When interacting with people in person, it’s easy to see who has physical charisma – the way a person stands confidently, moves gracefully, or dresses stylishly adds to their overall presence. With more and more employees fulfilling their work duties from kitchen counters and makeshift desks in their own homes, those physical characteristics carry much less weight as they did before, when we were all in the workplace. And studies suggest that remote work will continue to rise. According to Upwork’s “Future of Workforce Pulse Report” released in December 2020, 1 in 4 Americans will be working remotely in 2021 — and by 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely. That reflects an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. It is more important than ever that executives learn how to convey physical charisma on the “small screen” of the digital meeting.

Executives are judged as much by their presence as by their work, and charisma can help rising leaders get noticed and further their careers. Unfortunately, in-person presence doesn’t always translate online. Virtual meetings lack the physical cues that are apparent in traditional meetings, which means how one communicates and appears on screen is as important as what one says.

Make a more positive impression in virtual meetings:

  • Be Seen. Achieving stage presence online is as simple as ensuring your face takes up at least one-third of the screen. Ideally, you should be close enough to your camera so that there is a small space between the top of your head and the frame. Good lighting is important as well. If you’re able to face a window, utilize the natural light, which is always the most flattering. However, you can also achieve a well-lit face with a desk lamp or ring light. Just make sure you’re not attending meetings in the dark. 
  • Smile and nod. It doesn’t matter if you’re the meeting host or a participant — you should always make a concerted effort to put forth positive nonverbal energy. Pay attention; look forward and nod your head to show you’re engaged. This is the virtual equivalent of vocal cues you would typically give during an in-person meeting. A simple smile also has a powerful way of communicating attention and warmth.
  • Make eye contact. This can be difficult, as it’s natural to look at the other people on your screen, but the best way to engage online is to look directly at the camera. If possible, position your camera at eye level where your gaze naturally falls. If you need to refer to short notes or an outline while presenting, keep them on sticky notes next to your screen so you can avoid looking down. 
  • Use your voice effectively. Slow down your pace, speak clearly, and enunciate your words. Being an articulate speaker demonstrates confidence both in-person and online, but it is especially imperative in the virtual world. Be sure to vary your pitch and speech patterns; you want to sound engaging, not robotic. Also, be mindful of your pauses and take a longer-than-normal pause to subtly signal that it is someone else’s turn to speak. And, when it is your turn to talk, begin by acknowledging what the previous speaker has said. 
  • Invest in quality tools and accessories. All the online charisma in the world won’t negate the effects of a poor internet connection or distorted sound. If you’re going to be participating in online meetings for the foreseeable future, invest in a high-quality microphone or headset and ensure you have a stable connection. 

Be Mindful and Personalize

Of course, working in a virtual environment is about more than just virtual meetings. Eliminating in-person contact has also led to more email correspondence. Be mindful of your tone and delivery, and make sure your choice of words and grammar are appropriate to your intended audience. Always personalize communications, and avoid using templated copy. Consider going analog and sending a hand-written note to people you have met virtually. In an age of digital connections, this can make a transactional connection more personal.

In a virtual world, warmth and charisma are more scarce and valuable than ever.