August 10, 2020
Hear that whooshing sound?
It's the sound of us racing past the 150-day mark of a near-global shut-in? After many days of practicing the art of conversation without actually being face-to-face, it might be time for a refresher.
Had a meeting with someone where there was nothing but headroom or worse, the camera was way up their nose? We've all been there. To avoid these common pitfalls it's time for a refresher on the dos and don'ts of effective virtual communication.
Here are 10 proven steps to improve the effectiveness of your virtual communication.
Step 1: Set Your Intentions
Hey, intention-setting isn't just for yoga class anymore. It can work for virtual meetings. How many of you do this before communicating virtually (or in-person for that matter?) What are the goals of this meeting? The intended outcomes? Action items you want to walk away with? Knowing where you are going before leading a conversation is helpful for any leadership setting. For example, my intention for this blog is to provide a much-needed check-in for some small tips and behaviors that might inhibit our virtual communications. So setting your intention for the meeting is first and foremost.
Step 2: Set Up Your Workspace
Have you organized your desktop in advance to share things easily so you're not hunting for them? Turn off all sounds and alerts as someone who edits podcasts and edits a lot of videos and communications that you all do constantly interrupted by an outlook alert or your phone, perhaps.
Please plug in your computer so that the battery stays charged but change the sleep mode setting to never. Ah, few things are more embarrassing than being in the middle of giving a presentation and your computer goes to sleep.
Our home and our office have been on in the same for 100 days and counting, you get bonus points for checking your physical background. You can also test the lighting in your room or office. Just give it a little thought. Am I in shadows or am I being seen visibly? Is that pile of my kids' laundry in the background when I'm giving my updated budget report?
Step 3. Check Your Body Positioning
Sure you can see your audience but how are you being seen? Do we just see your eyes and you have way too much headroom? Is the camera looking at your nose? Make sure you have a nice medium-shot of your head and shoulders in the center of the frame.
Step 4: Practice Non-verbal Communication
Does this sound familiar?
Mm mm mm. Mm.
It's our way of saying "yes, I agree with what is being said." Only our vocal affirmations are very distracting. Wouldn't you agree?
Mm mm, mm, mm, mm
So we need to think about how are we expressing ourselves? Non-verbally am I actively listening? Nonverbal communication such as nodding conveys deep listening in an effective virtual conversation.
Step 5: Use the Improv rule of "Yes, and..."
The "yeahs" and "mm-hmms" that are meant to be encouraging have the opposite effect in a virtual setting and take your audience out of the moment. So ask yourself, are you adding to the conversation by interrupting it? And if you are, I recommend using the improv rule of improv comedy and saying "yes and". "Yes and..." keeps the scene going, and also adds new information. For example, your "yeah, mm-hm could become, "yes and I can see how that applies to the subject of human performance" for example. This shows you're listening to the conversation and you're adding to it. And then all those vocal ticks like yep. They're erased because you're being more thoughtful. You're still being encouraging and you're adding to the conversation.
Step 6: Watch Your Eyeline
This goes back to setting your intention. So if your goal is to provide a deep connection keep those eyes to the camera and not to the faces on the screen. If I was in the same room my audience, I would make eye contact. For effective virtual communication, we have to do some tricks that may seem counter-intuitive at first. Looking directly into the camera gives the appearance that one is looking at all the faces on the screen and the opposite is true. Funny enough, looking away from a face shows that I'm interested, and looking at their face conveys disinterest. This is just the way the camera acts. And again, the camera picks up everything. It amplifies everything and your eye-line is no exception.
Step 7: Manage Time Effectively
Timing is everything as the old saying goes. Laying out your structure in advance of your communication has the same effect as planning an agenda before a meeting. Regardless if you're speaking for five minutes or 50 minutes, just give some thought in advance to what you're putting out and how you're leading the conversation. It's all about holding the attention of your audience.
Step 8: Do a Trial Run
Practice talking as you would a virtual conversation. Record yourself. Review. Yes, that means watching yourself. Embarrassed? Good. Work through it and try to view yourself objectively. You don’t have to live the play-by-play of the meeting but did you come across effectively? Can you improve?
Step 9: Turn Off Notifications
Do you want an important virtual conversation to be interrupted by the bloop of your email notification or a notification that Aunt liked your most recent Facebook post? Can you remember how many notifications you've enabled? Exactly. Emails and social media are pesky ones that keep cropping up. Don't forget to mute your phone too, the trusty sidekick that's always by your side chirping away.
Step 10: Dress From the Waist Up - At Least
We've all been there to see Mr. three-piece suit forget the camera is on him when he gets up to reveal bright pink Bermuda shorts beneath the suit and tie.
Now you're ready for effective virtual communication. Remember, just because we're not face-to-face doesn't mean you can't steer a conversation virtually and effectively as a leader. Just review these 10 simple steps before your next meeting.
Rinse and Repeat
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