What does your virtual background do for your persuasion?

Our workplaces have changed. Employees are moving to a hybrid model where they work a few days in the office and some days from home and most of us now have occasion to present online.  We’re using platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams, WebEx, and a whole lot of other technology to stay in touch remotely.


The other day, I had the opportunity to watch a celebrity, someone in a very high-profile executive role commenting on television about the passing of a world renown celebrity. And although this person is a very savvy media personality and indeed a professional speaker, she had weirdly positioned her camera so that everybody was looking up her nose while she was talking! And I thought to myself, what’s going on here? Is it not obvious that the audience doesn’t want to look up your nose? I imagine she just didn’t think about this. Presenting, meeting facilitation, and even pitching and high-level negotiation skills are critical to your business success whether you’re online or live in a room.


Welcome to the first of a few articles I have written to help you think about what’s important when presenting in the virtual world.  

Set up your visual space for best results

We all know how easy it is to be distracted when we are in an online meeting. It’s critical that you set up your space properly. I suggest you divide the visual space into 5 categories:

1. Background

2. Personal appearance

3. Lighting

4. Sound

5. Technology

Let’s take a look at background today.  It’s both funny and terrible when the audience thinks you’re presenting to them from the disco, or they are looking up your nose, or you look like a muppet with just a head and no body! We can laugh about all these things but as you know, many people do this when they present online, and it damages their personal brand and credibility.

Michelle says,

An unprofessional background can damage your personal brand and credibility.

The two main things to consider when planning your virtual background is:


1. You don’t want to distract. You want your audience looking at your face, not captivated by whatever you have positioned in your background. I’m never quite sure why experts on the TV including scientists and journalists stand with their kitchen in the background of the frame. There are always distractions if you allow people to see into a whole room (especially a kitchen) behind you. One of my clients recently presented to his audience from his young child’s bedroom. There were childlike number charts and animals on the wall. He was pitching an idea to transform the data analytics area.

Michelle says,

Always ask yourself, “will this background help or hinder me in conveying my message?”

2. You want to maintain your authenticity. You want your audience to get a sense of who you are and what you stand for. If you are a fun person, don’t present against a plain white wall. If you are a professional perhaps you need books or certificates on the wall behind you. As an example, I have set up my office with a background of gorgeous flowers on my left and I also have a painting on my right that reflects my personality. I have hung the painting at just the right height for my audience to enjoy it. Truth be told, I have about 10 paintings and I change them depending on what I’m wearing and who is watching! If I have someone who will love my painting of hot pink flowers, I use that. If I have an audience who will better appreciate my framed Certified Speaking Professional certificate, then I use that. I’m very careful that if I choose a painting, it’s not something that will captivate you, it’s just a bit of design on a wall to send a joyful, bright, positive vibe.


Here are some other considerations when planning your perfect background:


Eye height. Make sure your camera is at eye height, so people are not looking up your nose. A trap for new players who are presenting from their laptop is they forget about placing the laptop at eye height. If you are going to use a laptop for your virtual meetings, pop it up on some books so you have that camera at eye height. I’ve heard of a professional speaker who used the ironing board in their hotel room to prop up their laptop! These creative solutions are cheap and easy!


Custom backgrounds. We all know that no one wants to see your messy house, your brother sitting at the table with you, or your washing all over the loungeroom!  Thank goodness many of the virtual platforms have an option to blur your background. Another option is to use a custom background. It is suggested by many that you need a green screen if you’re going to choose a virtual background. This is because without the green screen the camera struggles to process your extremities and you’ll end up with parts of your head, or hands missing! 

Handy Tip: Be careful when using virtual backgrounds that if you have hair on your head, you allow it to fall free around your face rather than tying it back. Virtual backgrounds give you a funny alien head if you tie your hair back.

You can still use custom backgrounds without a green screen, you’ll just have to decide that you’re OK with the odd disconnected image being projected. You can also choose to use the custom background that your marketing department has created for you – with your logo and other graphic elements. Be careful of corporate backgrounds that have movement in them as they can easily distract people from your message. You can even use a custom scene provided at no extra cost by the virtual platform. Perhaps you’d like to position yourself in a coastal scene, or in the rainforest. Again, be careful of movement. My lovely client the other day had chosen a beautiful snow scene as his background and the group asked him to change his background before he continued because there was a lady in a pink coat in the very back of the scene walking backwards and forwards. They announced to him that they simply couldn’t listen to what he way saying, “with that lady walking and walking”!

Perhaps you’d like to present from Hogwarts, Disneyland or the set of the Simpsons TV show for example. Yes! It’s possible to buy backgrounds for your virtual platform that in many cases will delight your audience.  If you chose this option, select a static image and allow people a moment to absorb the scene before saying anything too important!

Michelle says,

Create a library of high-resolution images that suit your brand and work-type. 

There you are – some important things to consider and take action on before your next virtual meeting.


Happy presenting!

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