudly, or quickly will distract from your presentation. 

Slowing the delivery of your speech makes it easier to be heard through the mystical veil of technology. However, when you speak too rapidly, listeners miss vital points. 

To prove my point, try this simple exercise. Listen to a public, jazz or classical radio station. Do the same with News Anchors or narrators voicing documentaries.

Try talking along with the speaker. Don't worry about replicating what they are saying word-for-word. Instead, note the speed with which they are saying it. You will be amazed by how slowly they speak while sounding perfectly normal.

There is also a side benefit to slowing your delivery. It will help you eliminate filler words such as 'like, um, ah, and-a's, right?, as I said before, o.k.???' and others.

Speak up

Speak slightly louder than you usually do. You will automatically increase the intensity and energy level of your voice. However, don't shout or speak so loudly that your audio will distort.  

As they speak louder, some have a tendency to raise the register of their voice. In other words, to speak in a higher range. The higher sound makes them sound stressed. Speak in your normal register, just louder. 

One way to add interest is to vary the cadence of your vocal delivery by speaking higher and lower when appropriate. Cadence, or musicality, increases engagement. 

The Power of the Pause

All-star public speakers, newscasters and actors understand the power of a pause. When I voice TV or radio commercials, I mark my script with a forward slash for a slight delay and 3 slashes for a dramatic pause. In a future post, I'll provide tips for writing and performing scripts for online use. 

If you are not using a script, you are probably using talking points or crib notes. Note where you can pause for emphasis. 

Never fear a pause. When you pause, you feel that the silence extends for hours and will never end. However, the listening audience will not notice it as they ingest the importance of what you've just said or are about to say.  

Just look into my eyes! Look into my eyes!

Eye Contact

It's the eyes, baby! We've all sat through reports given by people who continually looked down at their notes. Or, they looked up at the ceiling throughout their entire presentation. 

They may have stared at random points in the room or on their screen. However, by ignoring the camera, they failed to connect with anyone. 

The eyes, as we say, are the windows to the soul when even when dealing with cold, impassionate technology. So be aware of your camera position and make it the visual anchor for your presentation. 

Some video cameras will magnify your eyes. Never stare at it for long periods. You will cause viewers to feel uneasy as thoughts of a 'serial killer' come to their minds.  If your camera is attached to your computer screen, never look below the top third of your screen. 

If using hard-copy notes, place them just beside, below, or slightly above your camera. 

If you chose to scroll through a document as you speak, minimize the window and drop and drag it to a position as close to the camera as possible. 

If you use a free-standing camera, find a way to display your notes so you can easily see them while looking into the lens. A tablet with a remote placed right next to the camera is an easy solution. Your goal is to be able to glance at your notes without making it blatantly obvious. 


If you are talking one-to-one to a client or colleague, you are probably using a split-screen with you on one side and them on the other. Develop a cycle of eye contact. 

  1. Look at the camera and subliminally count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 one thousand
  2. Move your gaze to their left eye on the screen, and count 1, 2, 3, 4 one thousand 
  3. Next, look into the other eye counting 1, 2, 3 one thousand
  4. Now, look back to the camera.
  5. Mix up the cycle as the conversation continues 
  6. When you emphasize a point, look directly into the camera while you do it

Talking to a Crowd

It is natural to want to look at the thumbnail images of your audience. It will help you connect and also provide feedback from their facial expressions.  As a rule, invoke the top 3rd of the screen rule. Don't linger too long in one area of the thumbnails. 

Your audience can't see what you are looking at. To them, you'll appear to be looking distracted. Keep going back to the camera. 

Hybrid Meetings

Meetings which include a mix of a live and online crowd can be frustrating for the speaker. For many meetings, the thumbnails of those online are projected onto a large screen. 

As the meeting chair or speaker, avoid answering questions or addressing someone online by looking at the screen. That is the natural thing to do but will appear odd to both crowds. Instead, always look at the camera. 

If you are making a presentation online to a live crowd, there is possible you are magnified on a large screen. Every movement is magnified. Think about that.   

Using Slide Shows

If you are sharing a slide show to help tell your story, the audience images will appear as thumbnails along one side. 

  • Move as many thumbnails as you can to the top
  • Repeat the eye contact exercise while cycling between the camera, your slides, and the images. 
A presentation strategy that many use is to put 1 or 2 sentences on each slide so you can read them. You can stylize them to highlight keywords.

The trick is to rehearse your talk so it doesn't look like you are reading. 

This method doesn't usually work when you are in person speaking to a live audience. 

Body Language

Whether we consciously think about it or not, we respond to body language. Body language includes eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and body positioning when speaking to others in live situations. 

Many of the same factors apply to video calls. Your camera will even magnify some gestures. 

Using measured gestures and intentional head movements will emphasize what you are saying and keep the audience engaged. Never point, flail, chop, hack, stack, flip, flop, or chop with your hands. 

Too many gestures that don't have a purpose will distract from your message. For example, if you are too close to the camera, your hands will look like bodiless creatures or puppets. 

Never speak with your head tilted to the left or right. It subconsciously indicates that you don't feel confident about what you are saying.

Rocking your upper body to the left or right, then backwards or forwards as you speak, may cause dizziness among viewers and be highly distracting. It can even trigger virtigo Stop it!

And, what is the most essential tool? Your smile! Many body language transgressions will be forgiven when you smile. 

Couches and Comfy Chairs

In an earlier post, I cautioned against sitting on a couch or in a leaned back comfy chair. That set-up was common during early COVID. 

While the goal is to look relaxed and 'at-home,' the look makes you look like you are not serious. In that post, I told a story about a gentleman who extended the footrest on his chair, leaned back, and placed his phone on his chest. All we saw were the hairs in a giant nose. 

Remember, we see more of your body with this positioning. Your camera will magnify some parts of your body more than others. Do you really want that?

Active Listening

I was recently part of an online audience featuring 3 speakers and a moderator displayed in the four quadrants of my screen. The lighting, audio, and body positioning of each speaker were reasonably good. 

The 1st speaker was a male bootstrapper who had enjoyed early success. As he shared his fascinating story he was animated, engaging, passionate and displayed excellent presentation skills. 

When he finished, the positive impression he had made crumbled. As the moderator moved on to the remaining 2 speakers, speaker number 1 wiggled, jiggled, starred off into the distance, and generally showed disrespect to his fellow panellists as they spoke. 

I didn't feel his behaviour was intentional. Instead, he didn't seem to be aware he was still on camera. He certainly did not demonstrate active listening skills. I often see similar behaviours during a Q. & A. or chat time following a speaker's address.


Whether you are the speaker taking questions or in the audience listening as others do, show you are engaged. You show you are intentional about receiving and understanding what another person is communicating verbally and through their body language.

  • Active listening means you are 100% present
  • The 1st rule of Active Listening is to stop talking. Now! 
  • Employ the eye contact tips as you listen to a question. 
  • Nod your head slightly to signal you are listening
  • Give an appropriate smile or serious look depending on the question
  • Sometimes a verbal noise can emphasize you are engaged

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Rehearsing is never a bad thing! Take time to review and rehearse what you are about to present. You will absorb the information more quickly if you speak out loud and practise your delivery. 

If you have time, record your talk on your phone. Listening to it as you drive to work or workout in the gym will help you absorb the content. 

Wrapping it Up

A Note from Larry

Years ago, I produced a media event for a celebrity who had recently appeared on Larry King Live on CNN. He provided insight into Larry's secret for being so personable.

During his career in talk radio and later TV, he interviewed approximately 50,000 people. His great talent was to make guests feel relaxed and comfortable. He was a master of interpreting their body language, making eye contact, and carefully listening to the answers to his questions. 

For remote TV interviews, he had a production secret. If a guest couldn't appear in the same studio as he was in, (New York, Atlanta, or Los Angeles), he would insist that the guest's real-time image be shown on his teleprompter during their conversation. That allowed him to look directly into the face and eyes of the guest while also looking into the camera lens himself.  

Beware: Video Evidence

We seldom think about it anymore, but most online meetings are recorded. So you never know who will see the video of you not being at your best.  

It could be that the folks at your company's head office will see it. Or, horror of horrors, the video could be circulated through the entire company. 

A video clip may be uploaded to the company's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube site. These are more reasons why you need to look, sound, and speak your best. 

The End


Check out the Brandit Academy page on this website for speaking and webinar topics! I’d love to speak to your company or professional group!


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

Websites: and
Twitter: @RobynTbraley

Check These Out - More Brandit Posts by Robyn T. Braley

Radically Improve Your Video Call Performances

Seven Easy Steps to Improve Your Audio Quality on Video Calls

Position Your Body on Video Calls and Look like a Pro

Video Call Lighting - 12 Tips to Make You Look Better

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