Virtual Speaking Success: Effective communication in online meetings

by Michael Rickwood

As many of us are learning, it’s easy to arrange a virtual meeting, but not so easy to run one successfully. There is quite a steep learning curve.

One vital area to work on is speaking in virtual meetings. People often complain of video issues, microphone issues, poor vocal expression, monotonous speakers, and poor interactivity. Step 5 of our Virtual Meeting Revolution process is called Connection for a good reason: when speaking in an online meeting, you need to connect with the other participants, and you can’t connect if they are so bored they are not paying attention, or if they gave up trying to understand what you are saying.

Being an engaging speaker in an online meeting requires three main elements:

Comfort: preparing yourself and your setup so you feel serene and fully focused, ready to give the participants and their questions your full attention

Passion: speaking with energy so that people are engaged, and want to keep

Variation: using your voice to engage instead of bore the other participants

Let’s take a look at each of these elements.


If you seem comfortable, the other participants will feel you are in control, and this makes it more pleasant for them to listen to you. Nobody listens to a speaker who seems uneasy, agitated or poorly prepared.

Seeming comfortable is good. Feeling comfortable is even better.

Strong preparation before the meeting will help you to feel comfortable. This includes rehearsing any presentations aloud and timing yourself to ensure your meeting doesn’t overrun, and checking that your network, microphone and camera are working, and you have more than enough battery for your PC.

Also, the chairperson and any presenters should avoid coffee: it increases anxiety and will speed up your vocal delivery while drying your mouth and throat. A glass of water is your friend; just don’t spill it on your computer!

Next, here are some tips to appear more comfortable.

If you can, try to speak in a standing position: this is good for your breath and the clarity of your voice, and it gives you more energy and freedom to use gestures. You’ll seem more in control – as long as you stand still.

Adjust your camera location and angle so your eyes are two-thirds up the screen, whether you’re sitting or standing, and try to ensure the camera is more or less at eye-level. During my recent Virtual Speaking Success webinar (see replay below), I chose to sit down because in my home setup it wasn’t easy to get the camera at the right height for me to stand. Sometimes that’s a limitation you have to live with, so get used to speaking in either posture.

Try to look into the lens as much as possible. To make this easier, if the technology allows, you could reduce the number of participant video windows so that you only see the active speaker, and you can reduce the size of that active video and move it to the top of the screen just underneath your webcam.


Boredom is contagious; luckily, so is passion. As chairperson or speaker in an online meeting, you are like a radio host. So how do you capture the passion and energy of a radio host? The first and most important thing to do is to keep the meeting objective in mind, and visibly care about reaching it.

Passion also needs engagement from the presenter or chairperson, answering questions and keeping people’s needs constantly in mind.

And finally, passion needs positive emotions: smiles and animated facial expressions help to keep people engaged. While minimal hand gestures are useful, they won’t always be visible on camera, so the main gestures to use are facial expressions (affect displays). If you look bored or seem like you don’t care, don’t expect anyone else to care either.


The most important element to chairing and presenting in virtual meetings is your voice. Monotony kills attention. So do overly long sentences. Keep sentences short, and finish each sentence on a downward inflection or tone, with a pause, so it’s clear the sentence is finished.

To avoid sounding monotonous, you can vary your speed, your tone, your volume and your emotion, even within each sentence. You might also consider trying out the Four Tempos of Vocal Impact:

  • Bright (short vowels and light vocal intention)
  • Human (long vowels and light vocal intention)
  • Bold (short vowels and Strong vocal intention)
  • Captivating (long vowels and Strong vocal intention)

By experimenting with these tempos, you can vary the way you deliver. A recent example is from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: when he’s aiming to calm and reassure his citizens he uses the Bright and Human tempos, and when he is criticizing others and defending himself he uses the Bold and Captivating Tempos.

You can hear examples of these Four Tempos in our Virtual Speaking Success webinar (see below).

To sum up:

Create your Comfort zone with good preparation, and check your equipment and environment. Avoid coffee if you need to speak, and look into the lens to maintain eye contact with online participants.

Discover your Passion by adopting a Radio Host style, connecting to your objective, showing you care, and interacting regularly with participants to maintain their attention.

Build Variation into the way you speak, and shorten your sentences.

You can find more details on speaking in virtual meetings in the webinar below, and if you find this useful, check out our other* Virtual Meeting Revolution webinars* and don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like help to prepare your next online meeting or presentation.