Marie Labrosse, a master’s student in English Literature at McGill University contributed to this story.
Mark Bowden, human behaviour and body language expert and author of the Winning Body Language series, knows how to make a compelling pitch. In his content and his trainings, he dissects the keys to giving a persuasive and engaging presentation that will turn heads. Since the onset of the pandemic, he has expanded his offerings to include directions on how to present successfully from one’s own home.
Bowden acknowledges that Zoom and other video-conferencing platforms have their advantages. There is no other methodology whereby we can share personal space with strangers, acquaintances, and colleagues at the mere flick of a switch. But at the end of the day, remote meetings, presentations, and classrooms do not give an accurate sense of the social risk of a conversation. They don’t hold us accountable to one another. The ease of initiating a remote conversation, as opposed to the expense and planning that go into a business trip or even your daily commute, trick our minds into think that the outcome of those digital interactions is inherently less valuable. Bowden has four recommendations to reverse that thinking.
1. Turn your camera on. Bowden explains that the screen can trick us into thinking that our interactions online aren’t real and that they don’t have real-world consequences. That idea can make us antisocial. Bowden likens keeping one’s camera turned off during a meeting to holding up a piece of cardboard in front of one’s face after having been invited into an acquaintance’s living room. “You have to get involved: you’re in my room, you’re in my home,” he explains. Failing to do so, will result in the host feeling rejected at best or questioning the social skills of their guests at worst.
2. Curate your space. That doesn’t mean over-sanitizing your environment, you can—and should—make that space personal. In his home office, Bowden has a couch with brightly coloured pillows, posters depicting the front cover of Truth & Lies: What People Are Really Thinking, the book which he co-authored with Tracey Thomson. You might have pictures of your children or a souvenir from your last travels. “You’re more likely to connect with me on a social level if you can see some indicators that we share some similar values,” Bowden says. Exposing yourself through your setting makes you more vulnerable but it also makes you more relatable.
Make sure to keep it tidy though, seeing a cluttered background is likely to be distracting to your audience and you risk shifting the focus from you to your environment. The decoration in your background will also help your interlocutor get a better read on you. By looking at your body in relation to the other items in the room, they’ll be able to estimate how tall or broad-built you are and feel like they know you just a little better.
3. Raise your camera up. Most of us, tend to set up our computer on our desk and hit “join meeting” without thinking about it. But often, that results in our looking down at our cameras, distorting your interlocutor’s ability to read you and your space. “If you can’t place me in my environment, you feel like you don’t really know who I am and what my values are,” Bowden says. “How can you trust me? Why would the information I’m giving you be useful to you?” Instead, place your camera at eye-level so that you are facing it head-on. Bowden recommends placing a sticky note with a smiley face drawn onto it behind the camera or just above it as a reminder to look in the direction of the camera and smile. Looking at the monitor instead of the camera can be especially distracting during a multi-person call with multiple icons in motion. It’s best to try to contact one’s audience via the camera than attempting to split one’s focus between the speakers and oneself on the monitor.
4. Give your interlocutor more data. By that, Bowden means, insert more of yourself into the frame. “The more data you get, the more optimistic you’re going to be,” Bowden says. “The moment you see more of me, the more you like me.” On his calls, he makes emphatic use of his hands, gesturing to emphasise an idea or motioning toward the camera to include those he is addressing. He acknowledges that his use of hand gestures is somewhat exaggerated, but he insists that punctuating every few sentences with a motion of the hand will increase an interlocutor positive expectation of the conversation.