The aim of the study was to check whether the background will affect the perception of the presenting person.
I checked how one of the three background variants (forest, library, and beach) would be perceived by:
- women and men
- people of different ages
- people in various positions
- people who use the background and those who don’t
98 people who took part in the study were divided into 3 groups. Each of them got a different video in which the actress spoke about sustainable finance. In one variant, the background was a bookcase, in the second – a forest, and in the third – a beach. The respondents assessed the presenter in terms of community, agency, professionalism, creativity, and credibility.
Background no. 1 - a forest
I posed a research question: Is there a difference in the perception of the presenter depending on the background? Overall, the results showed that there are no differences in the presentation’s assessment of agency and community, regardless of whether the background was a beach, forest, or library. Additional analyses also showed no correlation in credibility, professionalism, and creativity ratings. Also, the respondents’ position does not affect the perception of the online presenter in terms of these features. One can only notice differences in the opinions of men and women who assessed community, creativity, and agency higher. There was a positive and weak correlation between creativity and age, which means that the older the subjects were, the higher the evaluation of the online presenter’s creativity about the presented material.
Why is there no difference in the presenter's perception depending on the background?
Higher ratings of creativity by older people may be due to the fact that they are less advanced in new technologies, and the use of virtual backgrounds may mean more creativity for them.
The test result may be influenced by the fact that only 23% of the respondents use the background. The most frequently indicated background was the office/conference room (39.1%), cosmos (17.4%), uniform background in one color (13%), and the company logo/background prepared by the employer (13%). A small percentage of people using the background may indicate a low attachment to the background both as a user and a recipient and result from the fact that the virtual background evokes general distrust, regardless of the background we choose. The recipient may wonder where the presenter is actually located and whether someone else is listening to the conversation. It is also worth noting that online performances are different from live performances because the physical performer has no audience around him. We only see avatars or small faces on the screen.
Background no. 2 - a beach
What is the reference to other studies?
The experiment’s reference may be the study by Zandan and Lynch (2020), in which the speakers during a virtual presentation had a white, uniform background, a bookcase, or a virtual background behind them. There were differences in perception, and the worst-rated speakers were those who had a virtual background. The respondents preferred the background of the room where the speaker is currently present. In my study, all the presented backgrounds were not natural but virtual. They showed actual photos of the forest, the beach, and the bookcase.
Does the background during an online presentation affect the speaker's perception?
Based on the results, a general conclusion can be drawn that the type of virtual background does not affect the speaker’s perception, which may be because, for almost two years, a large part of professional and educational activities has been performed virtually. For the Zandan and Lynch (2020) study, backgrounds were not yet common in use. This dependency may also be explained by the fact that after a longer period, users could stop paying much attention to them. Perhaps they only pay attention to them when they see different company logos, which means a job change. Moreover, participants in online meetings are more cognitively burdened by exposure to such a large number of stimuli that are not occurring in real life that background analysis may take a back seat.
Background no. 3 - a bookcase
The lack of differences in the ratings may be since a small group of respondents participated in the study. Narrowing the group to economically active people in a small age range could show larger differences in assessments. Besides, the presentation was by a woman. The results could be different if we had also done a version of the study with a man.
The topic of background selection in online presentations requires further exploration. The next step in the study could be to use a virtual background but with the addition of an actual background view of the speaker. In addition, the research could be extended to include a blurry background, which is intermediate between the virtual and real backgrounds and also remove the background altogether. The above conditions could help to clarify whether a similar assessment of the respondents results from the selection of virtual backgrounds or the fact that they do not represent a realistic view of the background of a room or office. Alternatives could be to conduct the test with a male speaker and not see the speaker during the presentation with only the background visible and the voice heard.
How to use the knowledge about the virtual background during a video conference in practice?
In practice, the results of this study can be used in companies that are wondering about the background they should set on corporate presentations. Many companies use virtual backgrounds that include their company logo. Also, if someone has a dilemma about what virtual background to set during the presentation, they can choose any background from the three presented because the experiment shows that you can allow yourself a lot of freedom in selecting the background. After all, it does not play a significant role.
- Zandan, N. i Lynch, H. (2020). Dress for the (Remote) Job You Want. Harvard Business Review:hbr.org/2020/06/dress-for-the-remote-job-you-want
Hi. Welcome to my blog 🙂 I’m a psychologist and public speaking trainer. I work as a trainer and Head of Speakers at TEDxZurich. I also help, among others, lawyers, vocalists, actors, lecturers and business people in preparation for their speeches in front of hundreds of people in the audience, as well as in conducting small meetings or presentations. For many years I worked on controlling the stage fright that kept me awake at night. I was singing and dancing in a Cuban musical. I have always wondered how to manage the internal critic, not to worry about the opinion of others, and how to build a real sense of confidence on stage. Now I know the answer.
Recently, I have given countless interviews, which made me aware of the importance of confidence in front of the camera. Having been involved in music since the age of 10, I know how stressful it can be to present to a wider audience. By combining my business and music experience, I can guide you through the process of changing direction towards your dreams. Based on my vast stage experience, I have gained the ability to provide adequate tools and methods of coaching that will support your development. In 2021 I was chosen as one of the top 11 public-speaking coaches worldwide 2021, according to the Coach Foundation ranking.