Navigating Nonverbal Communication in Virtual Meetings

Jul 16, 2020

Whether online or offline, nonverbal communication is the seasoning that adds the flavor to our conversations.  It brings out our feelings and our attitude.  Unlike verbal communication, nonverbal communication is much more subconscious. 

Nonverbal dynamics are harder to manage online because cues are harder to read over a digital screen, similarly to tone over email or text messaging.  Add people’s dwindling attention spans and you have a formula for misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Virtual communication is different and requires a fresh set of skills.  You need to feel your best to bring forth your best.  Whether you are interviewing for a new job, teaching an online class, facilitating a team meeting, or delivering an important presentation,  the best thing you can do is show up wholeheartedly.  

Wholeheartedness requires self-awareness and self-regulation.  Awareness is the primary foundation for all communication no matter how or where dialogue takes place.  Being aware of our emotions helps us read other people’s emotions, regulate our own, and supports our ability to consciously choose how we will verbally and/or nonverbally participate in the conversation. 

One thing for sure is still the importance of a first impression. Impressions on a computer screen are much more finite.  Anything condensed is far more concentrated.  Take a few minutes before signing on to a virtual meeting to prepare yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Breath to get focused and centered. Stand or sit up straight.  Good posture conveys confidence. Plant your feet and use gestures appropriately.  Connect with your “why.”  Smile.  People all around the globe can feel the warmth and inclusion of a genuine smile.   Keep an eye on your facial expressions during the conversation.  Course correct as needed.  This is one advantage virtual communication has over in person communication, that ability to monitor our eye contact and facial expressions.

At best, eye contact is limited over virtual communication channels.   Instead of sitting face to face and naturally adjusting our gaze we end up looking up, down, or sideways never quite sure what the other person is seeing.  

For best results look into your video camera lens.  This is challenging because most of us have been taught to look at the person we are talking to.  But in a digital environment what we’ve been taught sends our eye contact astray.  Practice and over time you will become more comfortable looking at the little black dot.

Communicating virtually is a whole new interactive experience.  We’re all learning.  The nonverbal communication that we may not have ever given a second thought to before we are thinking twice about now.

Nonverbal communication is a wordless interaction with a language all its own.  

No matter what we do, a virtual communication experience will always lack the essence of a personal handshake.  Which makes it all the more important to navigate this new terrain of virtual meetings with new perspectives, habits, and tactics and, above all, assuming positive intent.