I need an Online Leadership Presence … Seriously?

by May 28, 2020

Yep.. you do need an online leadership presence

A strong Online Leadership Presence is today’s must have new skill


We all know that first impressions matter. A lot. It takes less than seven seconds for people to make judgements about you and your personality, your likeability, confidence and warmth levels and whether they will trust you. It’s basic and primal flight, freeze or flight. But do you really need to do this online when you are stuck working at your kitchen table? It would appear so.

What happens when women, who are judged more harshly on their appearance anyway, are forced into a Zoom video box on someone else’s screen? Whether face-to-face or virtual, communication works across two receptors verbal and nonverbal. The minute your image pops up on someone screens people are looking for clues about your personality, your credibility and your competence. So now we have to make sure we give them what they are looking for or be doomed.


Online leadership presence

Online leadership presence

Leadership presence is evaluated in a heartbeat by two sets of visuals that is non-verbal communication:

  • How you look: appearance, posture, facial expressions
  • Body language that conveys status, authority, and power but also “pro-social” signals that convey warmth, empathy and inclusiveness .

Conveying warmth and empathy is a cocktail of small but important things that contribute to a strong online executive presence.

1. Manage your settings

Make sure your setting is as a minimum clean and tidy looking. It’s hard to appear professional for everyone when you have to work from a kitchen table with dishes in the sink surrounded by Lego and Playdoh. Not everyone has a floor to ceiling bookcase filled with weighty tomes. The virtual screen is an ideal option, but choose wisely. Tropical beaches and snow-capped mountains are fun but they can be distracting when they reflect light and especially if they show movement.

2. Take time and be on time before you put your camera on

You can join a Zoom meeting by audio to get yourself in place before others can see you. This gives you time to check the position of your camera, audio and other tech before you go live. What you don’t want to do is be late and appear chaotic and for everyone to see you setting up. It’s distracting, especially if you are running the meeting. We have all been through the interminable “Can you hear me”  from various late arrivals.

3. Posture

The best position is facing the screen with shoulders straight and square, head straight, and feet flat on the ground. This means that your diaphragm is lifted so that your voice will be clearer and breathing easier. Just as you would person to person avoid crossing your arms and slouching hunched over a desk. Putting your computer on a stand or even a pile of books will help with that.

Network even though you are #WFH. Try our Daily LinkedIn Routine for Today’s Super Busy Women.

4. Monitor your self-soothing habits

This can include touching your hair, fidgeting or even swinging on your chair. You may not feel nervous and shifty but you will look it. I had no idea how often I touched my face until lock down.

5. Keep any movements small, slow and visible

Viewers should be able to see any hand movements or gestures on the computer screen to indicate you have nothing to hide. This is in direct contrast to IRL where women are encouraged to be expansive.


Online leadership presence

6. Look at the camera

When you make eye contact look at the camera NOT at the picture on the screen. This is actually quite hard. You can also express interest and attention by leaning forward slightly or tilting your head to indicate they literally have your ear. A gesture that women have historically been discouraged from doing.

7. Monitor Zoom fatigue

During this lockdown many people are reporting Zoom fatigue because it’s harder to concentrate without being able to respond to non-verbal cues. Your audience will tire quicker in a virtual setting and they will have to work harder to process what you are saying. Slow down the pace of your delivery and throw in another comment that women have been previously criticised for doing  “everyone with me?“does that make sense?”

8. Dress for online success

Avoid clothes with busy patterns and go for solid colours which work best. Make sure you wear bottoms!  You may need to stand up. Leave the dangling earrings for another time.


As an increasing number of us will be working from home in the upcoming months, creating a strong and impactful online leadership presence will become important. Make sure you work on yours.

Check out our Lockdown learning programme: Build an Online Leadership Presence

3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Leadership and Competence Building or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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