Virtual calls and meetings have become routine in business practices, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. But despite the need to work from home, employers have found endless advantages with online communication: it saves time, cuts costs, and improves productivity all around. Hopping on an online video call is now the new norm to connect with clients and colleagues, whether they be across the globe or in the same area. Seems that the work-from-home trend is here to stay, so it's beneficial to work on some of the specific skills that enhance a better collaboration in an online environment.
We've found that video meetings are currently the biggest challenge when it comes to remote work, and more exactly gaining your audience’s attention, keeping them engaged and getting your message across. An older research already confirmed that people multitask while on conference calls, but the new video/live platforms are no stranger to letting participants get distracted, even with their camera on. So, here are some practical tips and tricks to help you keep your audience engaged and get your message across in a live virtual meeting.
Try your best to maintain good posture throughout your video calls. Sitting straight and keeping your shoulders back will make you look more confident, as well as bringing your arms out slightly. This will also help create an open posture that makes you empathetic and inclusive. International keynote speaker and leadership presence coach, Carol Kinsey Goman, says "Leaning slightly forward sends a positive sign of engagement. We lean back or pull back from people and things and ideas that we're not particularly on board with." It is also best to try to avoid shifting and rocking while you speak.
Using hand gestures when you speak can reinforce your message, making it more memorable and easier to get across. Vanessa Van Edwards says in her TED Talk, You are contagious that "your brain gives 12.5 times more weight to hand gestures than to verbal cues." That is why it is important to avoid making nervous movements such as playing with your hands or objects. Having intention with your hand movements will convey the right message.
You can also use mimic to show emotion. Goman says that:
"Unless you have genuinely bad news to tell, you want to start with a smile."
Keep your participants hooked by showing empathy and actively listen. She suggests small gestures like nodding when others are presenting their ideas and resting your chin lightly on your fingers while listening. Tilting your head slightly is also a helpful way to express interest non-verbally, as this exists as the "universal sign of giving someone your ear."
Although we may not realize it, most of the time we look at our own image when we talk on screen. This makes our eye contact appear a little off to the people looking at us. Suman Kher talks about the triangle technique applied in virtual meetings: she proposes to move your eyes between the camera lens of your device, your image, and another participant on the screen. It will give the impression of normal eye movement and it will feel like you're looking at everyone in turns.
It may seem a bit awkward to stare directly in the webcam lens next to that LED light, but Goman advises to humanize this experience by placing a smiley face or a small picture of something you love (or that's dear to you - like your dog) which will also give warmth to your voice.
It is very important that you speak clearly throughout your calls. Make sure you articulate properly and use the appropriate cadence for what you want to say. You may vary your volume and speed to match the content, but keep your voice level up and do not trail at the end of sentences. Avoid jargon, slang, acronyms or clutter words such as uhm, ah, so, and right. Be sure to make a good use of pauses. This can help you stay in control of your emotions, of your speech, and of your audience. "When you've made a point, pause. Give people time. Give people's brains time to evaluate and consider what you've said because they need that extra time that they wouldn't necessarily need in a face-to-face encounter," Goman says.
Also, don’t forget to breathe, and avoid rushing into answers or reactions to your participants' verbiage.
Sometimes, we share our answer thinking it might be the answer, when it might have been better to ask a generous question instead, Seth Godin says.
And, last but not least, use a good headset that will not alter or affect your voice, making it hard for your colleagues or clients to hear you. We've built a list of the most appropriate headsets for video calls (and affordable too!)
In a virtual meeting, the webcam is a person's window to the world. Choose the distance and angle that will not make you cover a big percentage of the screen or make you look like you are talking down. When we put our laptop on our desks, we can sometimes appear as a talking head. Experiment before your meetings: lift your laptop on books and find that distance where a part of your torso is also visible, leaving room for gestures and body posture. Also, be aware of the lighting. Make sure the light is in front of you and not behind, so you don't get shadowed. Don't make it hard for people to see your face and gestures, it will drive them to look elsewhere and lose their attention in the end.
Virtual communication doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, especially since it is so ingrained into many of our work environments. Now that we are aware of the skills needed to clearly convey a message in a virtual call, we can practice these tips daily. By doing our part to master these skills, we will yield the long-term benefits of having meaningful and productive connections online.