December 13

Improve Your Virtual Presence: Tips from the Big Screen


Improve Your Virtual Presence: Tips from the Big Screen

Florence Pugh’s got it.  So does Mahershala Ali, Adam Driver, and Meryl Streep.  What do they have? A seemingly elusive quality called Screen Presence, or Virtual Presence.  It’s that “certain something” that draws audiences in and makes them want to watch and listen to you.  Virtual Presence is not just a vital quality for film actors, it’s critical for anyone engaged in virtual business communications today. 

Presence is a tricky thing in general to define.  Here’s the dictionary’s weak attempt:

    1. The state or fact of being present 
    2. An impressive quality, personal appearance or bearing
    3. An invisible spirit felt to be nearby

  1. Pretty vague, yes? These definitions point out the inherent challenge when it comes to transferring Presence to Virtual Presence.  

The Virtual Presence Challenge:

In the virtual world, you are, by definition, not physically present. Your audience doesn’t have the benefit of that physical transfer of energy or “invisible spirit” that we feel when we are in a room with someone. Instead of feeling “nearby” you seem a million miles away, possibly on another planet (if you have a weird background.)

And what your audience sees of you is not the full picture.  It’s about 20% of your body language. When 80% of your nonverbal communication is removed, it completely changes the dynamics and interpretations.   

In fact, a host of nonverbal signals associated with Virtual Presence are distorted, minimized or obscured by the camera.  For example:

    • Getting “bigger and louder,” is a common way to project more presence in person backfires on screen, making you appear aggressive and unlikable. Even using common gestures which add context and emotion in person can make you appear nervous, unclear, or cause distraction. 

    • The screen takes away a big chunk of your energy because it flattens everything out. So while you can’t get “bigger” (see above) you have to learn a different way to convey that energy to avoid a boring, flat demeanor.

    • We feel connected to people when they look directly at us. With so little direct eye contact being made in virtual meetings, it is a wonder anyone is listening or paying attention!

    • Unlike in-person, the people you’re meeting with can turn their cameras “off.”  Unless you train like actors do in this skill, it’s difficult to project full virtual presence to an audience they can’t see or read. 

Virtual Presence Tips from the Big Screen

Raise Your Energy

Since much of our energy is lost on video, we need to raise it much more than we do for in person meetings.  And the only way to do this is BEFORE you get on camera. Actors know that it’s impossible to go from zero to one-hundred on the spot, so they spend some time warming up before the camera light goes on. A good warm-up can free up your expressive muscles, warm up your voice, release negative tension and raise your energy. And it doesn’t have to take long. You can access my 7-minute Virtual Sales Warm-up here. 

Key Takeaway: If you’re not warming up before your meeting, you are warming up on your audience.

Channel Your Energy

Creating presence is often mistaken for increasing volume, or size and frequency of movement. But even in person, as an audience member this can feel like being on the receiving end of a fire hose. The trick to working effectively on camera is to increase your “internal intensity” and channel that energy into your words, your face, specific movements. 

Make Direct Eye Contact

There’s no way around it.  In order to gain someone’s interest or attention, you must look them in the eye.  And on screen, that means you must look at the camera. It sounds simple, but it’s counter-intuitive so if you haven’t figured it out on your own yet, save yourself some time and learn from the pros.  I’ve written oodles of articles about this and have two chapters devoted to it in my book.  

You Don’t Have to be a Star, Baby!

You don’t have to be an actor to improve your virtual presence. But you do need to learn what works on screen and what doesn’t. Traditional Virtual Presence or presentation training that doesn’t take into account the unique challenges associated with communicating effectively in virtual meetings and calls will fail.  Stick with the winners! Click on the link below to learn more about developing your virtual presence and virtual executive presence. 



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