Nonverbal and Technical Aspects of Communication Online

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the adjustments you need to make to your nonverbal communication when speaking online.
  • Summarize the lighting, camera, and sound needs for online speaking environments.

One of the biggest differences between speaking in person and speaking online involves the use of nonverbal communication.

When speaking in person, we want to be mindful of nonverbal cues like eye contact, gestures, and how we dress. These cues are important as well when we speak online, but online we also have the added dimension of the physical environment we are speaking from and how it may help or hinder our success as a speaker.

These are some nonverbal and technical aspects to be aware of when speaking online:

  • Awareness of the environment you are speaking in. What does the room you are speaking in look like? It’s best to choose a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted by friends, family, or pets. Be aware of objects that will appear in the video frame with you. If things look messy or cluttered behind you in the frame they may detract from your effectiveness as a speaker. You might consider using a backdrop to hide the contents of the room from which you are speaking.
  • Typically online we speak while seated instead of standing. Speakers most often sit when they speak online because they are speaking to a computer placed on a desk. When we sit and speak, we often have to work harder to convey energy and enthusiasm than when we are standing.
  • Be aware of how what you wear will look online. Generally when speaking to a camera online it is best to avoid clothes with stripes or busy prints as they can be distracting. Instead, stick to solids as they tend to show up better. White is generally not recommended as it tends to be the brightest thing on screen.
  • Make eye contact with the webcam and not to the screen. Try and talk through the camera to your audience. To do this, focus your eyes on the camera rather than the screen. If you look at the screen, you won’t actually be looking at your audience! Also try to place the camera at eye level rather than above or below your face.
  • Use planned-out and deliberate hand gestures. Try to avoid too much hand movement as it can be distracting. When you do use gestures, try to make them intentional but as natural looking as possible.

Technical Considerations


A person standing in front of the window. Their facial features are obscured

Backlighting obscures your face and turns you into a silhouette.

How light is the room in which you are speaking? Avoid having windows or a light source behind you as they will lighten the background but place your face in shadow. If possible, speak in front of a window to or another light source so you have light on your face. Natural light is best if you have it. If not, use a light source like a lamp placed in front of you.


If you are using a camera that is built in to your computer or mobile device, sit at eye level to the camera with your face in the middle of the frame so you can make eye contact to your audience through your camera. If you are using a stand-alone video camera instead, place it on a tripod or other solid, steady surface so it stays stable. If you are using a phone or tablet to record yourself, consider using a tripod so it stays stable. Also, place your device so it records in horizontal or landscape mode rather than in vertical mode.


A woman wearing a headset with a microphone

All it takes to speak online is a computer (or mobile device). An external microphone or headset isn’t always necessary, but it can help ensure better sound and eliminate background noise.

For best sound quality, either use a headset or earbuds with a microphone or a wired or wireless microphone to better capture your voice and also dampen background noises. If you cannot do that and are using the microphone in your computer or mobile device, make sure you are close enough to your computer so you can be heard clearly. Be sure to double-check the input volume settings for your computer microphone to be sure your voice is sufficiently audible.

Test your system out by recording a couple practice speeches. Make sure your voice is loud enough to be heard, you are making good eye contact, and your face is well lit.

Remember: sound is actually more important than image in most online speaking situations. This is something that documentary filmmakers have known for a long time. As nearly any documentary filmmaker will tell you: “If you must choose between a visually pleasing interview set-up and a good-sounding one, always chose good sound. The audience will forgive a flawed shot, but will tune out if it can’t hear the dialogue.”[1]

How To: record a speech for an Online Course

This video from Northern Arizona University details how to give and record a speech designed to be used online. While it is focused on how to record a speech in front of a live audience, much of it applies well to any speech recorded for online viewing regardless of whether there is a live audience.

You can view the transcript for “How to Record a Great Speech for an Online Course” here (opens in new window).

Try It