Following my article in June on The Secret to Virtual Presence I’ve been doing a lot of coaching of individuals and groups on Zoom, and we’ve been discovering what really works for feeling truly confident in online meetings. I thought I’d share my top 10 most effective and powerful tips with you. I hope you find them as useful as my participants and coachees have. Here they are…
1. Assume support
One of the biggest issues in any public speaking scenario, including a Zoom meeting, is the lack of feedback from our audience. It drives part of our brains crazy because we are evolutionarily programmed to want the positive feedback of people smiling and nodding at us and audiences don’t tend to do this for us. This lack of feedback goes double on Zoom*.
If you want more information on the science behind this I’ve written an entire article about it – Your audience wants you to succeed.
The short version is that we are programmed to worry if we don’t get feedback from our audience, yet audiences tend to listen with blank faces even when they are interested. This is not a happy situation for public speakers!
Even worse, on Zoom, there are lots of scenarios where you can’t see your audience at all. For instance, when you are on a webinar, or when participants in a meeting have their cameras switched off.
The trick to managing this is to give the part of our mind that worries about this stuff the reassurance it needs that it’s all OK and it’s going to be OK.
An example of giving yourself this reassurance might go something like saying this to yourself in your head:
“I know it’s freaking you out that they are all listening with blank faces, but they are very likely to be interested anyway – let’s trust that they are interested, and we can get feedback later by asking them a question or doing a Q&A session”.
This is akin to an adult part of yourself reassuring a more child-like part of yourself that it’s all OK and it’s going to be OK. With practice, this is a surprisingly useful and effective thing to do, which is why it’s my number 1 tip for Zoom meetings.
2. Decide where you are looking.
There are 2 good places to look when you are in a Zoom meeting, they are (a) directly into the camera, and (b) at the eyes of the people on the screen (if they have their video switched on and you can see them).
There are advantages and disadvantages to both (see below). It’s good to know them and then make a conscious choice as to where you want to look.
3. Look at people’s eyes on the screen.
The advantage of looking at people’s eyes on the screen is that it will calm you down and make you feel more connected with your audience (provided that you are not worrying that their faces are a bit blank).
If you want to know more about this download our free guide from the bottom of the website or check out this article I wrote – The Social Nervous System – Why eye contact really matters in Public Speaking.
In summary, it really helps us to look at people’s eyes using a relaxed gaze for at least 5 seconds each and to spend most of our time in “eye contact” with someone because it calms down our nervous system and makes us feel more confident, as well as more connected. So on Zoom, you would look at people’s eyes in their video pictures for anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds each.
The advantage of doing this on Zoom (compared to a live public speaking scenario) is that people don’t actually know when you are looking at them, so you can look at their eyes for much longer without it feeling weird for them! (Of course, it isn’t “real” eye contact because they can’t feel you looking at them in particular, but it will still work very well indeed for calming you down and making you feel more confident, as well as giving you that sense of connection with the audience).
The only disadvantage of doing this on Zoom is that you can often end up with “Zoom side-eye”. (If you are looking at pictures people’s eyes that are well away from the position of your webcam, you will end up with your eyes often pointing off to the left, right or bottom of the screen, which can sometimes be slightly disconcerting for your audience). This doesn’t really matter in an ordinary meeting scenario, since no-one is likely to notice or care, and I’d suggest it’s absolutely fine. However, if you are making a pitch or presentation it’s far from ideal, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
The solution in that scenario (where it’s important for your eyes to be front and centre looking more-or-less at the webcam) is to arrange your screen so that there are one or two pairs of your audience’s eyes near your webcam and only to look at those, or alternatively to look directly into the camera (see tip 4 below).
4. Look at the webcam
This is an excellent thing to do in a Zoom meeting whenever you want to make a powerful impression on your audience because your eyes will be front and centre (like a newscaster on TV) and they can “feel” you more. It’s a good thing to do if you are pitching or making an important presentation. It’s also the best thing to do if you are appearing on camera, but your audience is not visible to you (because you’re on a webinar or because they have their cameras switched off).
The disadvantage of looking at the camera is that you won’t easily be able to see your audience and get visual feedback from them, so you will feel less connected with your audience and you won’t have the calming effect of eye contact (see tip 3 above). (Of course, this is irrelevant in situations where you can’t see them anyway).
If you are choosing to look into the camera, you can use Tip 1 (Assume Support) and many of the other tips below to boost your confidence even though you can’t see your audience.
5. Imagine they are interested
If you are choosing to look into the camera, it can help to imagine that on the other side of the camera is a person who is really interested in what you have to say, and that you are speaking to that person. If you know the people in the meeting, you can imagine them one by one in turn listening and being interested as you speak. This will not only improve your confidence, it will make you speak in a more personal and conversational style.
6. Speak from the heart
In many ways, I could have made this my number 1 tip, because it is such a powerful aid in all meetings but especially on Zoom.
Online meetings can be emotionally cold environments and it can be hard to really “come through the screen”, but one thing that cuts through is genuine emotion. If you can find the aspects of what you are saying that you really care about and feel emotionally connected to, and speak with that deeper meaning in mind (and in your heart), that will really translate to the audience who is listening. They will really feel it and really feel you.
And, as a bonus, by concentrating on why your message matters and what you really want your audience to receive from your presentation, you will automatically feel less worried about yourself, and therefore more confident.
7. Feel your body
The best way to feel more confident in a Zoom meeting is to get “out of your head”. The best way to get out of your head is by getting into a felt sense of your body.
The simplest way of doing this is to feel your bottom and thighs on the seat, your feet on the floor, your back against the back of the chair. If you can feel other sensations in your body, even better.
Have a sense of really leaning back in your chair and letting your audience come to you. If you combine this with speaking from the heart (tip 6), it is particularly powerful.
8. Use “Centering” to feel more at ease
In addition to feeling your body on the chair, you can deliberately relax along your midline to feel more spacious and in control.
Here’s a great method I learned from a number of teachers including Paul Linden, Wendy Palmer and Mark Walsh. You can use it in a minute or so before you are due to speak to give you an extra boost of relaxation and confidence.
- Breathe in, let your spine lengthen up.
- Breathe out, let your shoulders fall but let your spine remain long.
- Relax your forehead, eyes, throat, chest, belly, pelvis, legs and feet.
- Become aware of the space around you – above your head, in front and behind you.
- Feel your body on the chair (as per tip 7)
- Think of someone who makes your heart smile.
9. Take a 4/8 breath
A wonderful way to take the edge of your adrenaline in a Zoom meeting is to take a breath where the out-breath is (at least) twice as long as the in-breath. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, and also what Professor Stephen Porges describes as the Social Engagement System, allowing you to feel more confident and also more connected with your audience.
Simply breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 and out through your nose (or mouth) for a count of 8 or more. It’s that easy!
You can take anywhere between 1 and 4 of these breaths before you start your presentation. (More than that number in a row can be counterproductive, so I wouldn’t recommend it).
Additionally, whilst you are speaking, you can also deliberately slightly lengthen your sentences or phrases if you are wanting to calm down or feel more confident. This will have a very similar effect since you will be breathing out for longer than you are breathing in.
10. Slow down!
Most people speak too fast in Zoom meetings and it actually affects their confidence. When we speak more quickly it actually increases our level of tension and nervousness. If the reason you are speaking quickly is because you are feeling nervous, this will create a vicious circle!
The antidote is simple. Simply take 10-20% off your speed of delivery. You don’t need to slow it down to a snail’s pace – just take the edge off the speed and allow for some little pauses in between phrases. This will not only make you feel calmer and more confident – but it will also have the bonus of causing you to be perceived as more confident because confident people are not scared to take their time and space.
This is an astonishingly powerful tip for feeling and projecting confidence, and if this was the only tip you used, it would give your calm and confidence a massive boost all by itself. If combined with some of the other tips above you will hopefully feel invincible! (Or at the very least much much more confident).
So those are my top 10 tips for feeling confident in Zoom meetings. They have served me and those I coach very well. I hope they do the same for you. Do let me know how you get on with them and whether they are helpful to you in the comments below. And of course, if there are any tips you think I’m missing, do please let me know.
*I’m referring here to Zoom, but of course these tips apply equally to MS Teams, Google Meet, Skype etc.