Presence in the online environment

22nd February 2021

Now that we’re all working online, and many of us will continue to for quite some time, how helpful would it be to find some sound advice on how to make your online meetings and presentations more engaging?

Apart from technical elements such as finding the right camera angle, the right light, and sound, how do you work on the perhaps more intangible elements such as how to instill trust, confidence and enthusiasm in the online setting? How to connect and lead yourself and others in an inspiring way?

Many of the ways you can strengthen your Presence in face to face meetings, presentations, job interviews and networking events, are just as important in the online setting.

The challenges with working online are myriad: It’s exhausting, you can barely read/see any body language, you see yourself on the screen, and most importantly you have to combat multitasking, as people seem easily distracted in front of their computers with notifications etc. constantly demanding their attention.

So how can you maintain your energy levels and focus, especially after the umpteenth Zoom/Teams meeting of the day?

Here are four simple steps to help you strengthen your off- and online Presence, and also restore and build the vital connection with your body to focus your attention on being in the moment.

1: Grounding

After sitting at your desk for hours, you may get tired and contort your body in all sorts of unhealthy positions. Grounding yourself during your online meetings can help immensely with your focus and energy. 

How? 

Start with sitting towards the edge of your chair, so you cannot lean on the back of your chair. Have both feet flat on the floor, at hip-width distance. Sit on top of your sitting bones and divide your weight evenly over both sitting bones. Push your feet gently into the floor. Do you notice how this almost automatically lengthens your spine and makes you sit more active? There is your foundation and support to be fully present!

2: Aligning

Observe the way people sit in front of their computer; see how often they tend to slump during our meetings or are hunched over their laptops? This can be really debilitating both physically and mentally and it sends mixed messages to others. A good posture and alignment will add energy and confidence to your presence, and inspire those you are communicating with.

How?

Ground yourself. Feel the weight of the pelvis sinking into the chair and then reach upward through the top of your head, thus creating space in your body. Keep your neck long and relaxed and imagine your head is almost ‘floating.’ Nothing should be forced or stiff! 

3: Breathing

It seems so self-evident and simple doesn’t it? Yes of course you have to breathe. But you may get nervous, anxious or tired, deep breathing is the first thing to go out of the door, sapping your energy, and making the pitch of our voice go up. So paying attention to your breathing in your online meetings will help you with your energy, focus and your voice! 

How?

Ground and align, and release any tension in your belly, shoulders and jaw. Focus on long and full exhalations as this will naturally lead to an effortless deepening of your inhalations, and will also calm you down when you get stressed.   

4: Connecting

Connection while having online meetings can be challenging. The regular and natural chit-chat that people tend to have as they settle into a face-to-face meeting, can seem stilted or forced online. You might find you tend to just dive into the agenda of your online meetings, but this damages your connection with others. Building a connection online with your team members, clients and stakeholders starts with giving them your full attention, and as we have mentioned multitasking often rears its ugly head. In addition, having a connection online with your stakeholders is even more challenging because you can’t have that direct eye contact with each other. 

How?

Look directly into the webcam/camera as you speak, so the others will feel that you’re looking into their eyes! It might at first seem difficult because you can’t see their reactions, but it does really help the connection. Once you’re done talking, look down at the reaction of those in your online meeting. Just keep practicing switching between looking into the camera and down at the people in your meeting.

And, do have that chit-chat before you dive into the meeting if time permits. Even though it might feel awkward. If all you do each day is just work and not form any connections, a lot will get lost in your collaboration.

These steps form the basis of the Presence Toolbox we set out in our new book Leading with Presence: Fundamental Tools and Insights for Impactful, Engaging Leadership
Buy Leading with Presence.

 


About the authors

Antonie T. Knoppers is a trainer, coach, facilitator, guest speaker and actor. He is an adjunct faculty member at the Rotterdam School of Management and a guest faculty member at Nyenrode University and the University of Maastricht.

Milly Obdeijn is a trainer and somatic coach with a performance and teaching background in dance. She is an adjunct faculty member at the Rotterdam School of Management.

Steffen R. Giessner is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Change at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.