How to Look Interested on a Zoom Call
The easiest way to look engaged is to actually be interested.
Sadly, millions of meetings happen every day which don’t interest us at all. John veers off the topic to bring up his pet project. Georgina tells her whole life story instead of giving us the quarterly figures.
That’s frustrating, and while you can and should try to re-focus a meeting whenever it happens, everyone must act in concert for the nature of meetings to change.
Until that happens, there are a few things you can do to look more engaged in meetings. Think of these as “fake it till you make it” ideas: They might feel like hacks now, but if you turn them into habits, eventually, you’ll build real interest in the people you work with.
Here’s how to look — and thus become — more engaged in meetings.
1. Lean forward
Leaning forward is the business equivalent of scooting towards the edge of your seat while watching a movie: It literally shows you’re “drawn in” to the situation.
Leaning forward is a fundamentally human expression, even if, today, it’s mostly metaphorical. Our ancestors had to move closer to objects to examine them: plants, objects, animals. It was an act of caution. The berry might be poisoned, the object might be dangerous, the animal might suddenly move.
Today, we still “move closer” to better understand things — even if those things are mostly abstract concepts. We’ll “lean in” to a conversation because it brings us closer to the person talking — and thus closer to their ideas.
Leaning forward instead of leaning away is a strong, positive body language signal. You show people validation and trust, which is crucial, especially at work.
While leaning forward is most obvious when you’re sitting across one another directly, I find it also works on Zoom calls. I often lean towards my screen and sometimes tilt it, which makes it look a bit as if I’m “looking from above.” It makes me feel as if I’ve got a better overview, and it’s definitely better than being a small, pixelated face in one corner of the screen.
Zoom calls are like paintings: The closer you go, the more details you’ll find.
I nod along so much in conversation, you’d think I’m a bobblehead. I do it because it’s a nice, silent way of acknowledging what’s being said.
I do say “yes,” “mmhmm,” and “exactly” from time to time, but you don’t want to interrupt people every five seconds just to confirm you understand what’s going on. Just nod. Talking is silver, silence is gold.
This is especially true on a Zoom call. With out-of-sync audio, cross-talking, and background noises, the last thing you want to do is add more friction. You want to help smoothen the flow of the conversation. Nodding along does just that. It’s a nice, short, visual cue that the speaker can move on. Use it.
If you don’t smile a lot, making a grumpy face loses its power. A frustrated look can send an important signal, but if it’s the default on your face, no one will know when something is actually wrong. It’s a bit like a child lying about being sick too often — eventually, no one will believe him when it really hurts.
Smiling, on the other hand, isn’t just a nice reward for the well-prepared speaker, it’s also a signal of trust: When you smile, the other person knows they can expect you to assess their information in good faith.
If you look skeptical every time someone gives you a fact or number, they’ll quickly get defensive when you later criticize said detail. So even if you are skeptical a lot, as you should be, don’t insta-reveal your doubts on your face.
Finally, smiling will make your day better. Smiling is always worth a try.
4. Use hand gestures
Using your hands will lighten the mood of a meeting and get important points across. Visuals intuitively allow us to process information faster, even if we don’t realize how it’s happening.
Charlie from Charisma on Command explains there’s a big difference between open palms with tensed but flexible hand muscles (good) and the classic, nervous, hands-folded-on-my-lap position (bad).
Language expert Vanessa Van Edwards says you should always highlight numbers with your fingers and that showing sizes (a “biiiig” achievement, a “tiny” problem) can help put things into perspective for the listener.
Our hands are never the focus of a conversation, but they must be a part of it.
This applies on Zoom too. Your hands bring movement into the otherwise stiff image of floating heads. Use them to break the tension with a funny gesture or help people visualize your ideas.
The next time you’re in a meeting, try a small gesture, then go from there.
In many a company, meeting culture must change. We shouldn’t be stuck on 20-person calls which only prevent us from doing the real work that follows.
Culture, however, isn’t a fast and easy thing to change. It takes time and effort. What we can change today is our attitude and expectations. After all, a meeting that feels irrelevant today might have important ideas for tomorrow.
Therefore, looking engaged in meetings isn’t just a show of respect, it’s an investment into your career. When you lean forward, you become more interested. When you nod, you really acknowledge. When you smile, you do assess ideas more favorably, and with gestures, you bring ideas closer not only to others but also to yourself.
The easiest way to look engaged is to actually be interested. “Fake it till you make it” can’t be the end of it — but it sure is a start.