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 and heard a speaker talk so fast you couldn't understand what they were saying? Or, they spoke so quietly, you couldn't hear them, even after you turned up your volume to the max?

It soon became apparent. The speaker was nervous. 

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 phrases.  

The speaker was rattled! It was obvious they would have rather been on that distant planet than making their presentation. But then, it got worse.

The coup de grĂ¢ce came as he reached for a glass of water and promptly spilled it. While the spill happened off-camera, the sound of the speaker emitting a shrieking curse while leaping up frantically, shaking the water off their notes and half-eaten sandwich, was disturbing. 

How do you recover from that? Even though he apologized profusely, the session was done. 

Improve Audience Engagement Levels

I do TV and radio interviews. I also attend hybrid meetings with my Rotary club and professional associations. In addition, I consult with clients online, give, or take seminars, and 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. Place notes, so they are easy to see to the left or right of your camera
  3. Place a capped bottle of water within easy reach
  4. Adjust your camera
  5. Position your chair
  6. Organize note pads and pens, so they are easy-to-reach

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 attitude of superiority creep into the sound of these voices. Of course, the 'helpers' would never forget to unmute themselves or turn on their camera 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 camera 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

The bright-coloured sticky and bold, black arrow combination will guide you to the correct location every time. 

Vocal Delivery - Speak Up, Speak Out

Not long ago, I heard a professional speaker talk too fast with 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. First, listen to a public, jazz or classical radio station. Then, you can do the same with most News Anchors or narrators voicing documentaries.

Try talking along with the host. 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.

A benefit of slowing your delivery is the ability to control filler words such as 'like, um, ah, and-a's, right?, o.k.?' and others.

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 you speak slightly louder, there may be a tendency to raise the register of your voice. In other words, to speak in a higher range. The higher sound of your voice can also make you 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. Cadence, or musicality, increases engagement. 

The Power of the Pause

All-star public speakers, newscasters and actors understand the power of a pause. So 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 will 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

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 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 can 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 scroll through a document as you speak, minimize the window and drop and drag it to a position near the camera. 

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 placed right next to the camera is an easy solution.

You must be able to glance at your notes without making it blatantly obvious you are doing so. Of course, the same rules apply to any camera setup.

One – to – One 

If you are talking one-to-one to a client, you are probably using a split-screen with you being 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 but 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 your screen. 

Your audience can't see what you are looking at. To them, you'll appear to be looking at something abstract. 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. 

Using Slide Shows

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

  • Move as many icons as you can to the top
  • Repeat the eye contact exercise while cycling between the camera, your slides, and the images. 

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 hand gestures and slight 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. Stop it!

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

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 gentleman bootstrapper who had enjoyed early success and 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 organized a media event for a celebrity who had recently appeared on Larry King Live on CNN. He provided insight into Larry's great secret.

During his career, Larry 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. 

This was Larry's secret. If a guest couldn't appear in the same studio, (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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