Body Language Communication In A COVID-19 Era

Virtual meeting 101: Body language tips for Zoom, Teams, and life. There are many ways individuals can level up their nonverbal communication to maximize this limited space.

In our day-to-day lives, our body language and other nonverbal cues emit a host of information to others. These signals provide key insights about our mood, thoughts, and emotions. In the age of the virtual conference room, nonverbal cues often speak louder than our words.


Over the last few months, many organizations have quickly transitioned from the traditional office to the virtual workplace due to the coronavirus. At first, this sudden transformation was seen as a temporary public safety solution during the pandemic, however, in recent weeks a number of organizations are embracing the digital workspace long term. To enable collaboration with a workforce of telecommuters, companies are leveraging a host of technologies; especially video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.


Needless to say, these virtual meetings often leave much to be desired and the limited parameters of the platform can set the stage for miscommunication and indeterminacy. While a virtual meeting of talking heads may lack the richness of communication and body language inherent in face-to-face interactions, there are many ways individuals can level up their nonverbal communication to maximize this limited space.

Make a lasting digital impression

"In 'real life,' we have seven full seconds to make that first impression," said international keynote speaker and leadership presence coach, Carol Kinsey Goman. "So people are watching the way you enter the room. If you shake hands with them, they get that incredible power of touch, which is our oldest and most primitive and most powerful nonverbal signal. And they can gauge your intent a lot by your handshake. You can look at them really in the eyes, and smile as you make eye contact. They also see those first initial hand gestures that you make."


In a video conference, most if not all of this information is wholly lost in digital translation. Rather than being able to absorb this plethora of visual and, at times, tactile information, meeting participants are limited to the information and cues other participants provide.



Set the stage

In a virtual meeting, the webcam is a person's window to the world. The distance between the speaker and the camera will either limit or maximize the amount of space a person has to communicate and emit nonverbal information.


If the camera is positioned very close to a participant, they appear as a mere talking head in the Zoom room. In this instance, the only clue other participants have into the speaker's feelings are facial cues, and of course, their words. Positioning the camera in a way that allows others to view your torso and arms will help make better use of this space.

Know your limits

Simply put, virtual meetings require a unique set of upfront spatial considerations. It's imperative to be mindful of the camera when gesturing, as there's plenty of room for error in this limited space.


On the screen, what you want to remember is, when you gesture too big, your hands go out of the screen and that becomes very annoying. When you gesture and you move your hand toward the screen, it becomes this giant thing,


Experts suggests using gestures but to keep them in line of sight where others can see them and without the signal itself becoming the focal point of your delivery. Individuals may need to envision a three-dimensional bubble immediately to the front and peripheral and work within these confines.


I encourage people to use gestures, but keep them where people can see them. Keep them either in the square of your body or slightly out and toward you. So if I put up two fingers and say, there's two things that we're going to discuss today. It's closer to my shoulder than it is to the screen, so that people see that.


Whether you’re attending or leading a virtual meeting, it’s your body language that talks. Today, as working from home becomes the “new normal,” body language speaks louder than ever.


In these days of social distancing, we’ve been spending a lot of time either watching or presenting tech-driven online interactions. For many, the shutdown due to Covid-19 has precipitated a first encounter with something resembling on-camera TV appearances, and the attendant learning curve has been unavoidably steep. Within this challenge, however, lies the potential to develop valuable know-how and skills to carry forward into the “new normal” ahead. Zoom and its related forms of tele-conferencing are here to stay, which means body language, is more important than ever.


Research from the University of California at Los Angeles showed that 93% of positive or negative feelings about a presentation are generated by non-verbal cues: 38% comes from tone of voice, and a staggering 55% from body language. Only 7% of your overall impact is due to the words you actually say. Initially published in 1971, these findings have been subsequently and repeatedly supported by further academic studies.


The primacy of body language over words became starkly visible to the world during the dawn of the television age, with the first live broadcast of a US presidential election debate. It is worth revisiting this bit of history in the present context, to teach us about the power of non-verbal communication in the age of visual media.



Still want to learn more about body language? Visit Udemy's Courses on Body Language



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