Face-to-face communication is one of the many casualties of 2020. Remote work is here to stay, since recent worker surveys indicate that just 10 percent of workers would prefer to work in the office five days a week. You’ve probably spent considerable time mastering new technology. But to get ahead in a virtual environment, you’ll also need to master e-charisma.
Call it charm, presence, aura, or force of personality, charisma is what makes a sales presentation more likely to succeed, a job candidate more likely to get an offer, and makes you look more like management material.
It’s more challenging to make a good impression through a screen, as a November Wall Street Journal article advises. Even if you’re very charismatic in person, writes Ray A. Smith, “Commanding a room isn’t the same thing as commanding a Zoom.” It’s why film directors perform screen tests – an actor can have a powerful personality in person that just doesn’t make the same impression through a screen.
In person, many factors impact charisma, including the way you dress, move, stand and use space. You lose all these when you’re reduced to a headshot on a Zoom screen. That means what you write and say matters much more, as do your facial expressions.
Size matters in e-charisma. Experts advise you to make sure your face takes up at least a third of the screen and that you’re positioned directly in the middle of the frame. Good lighting will make a big difference, both in how you look and how well you can be seen.
Camera angle really matters, as anyone over 35 knows. The camera under the face is the oldest unflattering look in the books – that’s why the classic selfie angle is looking into a lens held high above your head. If you need more encouragement adjust your settings, consider that director James Whale angled the camera under the chin in the original 1931 “Frankenstein” movie to make the monster look more menacing. Yikes.
You’ll need to master the art of non-verbal cues to show you’re engaged, listening, and generally in a pleasant mood. Check your resting face to see if you look curmudgeonly when you’re simply listening. Work on developing a slight smile that warms up your screen presence.
The best and worst qualities of your voice are amplified through a microphone. If you tend to speak in a monotone, work on varying your pitch and speed and get control of your vocal fry or upspeak if they’re a regular habit. Speaking more slowly comes off as more confident, and it’s much easier for people to follow what you’re saying.
Coming to a full stop at the end of a thought serves a couple of purposes. First, it slows you down (see “confident” above) and it allows someone else on the call to break in with questions or comments. It’s even better if you deliberately hand the conversation off; it makes you look gracious and authoritative at once. Ray A. Smith suggests, “Speaking for short bursts of time, then pausing, helps signal that there is give and take during the conversation. Direct a question to a specific person when you finish your thought—“What do you think, George?”—to make it personal. It’s a mark of the spotlight-sharing that charismatic people do so well.”
As any aspiring television personality knows, you’ll need to become more conscious of how you look and speak to become a star. In a world where most of your interactions are virtual, if the camera loves you, your team will love you more, too.