A leader’s guide to video comms

Opinion: The screen is a shop window for your reputation, so get it right, says this executive coach.

by Richard Phillips
Last Updated: 07 May 2020

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, performed by a four-year-old, may appeal to you as a parent; as an accompaniment to a CEO’s monthly update to the leadership team it’s noise-pollution.

But typically nobody on the call tells the CEO it’s annoying; instead they all laugh while the executive looks into the camera with pride and amusement at the star quality of his little progeny. The reality is it’s a communication shambles.

Technology has been used to communicate from a distance for a long time, but for many leaders it’s going to be the only method of reaching their teams, clients and press for the foreseeable future. The screen has become the shop window of your reputation; therefore getting it right matters. 

Yet still too many video speakers are wearing family interruptions and sloppy connections as a badge of honour. There will, inevitably, be occasions when the soundtrack of domestic life leaks into meetings, but these moments should be avoided where possible. 

Now, as the majority of us isolate at home, leaders should invest the time now in refining their video presence so they can make the same impact as they would if the meeting was face to face. 

Here’s what to consider important when preparing for a video call. 

Backdrop impacts perception

Create a situation that represents you in an authoritative and engaging way. This has the twofold advantage of making your performance more business-like and putting you in the right state of mind.  

Choose a place away from the rest of the household and frame yourself to make sure the backdrop reflects the way you want to be perceived - bookish, arty, unfussy, business-like - you choose. Once you’ve established the right background keep it the same every time. The consistency will add a level of authority. 

Pose matters

As any screen actor or director will tell you angles make all the difference. Put your PC/phone/tablet in an elevated position - the camera should not look up your nose. The lens must be level with your eyes.

Adopt impactful and energised body language: lean forward, use your hands and ideally put your elbows onto a table. Once you’ve perfected the position, and take the time to get this right, the job is done for the weeks ahead. 

Atmosphere implies attitude 

Put as much effort into your appearance - clothes and make-up - as you would for face-to-face engagements. It’s also important to ensure the lighting is as flattering it can be. Ceiling lights are likely to be harsh and more unflattering than lamps on tables or lights at your level. 

Be careful not to create an atmosphere of crisis and fear. This is a global pandemic but the attitude you adopt should be positive, bright and forward thinking. 

The shorter, the sweeter

Remote communication will always remove an energy that only exists when you are together in a room. For this reason, keep everything to time and under-run rather than run-over. Keep your contributions succinct and clear. Colleagues are also more susceptible to feelings of boredom when there is no direct eye contact. 

And finally...

Stop referencing the fact “we are doing things remotely”. Avoid apologising for the quality of the connection or the shortcomings of the software. If an interruption occurs don’t make a meal of it. Get on with it; make the best of it and don’t lose sight of your objective. 


Richard Phillips advises international business and political leaders on spoken communication.

Image credit: ROBYN BECK / Staff via Getty Images

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