Remember when we used to believe that a first impression was formed in the first 30 seconds of a face-to-face meeting? For me, like most of us, a large part of my overall first impression was formed by how a person presented themselves physically. Do they hold themselves straight? Do they smile? Do they stand up to greet you? Do they have direct eye contact? Do they have a firm handshake? 

Without physical interactions, it is now so much easier to get wrong.

On a video meeting I am often distracted by people’s physical behaviour and as a result, I’m not giving as much focus as I would like on what the person is saying. I have called out when there is no direct eye contact with people when they join a video meeting on their mobile but look in another direction at their laptop. There is genuinely no idea of the impact this unintentional lack of courtesy has, or how off-putting it is, unless of course it is explained upfront.

I fear we are in danger of the smile disappearing. I log onto a video meeting and the person is often doing something else at the same time, typing away. No welcoming smile leaves me feeling less than enthusiastic about the time I’m about to spend with this person due to lack of engagement on their side. The same for choosing to have the video turned off when meeting for the first time, is this inconsiderate to the other person unless there is a valid reason? We know it is easier and more enjoyable to interact when attendees are ‘viewable,’ and everyone is likely to get more out of the session if all cameras are on.

Other factors, like being aware of the view the people on the other side of the screen are getting, is also key. Bi-focal wearers, for example, can inadvertently subject zoom attendees to high-definition footage of their nasal cavities when reading on-screen documents - not something they, or the viewers, want on camera in a business meeting. The same applies to the ‘background’ view. Check what’s showing behind you on screen – does it represent how you’d like to be seen professionally? If not, select a background image that doesn’t distract or detract from what you’re saying, or use the ‘blur’ option.

A person may well have a great story to bring to life, but if all the physical elements and approach are unclear and distracting for all the wrong reasons, then I am left in the wrong headspace to listen to what they have to say.

How you ‘show up’

On the other hand, it’s a real pleasure on those rare occasions where you video-meet with someone and they’re ‘en pointe’ with the physical aspects - the lighting is good enough for you to see them clearly, the focus and energy is bang on, the conversation is free-flowing and stimulating - I am left with an overwhelming sense of wanting more. I want to jump into a room with that person. I want to spend time walking in the fresh air to go and get a coffee with that person. All these elements would kick off the best conversation and allow me to really get a good feel for who they are and what they are about. The start of a deep connection could be formed, one that I would want to go out of my way to explore further and add value too.

Video replaces a meeting, not a phone call. Often, no one remembers a phone call due to the lack of face-to-face engagement. This is why we all like or need to be encouraged to meet either virtually with videos on or in person when we can - a connection needs to be formed to develop a meaningful relationship. My advice in this virtual world: let us not forget how physical etiquette still counts, especially when making a first impression.