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Microsoft 365
July 30, 2021

5 ways to make a good virtual first impression

Your camera, internet and mic? All set up. Your background? Nothing gross or embarrassing. Your apps? Muted. Teeth, hair and outfit? Brushed, coiffed and looking good.

Basically, you’ve covered the basics.

A work from home man interacting on a Microsoft Teams meeting on his desktop monitor.

So, what can you do to step up your next virtual presentation, meeting or chat beyond the basics—and make a really good first impression online? Not to add to the pressure but a recent survey found that you have less than 30 seconds to do it. Even more shocking is the fact that nearly 70 percent of those surveyed say they’ve already formed an impression before you even have a chance to speak.

So, now what?

The good news is that the things that help you make a good first impression in person—are the same ones that help you make a good first impression online. But you may have to make a few tweaks to have it come across virtually. Here’s what to do:

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1. Smile.

Sure, it’s simple and obvious. Yet, so many people overlook the sheer strength of the smile. Study upon study has shown that smiling makes you appear more attractive, more youthful and more likely to have positive personality traits. Aside from making people feel better about you, smiling has been shown to make you feel better about yourself—reducing stress, while boosting your mood, immune system and overall health, which can give you the feel-good confidence you need to pull off any virtual meeting, chat or presentation in style. So, first and foremost… smile.

A young woman happily smiling while staring at her laptop.

2. Look ’em in the virtual eye.

Easier said than done during a virtual chat or presentation, right? Wrong! Tech companies are starting to recognize the power eye contact has in forging human connections. For example, Microsoft has created an Eye Contact feature on its Surface Pro X, which works on video calling apps like Microsoft Teams, Skype, and others. While this tech is limited to Surface Pro X users for now, you can still maintain eye contact during virtual chats or presentations simply by knowing where your camera is. Too often people look at themselves on the screen rather than into the camera itself—making you look like a local TV mattress salesman using cue cards. It can be even worse if you’re working with two screens or if you have a docking station setup. So, be sure you’re looking at the camera on the proper screen, rather than at the screen itself—this will help give the impression of direct eye contact.

“Aside from having some great stories in your tool box, it’s also a good idea to really get to know the audience you’ll be talking to beforehand—whether it’s your future in-laws, your new boss, or a group of potential volunteers.”

3. Don’t sell… tell.

Whether you’re selling an idea, a new business plan, or just yourself to a potential dating partner—the best way to sell ’em is to tell ’em. Tell stories. Tell them something about yourself. Tell them a story about the charity you support. Tell them the story behind your product. Or the story that sums you up to a tee. In other words, connect with them as people first and foremost. Nobody remembers garbled stats, hard sells or forced humor (well, maybe, but for all the wrong reasons.) They may remember a story, though, and they just may remember you. Speak to their personalities and their emotions, rather than just their intellect. Aside from having some great stories in your tool box, it’s also a good idea to really get to know the audience you’ll be talking to beforehand—whether it’s your future in-laws, your new boss, or a group of potential volunteers. Do some research and it’ll pay off. When you put others first, you come across as pleasant and confident, without a hint of cocky salesman.

4. Keep your finger on the pulse of your audience.

When having a virtual conversation or presenting online, it’s important to listen—not just with your ears—but by observing facial cues and then pivoting on the fly. Many apps now have amazing tools onboard that offer more lifelike presenting capabilities, like a bird’s eye view feature that lets you observe audience reactions as they see your slides, allowing you to adjust in real-time to better connect. Some chat software also lets you view your entire group via features like together modetogether mode, which puts you in a shared background, so you can see other people’s faces and body language. They can also share their reactions to your stories, comments, jokes, facts and more via emojis. By keeping an eye on everyone, you sense when you’re connecting with them and when you’re not—and then adjust accordingly.

Two senior women smiling while viewing a shared tablet.

5. Live and learn.

Maybe your first impression wasn’t exactly what you wanted. That’s okay. Unless you’re among the lucky few that are born brimming with natural personality, chances are, it’s gonna take some practice. Learn from your past missteps and adjust as you go. You can do this by recording your online chat sessions when possible, reviewing them and making notes. If your virtual chat involves a presentation, next time practice in front of family and friends first or, better yet, use the built-in coaching tool that’s available on some presentation software. It can help you avoid embarrassing mistakes like culturally sensitive phrases, robotic delivery, grammar issues and more.

Life’s short. The time it takes to make an impression is even shorter. By following these tips and honing your online chat and/or presentation skills, you’ll soon be wooing audiences far and wide—whether that includes family and friends, colleagues, social groups or that new cutie you met online.

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