The (New) Rules of Engaging Virtual Meetings – Tip #3

by | Jul 21, 2020

A Series of Quick Tips for Success: Tip #3

Over the past few months, we’ve been relentless in attending “best practice” webinars, researching tips, strategies, exploring virtual platforms, and testing production methods in the pursuit of elevating the virtual meeting and training environment to unprecedented levels.

To pull of an engaging virtual meeting, there are indeed new rules, and in this series of posts, I’ll share some of our top insights we’ve found to crack the code on designing and running engaging virtual meetings. Today we are going to talk about the big elephant in the room….or on your screen….RBF.

Tip #3: Mind the RBF

An enduring memory of my childhood was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on my family’s huge wooden RCA color TV. I just loved it. The massive floating displays, the bands—and the excitement of the hosts. When I was a kid, it was the mid-80s (um, the 1980s? I know, the wheel was just invented back then, I get it, I’m old.) The hosts at the time were Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray from the hit series Dallas. I mean, these people looked like they were L.A. LOVING LIFE! They brought the floats and stories to life and just seemed to be having a ball doing it. 

However, one year the producers cut back to them from a commercial break a little early and it really caught me off guard: both Patrick Duffy and Linda Carter were staring around, stone faced, and not making eye contact with each other. I think I even remember Linda doing one of those big breaths where you puff your cheeks out while exhaling. (I usually do this move after a big meal—could that have been Linda’s situation?) Then, all of a sudden, they realized (with a high degree of panic) that they were LIVE! Instantly, they both sprang to life, stared at the camera and resumed their overjoyed state.

Even though I was about nine or ten at the time, it hit me: these people were acting. They weren’t over the moon about the Poughkeepsie Marching Band or the Winnie the Pooh float, they were playing make believe—and they got caught doing it. It rocked my world; I’ve never forgotten it.

While I didn’t know it at the time, I’m sure Patrick and Linda weren’t exactly bored out of their gourds, nor did they disdain each other; they were simply conserving their energy until they were back on camera. If anything, they were guilty of what we now call RBF. Resting B_tch Face. (You can fill in the blank, this is a family show.)

RBF is the phenomena of looking incredibly pissed, or even downright angry, when your facial muscles are at rest. While we joke about it around the office, it’s a really bad look to project in a virtual meeting. While I’m sure those Thanksgiving and New Year’s segments are extremely demanding for on-screen hosts, I’d suggest that keeping your energy up during a virtual meeting may be even MORE challenging. After all, you are rarely (if ever) off camera during the entire time. And, it is extremely easy to let your RBF creep in and project a dour image to the audience.

In your next virtual meeting, here’s what I want you to do: take a moment to look around. Count the RBFs you see. While you know the look isn’t intentional, what kind of vibe is it giving off? More importantly, what type of message may it be sending to a potential client? If you are recording a virtual meeting, I’d 100% suggest giving it a timeline scrub and monitor your (and your team’s) RBF ratio. I think it’ll really shock you.

As they say, “recognition is the first step to recovery” (I think that’s what they say, anyway). So, when it comes to taming your RBF, just realizing you may have a default RBF is a win. Then, you’re going to need to practice monitoring it during high-stakes virtual meetings. I actually find pairing tips one (turn up the wattage) and two (stare at the camera) can help mitigate early RBF onset. Hey, it’s pretty hard to scowl when you KNOW you are on-camera. (Just ask Patrick and Linda).

That’s your Virtual Tip O’ the Day!

About the Author

Michael Thiel is the Executive Vice President and lead Imaginator at automätik, an organization dedicated to “Eradicating boring training from the face of the Earth.” He is a passionate advocate for the development of engaging learners via effective presentation and instructional design. With over a decade of experience with the integration of educational technologies in the corporate learning and events space, Michael has been featured as a lead instructional designer, guest speaker, and Facilitator with some of the largest and most trusted brands in the world, including BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen, Kia, Honda, and the Sub-Zero group (to name a few). You can find more articles from Michael at or visit the automätik YouTube channel.