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How to Demonstrate an Executive Presence in a Virtual Meeting

By Jacquelyn Adams

When it comes to developing an executive presence, certain tips are always at the top of the list. First and foremost is reading the room, so you know how to influence your audience. However, how are you supposed to get a pulse of the room when you are staring at a screen?

In our increasingly online professional world, we find ourselves looking for skills that will help us lead and engage on these new mediums. Here are some guidelines on how to demonstrate an executive presence in a virtual meeting:

Cultivate a connected space


It is natural to feel disconnected when meeting virtually. That is why leadership needs to find ways to draw people together. Larry English, President of Centric Consulting and nearly 20-year veteran of the virtual workplace, recently shared in this article about how employees can be brought together through genuine engagement at the beginning of each meeting, even when on their own separate devices. This can be done with standard ice-breaker questions or asking follow-up questions to a team member, like their recent trip or whether their child felt better. To be clear, asking the questions is not enough. It is simply an opportunity to invest in team members as individuals and let them know that they matter to you. The most important part is the opportunity it can provide for later discussion. If Monday’s question was what happened during the weekend, then on Wednesday, there is an opportunity to check back in. The important part is remembering what is said and investing currency in that relationship. This creates authentic relationships and helps attendees to feel at home in the virtual room.

Assess your presentation


Besides taking time to assess and engage with others, the same must be done in your own space. What image are you presenting?

      • Dress for success
        We all know the cliche of business up top and casual down below. Ninety percent of the time, you can get away with it, but all it takes is the one time that you spill coffee, or you have to chase a toddler out of the room. It is not worth the risk. Come prepared.
      • Camera angle and framing
        Small details can become major distractions, so be aware of how you look in the camera. If the top of your head is cut off or you are showing off your nose hairs, it can make your audience struggle to focus on what you are saying. Be sure that you are centered, and the camera is either facing you straight on or slightly above you.
      • Background
        Humans, by nature, are curious and distractible creatures. Keep this in mind when reviewing your background image onscreen. Ensure sure everything in it is appropriate and professional. People will be tempted to read book titles or check out art displayed behind you. If chaos is reigning or it’s too much pressure, then there is always the option of using a filter.

Communicate effectively

The final step for connecting with your team is letting them know that you are mentally and emotionally present with them. You can use your voice and body to communicate that they have your attention and help them be focused.

      • Eye contact
        Unfortunately, when it comes to screens, to make eye contact you need to look at the camera. So instead of focusing on faces or the datasheet pulled up in the bottom corner of your screen, it is important to keep pulling your eyes back to that camera.
      • Headphones/earbuds
        Are you at risk of screaming toddlers or other auditory distractions? Consider headphones. They can help avoid two painful options. First, it helps minimize background noise. Second, if it has an internal mic,  it will be easier for you to be heard on the call. If you can’t be properly heard, then nothing else about your executive presence matters.
      • Conference voice
        However, even when using a mic it is necessary to use a strong, clear voice. It can be natural to slip into a more relaxed way of speaking, but it is important to still use a strong tone and clear inflections.
      • Mute
        This functionality can be a double-edged sword. I have been on calls where it wasn’t used enough and others where it was used too much. It is an excellent tool for blocking out background noise, so be sure to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, sometimes people speak, forgetting to unmute themselves first. So use mute, but use it wisely.

Hopefully, as we keep taking steps forward in this brave new world, tips like these will provide us surer footing. Workplaces may continue on this virtual pathway, but it is our choice whether we are disconnected. Let’s leverage these guideposts to have an authentic executive presence in our next virtual meeting.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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  1. Don’t forget ceiling fans! Some people simply can’t tolerate the strobing nature of the rotating blades and/or the shadows created.

  2. Thank you Jacquelyn Adams for sharing your thoughts with us, a colleague and myself have taken a similar approach to our Region 5 goals of Membership Engagement in the Coronavirus Pandemic. In our upcoming Sections Congress 2021 Virtual Training session we will talk through “The Secret”, “An Idea”, and now “The Answers” to Membership Engagement in Pandemic Times. Meeting virtually isn’t easy with so many webinar platform systems and other challenges to consider such as security, speakers, participation engagement, logistics, and far too many other things to name.

    If you haven’t registered for this session you will miss the opportunity to build upon what Jacquelyn has shared.

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