How to speak better in (virtual) meetings: 5 tips for improvement

December 15, 2022

7 min read

How to speak better in virtual meetings - 5 tips for improvement

Despite a return to post-pandemic habits, remote work, schooling, and virtual meetings are sticking it out for the long run. For some, this is a welcome change, allowing for flexibility to work from home and freedom to wear sweatpants. For others, virtual meetings are a cause for anxiety and undue stress.

If you are one of many who fall in the latter category, you’re in luck – this guide will walk you through the reasons why you may feel anxious about zooming online. You’ll get five actionable tips on how to address these anxieties and a quick introduction to Yoodli, the Zoom-integrated AI speech coach that offers private, judgment-free feedback on your speaking style. (Watch the following 30-second video to learn more.)

Where do your (common) pre-meeting anxieties come from, and how can you address them? 

It’s a feeling we’ve all experienced: the uncomfortable rolling in your stomach when you have to click into a virtual meeting. Whether it’s a meeting with a handful of your closest team members or one with hundreds of people, it still feels unnatural to sit there and interact with people through a screen. 

The first step to dealing with any self-consciousness you may feel about speaking in virtual meetings is to understand the causes of said self-consciousness. We’ve included a short list of possible reasons and how you can tackle them below:

  1. You’re constantly looking at yourself

Unlike in real life, on a virtual call, you are always looking at yourself. According to this Insider article, because staring at others can be overwhelming, sometimes keeping your eyes on yourself is the easiest option.

As a result, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overanalyzing yourself: how you look on camera and how actions come off to others in the call. You may start to feel cognitively overwhelmed, making it difficult to concentrate and hindering your performance. 

But luckily enough, people often don’t pay as much attention to us as we do. Besides watching the meeting at hand, other meeting participants may be preoccupied with whatever is happening in their immediate environment or (just like you) with how they appear on camera. 

Take comfort in knowing that awkward feeling when staring constantly at yourself is perfectly normal. 

  1. You don’t know how to avoid awkward small talk

Part of being a good team member, besides contributing good ideas to discussions, is forming meaningful relationships with your coworkers. Often achieving these connections requires small talk, which makes even the most social of us uncomfortable. 

If you’re not sure how to make small talk, start small by asking open-ended questions about whatever you and your conversation partner have in common. Maybe you begin by asking how their most recent project went, taking the conversation to what their favorite break room snack is or what they’re doing for Christmas. The key to mastering small talk is being curious and actively listening so that you can ask thoughtful, well-timed questions. 

Hopefully, you’ll stop dreading small talk and genuinely enjoy listening to what otherwise would seem like idle chatter. 

  1. You don’t know when to interrupt

It’s a dilemma to interrupt your coworkers, much less your direct boss or other authority figures. It’s doubly difficult to do so online, where non-verbal communication is limited. 

In a bigger conference, make use of the “hand-raise” button or any similar feature to indicate to participants that you wish to speak soon. (In a smaller call, starting with an “actually…” gives the current speaker enough forewarning to wrap up what they are saying and invite you into the conversation.) 

Make sure to interject at an appropriate place in the conversation, for example when it’s apparent that the meeting is pivoting to another topic. This way, you don’t cut off the speaker’s train of thought and make it appear as if you’re not listening.

To avoid coming off as confrontational, begin by praising the previous speaker’s contributions. Start with phrases like “Just to build off that idea…” or “Before we move on from ___’s great idea, I wanted to add….”

If you keep these key points in mind, you’ll become a master of interruption – always coming off as insightful and eloquent in your comments. In case you’re worried about cutting in too often, upload your Zoom meetings to Yoodli, which gives you feedback on whether you interrupt too much.

  1. Virtual meetings can be high-stakes

In this day and age, important meetings involving multiple stakeholders and third parties are held online. How you present yourself to colleagues and superiors can impact how competent you are perceived to be. Being able to speak confidently and play the devil’s advocate well can help you land that promotion, raise, or high-impact project you’ve had your eye on.

These important and therefore high-pressure situations make the most confident of us nervous. If you have the tendency to stumble over your words or fidget during stressful online meetings, don’t worry because you are 100% capable of change.

Read the 5 tips below to learn how you improve your self-presentation in online meetings.

  1. Keep things in perspective 

After learning about the common anxieties people have during online meetings, it’s time to learn how you can better present yourself. Even if you mess up along the way and make a couple of faux pas, just remember people are usually too caught up in how they are perceived to pay attention to what you’re doing. 

Even if you mess up – maybe you’ve been caught texting during a boring Zoom session, the ability to play it cool reflects better on you than you think. Everyone (and I mean everyone) has had their fair share of Zoom mishaps and can find humor in the absurdity of it all. Laughing it off can help put things into perspective: everyone makes mistakes so try not to take small things too seriously. 

  1. Prepare

Take steps before your meeting to make the ordeal ten times less stressful.

  • Sit in front of a window so you can bathe in the glow of natural light! When your face is illuminated, call participants can see your facial expressions clearly. This way, you avoid the misunderstandings that sometimes arise due to the ambiguity of communicating through a computer screen. An additional plus: if your meeting is early in the day, morning light helps you wake up and face the long day ahead.
  • Adjust the camera angle so it’s at eye level. If your camera is too low, call participants can’t see your eyes, one of your face’s most expressive features. If your camera is too high, all others in the meeting will be able to see of you is your nose!
  • Read through the meeting agenda to get a good idea of what’s going to be discussed. You’ll be able to engage more closely with the meeting’s contents and make high-impact recommendations, impressing your audience. 
  1. Think about your body language

The hardest thing to do in online meetings is to communicate non-verbally. The camera usually shows just your face and shoulders, impeding the work your hands and posture do in demonstrating how you feel (for example, whether you want to come off as more assertive or cooperative). 

That’s why it’s important you do well with what you can. Sit straight to communicate confidence and alertness. Look at the camera (and not at other meeting participants) as much as possible to simulate the eye contact you’d make in real life. Gesticulate with your hands to engage your audience and better make your point.

Most importantly, don’t forget to smile 🙂. Not only will it put your viewers in a better mood; it’ll energize you as well.

  1. Pay attention to how you’re speaking

To complement strong body language, speak clearly and loudly. This is especially important in an online setting: connection issues can make your video lag, disengaging listeners if they don’t have compelling audio to listen to.

If you’re not sure which part of your verbal communication you want to work on, enlist the help of Yoodli. You can connect your resident AI speech coach to your Google Calendar; Yoodli automatically joins Zoom calls it’s been given permission to and records the meeting. Afterward, Yoodli sends you a personalized report with feedback on your word choice (whether you’re using filler words, non-inclusive language, etc.) and your delivery (whether you’re speaking too fast, talking too much, and more).

  1. Make a conscious effort to improve – be kind to yourself!

After using Yoodli for multiple Zoom meetings (or recordings that you’ve uploaded individually), you’ll start seeing a pattern of your strengths and weaknesses. Make a mental checklist of what you need to work on and prioritize accordingly. Work on one weakness at a time, giving yourself grace throughout the whole process.

For example, if you notice you’re not speaking up enough, set a goal to offer one to two meaningful contributions per meeting. This can take the form of an aptly-timed question or an insightful comment. 

No matter what goal you choose and which method you employ, celebrate your victories, and don’t get too bogged down by failures. If you do your best to improve, change is inevitable!