Body Language and Video Conferencing

As tone and inflection are to an audio conference call, so body language and facial expressions are to a video conference. What kind of information do we give away during a video conference, even if we don’t speak? What can people deduce about us if they simply watch our gestures?

Reading what isn’t being said is a big part of business, of life. Even when we are not looking for signs and indicators, we still read what the other person’s body is saying, and we act and feel accordingly. If you are on a date and the other person sits with crossed arms and is continually scanning the crowd, you don’t need any hints from this article to know that person isn’t into you.

What does this have to do with video conferencing, you ask? Some people think that in a video conference the view is too choppy or small to read body language. They believe that you only look at someone’s head most of the time. Well, times have changed and technology has gotten better. While you could have still picked up on some overt nuances on the old technology, now you get clear a view. And if you only see a face, well, that’s where all the facial expressions are.

Paying attention to your own signals, your own habits is a great way to learn about others. For instance, constantly touching your face or hunching over tells someone you are not confident. Instead, keep your posture straight, and practice holding your hands in your lap. It’s easier in a video conference: just keep your hands off-camera.

As you realize more of what kind of non-verbal signals you’re sending, you may wish to control them better, or use them more effectively. The first step is to spend some time talking in a mirror. Better yet, turn on your web cam and record yourself talking naturally-and gesturing naturally-for a few minutes. Then when you review the recording, you’ll see exactly what you look like on a video conference. Now how can you make improvements?

Watch the recording again, but this time ignore everything but your left hand. Try to take note of all the gestures that you make with that hand. Imagine that the hand is someone else’s. What kind of messages and non-verbal cues are you getting from that hand? Repeat the process with your other visible body parts.

Now it’s time to run the recording, but watching your entire body now. Attitude and meaning don’t come from just one part of your body; it’s the whole package that sends the message. It’s good to keep this in mind, especially if you are working to create or perfect a particular gesture or tone. If the gesture doesn’t match the rest of what your body is saying, then it will look false or fake. At the very least you’ll be sending mixed messages.

If you have spent a lot of time practicing gestures or studying your body language, the next time you are on a video conference, try not to be hyper aware of where your hands are, how you are sitting, and what expression is on your face. If you are concentrating on yourself, your body language will come off unnatural and canned. Also, you will miss what the other person is saying… verbally or non-verbally.