Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Good on-screen presence

Brief description

When you meet online, it is particularly difficult to decode each other's body language and get a sense of the people in the room. However, there are certain techniques you can use on screen to compensate for the lack of physical presence. We will guide you on these techniques below:

Body language

1. Look into the camera.

When you look into your webcam, it seems as if you are looking the other participants in the eye, and you appear very attentive and present. This can have a motivating effect on the students when they are presenting. Therefore, place notes under the camera or images of the others, for example of you are screen sharing. 

2. Make sure you have an open and upright body posture, possibly leaning a bit forward.  

 

This makes you seem more positive, friendly and engaged than if you fold your arms and lean back in your chair, which can make you seem more closed off and uninterested. 

3. Remember to gesticulate and keep your movements within the camera frame.

If you talk or comment during the exam, you can underline your points by making gestures and using other non-verbal communication. Make sure you keep within the camera frame, which corresponds approximately to the size of a passport photo.   

4.  Use your hands/arms in a calm manner adjusted to the situation.

Using your hands and arms in a relaxed manner can make you appear both engaged and friendly, and at the same time underline what you are saying. Remember that body language can be too much and too little. Too much gesturing can be disturbing and distracting. On the other hand, overly passive body language can seem unenthusiastic and even impolite, and the other party may become uncertain whether you are listening actively and engaged in the conversation. Moreover, the verbal language can lose its impact or significance if it is not supported by body language. 

Facial expression

1. Smile, nod and use your eyebrows

This can have a positive effect on the person who is talking, because it shows that you are listening, following their point or agreeing with what they are saying. This makes them want to continue talking. 

2. Beware of negative signals      

Do you wrinkle your brow? Do the corners of your mouth turn downwards or upwards? Are you fiddling with your hair or touching your face? Are you looking down or looking away so you seem uninterested? Think about the signals you send with your body language and whether you appear critical or indifferent. 

Tone of voice and speech

1. Don't be afraid of pauses

Small breaks during the exam where the student and the examiner need time to look at their notes, etc. are quite normal, but they may nevertheless seem long and stressful, not least for the student. When the exam is held online, this can be an extra challenge. Additional technical elements may require extra time, and pauses to think can seem even longer in an online environment. It may be a good idea to tell the student that small breaks are ok, and that the student can ask for a moment to navigate or settle technical issues. 

2. Facilitate the conversation

In order to create a comfortable environment at the exam, it is a good idea to begin by going through the exam process before the actual exam starts. It is also a good idea to set specific times for the different elements of the exam. Click the link for good advice on how to run meetings online. The advice may be relevant for online oral examinations as well. 

3. Make sure the sound quality is good.

To ensure good sound quality, it is important that your speaker/headset works optimally. As a general rule, a headset is the best option for good sound quality. 

4. Speak clearly. 

Strive for a natural tone of voice, volume, melody and speed when you talk, and avoid speaking too fast, loudly, indistinctly or monotonously. Some people have a tendency to "hide a little" by lowering their voice in video calls, while others tend to talk too loudly, or even "shout". 

5. Vocalise acknowledgement

Consider how you can compensate for the lack of body language online by using appreciative and attentive expressions such as "hmm", "yes", "OK", "fine" and "thank you", and nod or smile in an appreciative, approving or encouraging way. These small communicative features can compensate for many of the things we usually communicate non-verbally when we meet face-to-face and can read each other's body language unhindered. 

6. Beware of things that are implicitly understood     

 

In the physical space, we very often use non-verbal communication to illustrate or clarify what we are saying. For example, without non-verbal communication, you can more easily be in doubt as to whether the student made a joke or whether there is an implicit point to what the student is saying. This can be a problem when you are trying to decode what the student means, is referring to, etc. If you are in doubt about what is being communicated, then ask the student to elaborate and expand. Give the student the benefit of the doubt by allowing extra time and making sure you understand the student correctly.

Background, surroundings and appearance

Your background and surroundings are part of your communication. Therefore, be aware of the following:

1. Choose a comfortable, neutral place to sit

Of course, you should sit comfortably, but consider whether the background can be disruptive to other participants. It is a good idea to choose a neutral place where the surroundings are not distracting.

2.  Check your hair and your glasses before you press "video on".

It can be disturbing for others if you are constantly fixing your clothes, hair and glasses because you can see yourself on the screen and think you are having a bad hair day. The consequence may be that you seem more concerned about your own on-screen presence than the content of the conversation. Try to ignore your own image on screen and focus instead on the person(s) you are talking to. This will make you more present.

3. Avoid doing other things on your computer

The others will quickly notice if you are looking away or if you are otherwise inattentive. Don’t forget that the other participants are watching the screen all the time and they will notice if your focus changes.    


Contact

Please contact the editors at AU Educate if you have any questions about the content of the platform or if you need consultation on your teaching from one of the many skilled professionals at the Centre for Educational Development