Here are the top body language mistakes you shouldn't make during your next conference call
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Psst…That eye roll you just did because of something your coworker said? Yeah, everyone on the conference call saw that. Hey, we get it—you’re experiencing Zoom fatigue, but if you don’t want your boss to know that, well, tell that to your face. The problem with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other conference platforms is that, unlike in-person meetings, it’s easier to get distracted—and you may not be aware of the body language mistakes you’re making.
The truth is, it’s more challenging to recognize when you’re inadvertently wrinkling your nose or drifting away on virtual calls. And when you’re not physically being surrounded by your teammates, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone in a room.
But don’t worry, because we asked body language expert and nonverbal communications analyst Blanca Cobb how to make sure you’re always on point with your body language during work video calls. Because let’s face it: Digital conference calls are here to stay—well, at least for now.
HelloGiggles (HG): Video conferencing meetings can be exhausting. What are some of the biggest body language mistakes people are making while working remotely?
Blanca Cobb (BC): Some of what people are doing is the type of behavior you’d see in real life. Before the pandemic, if you had a crazy day of back-to-back meetings, your body language would betray you—also because of stress and pressure. However, it can be a little more pronounced on Zoom because you’re limited in what you see; you concentrate on what’s in your field of vision. Then you have these emotional blips, where you’re pretending to be listening but your mind is floating in a totally different direction. And you may not even realize you’re zoning until someone mentions your name and you remember you’re in a conversation.
Or there could be tension in somebody’s face: Their nose will twitch like they’ve smelled something disgusting, or their eyebrows might shift, which makes them look angry. Sometimes you’ll turn your head a little bit at an angle, which makes it look like you’re not paying attention.
HG: Are people more preoccupied with their own image because they’re seeing themselves onscreen?
BC: We only see ourselves when we’re looking into a mirror, and because the screen actually represents a mirror, you’re checking your hair or makeup or making sure you don’t have spinach in your teeth. So subconsciously, the brain just defaults to “I’m seeing myself [in a] mirror, and this is what I do,” but they’re not recognizing that other people are watching them in that moment.
HG: What can people do to keep these errors under control before they even happen?
BC: Before you even get on that video call, do some preparation so you’ll look your best (and not be tempted to adjust your position on camera). Make sure that the lighting is in front of you, not behind you, and have some ambient lighting on either side of your laptop. I like to stand up during video calls, and then I put books under my laptop to make sure that I’m at eye level with the camera because that’s what you do in real life. Make sure you’re not looking down or up.
HG: What can people do who tend to talk with their hands a lot, even though the screen shows them from the shoulders up?
BC: Call up a friend or family member to practice before your meeting, and make sure everything is how you want it. For a professional meeting, you actually don’t want to be head and shoulders distance from the camera, so take a step back so people can see you from the waist up. Your hands give a much different perspective, and you won’t just look like a talking head.
Don’t forget to check the sound; if it glitches when you’re live, that’s when anxiety creeps in, and you can get distracted.
HG: In an in-person meeting, you wouldn’t sneak a look at your phone or motion for your kid or dog to get out of the office or be quiet. But on a Zoom call, people try to multitask and end up looking very fidgety. How do you fix that?
BC: A lot of that is discipline. What do you need to do to be comfortable on that call and to decrease your stress levels and the likelihood that your brain is going to be somewhere else and not on that call? A lot of people are working from home now, which means there’s a learning curve of what works or what doesn’t. Everybody needs to be a little more relaxed when it comes to some distractions, but that’s not an excuse for them to not try to prevent them.
But let’s say you have your child down for a nap, and that normally [happens] between two and three, so that’s when you schedule a call. But on that particular day your child sleeps for 22 minutes. When something like that happens, I believe in transparency. Say, “I’ll be right back,” and then address it. Whatever the situation is, just apologize or reschedule. The same goes for a dog that comes in or barks. It’s all in how you handle those types of distractions, so prepare ahead of time as much as you can. Try to handle it as unemotionally as you can, and it won’t draw as much attention to the situation.
HG: When you’re on a video call with a gallery view of 10 or 20 people in front of you,what body language says you’re focused on this meeting, even if you’re not talking?
BC: This is where you need to engage in your listening behaviors. Whether you’re doing it around a conference table or on a Zoom call, show that you’re listening and that you’re engaged by nodding your head and smiling periodically.
HG: What if you’re in charge of the video meeting? How can you make it more successful so people don’t zone out?
BC: In real life, we tend to like meetings that are 30 minutes or an hour long. But try to be more efficient and wrap it up within 20 minutes. The longer you make a meeting, the more people get distracted and antsy. Shorter meetings will decrease Zoom fatigue. As the person leading the meeting, you’re the focal point that people will be paying attention to. So when you’re talking, try to pull somebody into the conversation, like, “Hey, Bob, what do you think about this?” “Julie, I remember you saying X, Y, or Z; can you share that with the group?” And make sure you’re showing the right listening behaviors when they’re talking; make sure you’re looking at the camera, not the screen, so they’ll feel you’re listening to them.