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Executive Presence in a Virtual World

Updated: Jun 29


The COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed several new initiatives in our world today. Virtual events – including panel discussions, conferences, fundraisers, investor meetings and town halls – have become necessary to bringing people from scattered locations together for a moment in time.

So how can leaders communicate their competence virtually to instil confidence in stakeholders and build powerful brand experiences?

To succeed in this different context, you should aim for the same goals as you would in an in-person setting. Convey poise and deliberate behaviours with polish and the right messaging. You’ll just need different tools to pivot to the virtual world. Here are some ways to embrace the differences and make the most of a format you might not yet be comfortable with.

Make it Personal

Virtual settings often feel impersonal. Many leaders, even those with experience speaking or facilitating discussions online, find it unnatural and awkward to build a connection when they have no in-person audience at all.

  • Firstly, arrive to your online meeting early. Greet people as they pop up on the screen and engage in a bit of friendly small talk to improve the personal connection.

  • Encourage people to turn on their video function, if possible, in order to improve that connection. Let them know in advance that video is preferred so people can prepare to feel comfortable and presentable on video.

  • Use people’s names when referring to them and encourage them to participate. If you know they have cultural shyness (whether it’s corporate culture, hierarchy or national norms), tell them at the start that you are keen to hear input from all.

Convey Warmth and Presence

When hosting an online meeting, you have to adopt an engaged, active persona in an environment that doesn’t often lend itself to that. There are a number of little things you can do to create warmth virtually.

  • Ensure your video camera is eye level with you. Make sure the angle of the camera on your face is at a comfortable level for others to see you.

  • Make “eye contact” with your participants by looking directly into the camera at the top of your screen as often as possible. This can be hard to remember to do as you’re likely to be looking at their response on your screen.

  • When looking at the camera at the top of your screen, remember to show a warm smile and convey a friendly, engaging vocal tone. Aim to smile about 20% more than you normally would since you can’t rely so much on body language to make your message appealing. It may feel like acting at times, but as long as you have a positive intent, this is often necessary to achieve a warm, inviting environment.

  • In more informal interactions, you could open with a relevant personal story, a poll question, or ask people to write in where they’re calling from. These will create a personal vibe that’s more aligned with that setting.

Bring your best self into every situation. Red Shoe coaches executives to be conscious of and deliberate in their choices when communicating their messages.

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