For the past year and a half, my business has been focusing on teaching presentation delivery skills for virtual meetings. Here are some of the strategies I’ve been sharing with others which may be helpful to you.
The problem with virtual meetings is it’s impossible to have direct eye contact with someone. There is no way you can both be looking at each other simultaneously. But eye contact is just what you need to influence others and establish trust with them. So how do you do that?
You’ve got to develop a love affair with the camera. Just like the anchorman on the evening news, you need to look directly at the little bright light on your device, NOT the little faces along the side of your screen. Yes, you can glance away occasionally to gauge their reactions, but it’s important to snap back quickly to the camera light. I know it feels strange to not look at your audience, but in the virtual world – you ARE!
On the receiving end of your message, participants feel like you’re talking right to them, and your message becomes engaging and impactful for them. If you spend your speaking time looking off to the side, audiences begin to feel disengaged from you and your content, as though they’re observing a meeting you’re conducting with another group.
So plan on looking at the camera 95% of time and 5% looking at people and their body language. I suggest you even look at the camera when someone is talking TO YOU. The only way to display active listening (nodding, smiling, etc.) is to look at the camera while they speak, not at their face.
Though largely unseen, gestures can add vitality and inflection to your delivery. So go ahead and get your hands involved when you speak. If they occasionally appear onscreen, all the better.
Two tips –
1. Use more lateral gestures, not forward and back. Gesture toward the camera and your audience will literally recoil.
2. Try 1-handed gestures instead of two hands. One hand is scaled perfectly for the small screen and will support your message, not overtake it.
Keep in mind there will always be at least one set of eyes looking at you at all times in a virtual meeting, even when you’re not the speaker. People love to scroll through the gallery of faces to see what everyone is up to. Do your best to show you’re actively listening. And if you are the speaker, guard against a monotone face; that’s as dull as a monotone voice.
We all tend to get slouchy in our chairs as a day full of virtual meetings wears on. I fight that by putting a small airplane pillow behind my back. No, I didn’t steal one from my latest flight, you can buy them in stores – really. Tucked in the small of my back, it reminds me to sit up straight. Check your camera positioning, too. Are you filling the screen—1 inch of space above your head at the top, down to mid-chest at the bottom?
Remember you’re always “on” when you’re on-camera. Don’t let your delivery skills derail your message. Try these tips and sell your idea! If you’d like some expert coaching and feedback, contact me at [email protected].
Video conference calls have become the norm these days and will probably stay that way as organizations reevaluate the need for people to report to an office five days a week. Just as Business Casual dress arrived on the scene decades ago before the “rules” were written, online video meetings have become commonplace and we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly as people try to figure out the best executive presence practices for the medium.
I, like you, have witnessed some strange and downright shocking choices onscreen and thought, “I can’t believe they did (or said) that.” Eating, drinking, nail filing, bed making, bathroom trips, yelling at spouses/kids/pets are just a few of the things I’ve seen. I’m sure you have a few you could add to that list.
The problem is we can let ourselves become overly relaxed on these calls. I mean, we’re at home on our couch or at the dining room table wearing fuzzy slippers, right? And we can’t help it if the kids interrupt with a math question or the dog barks. I think those disruptions can be fine from time-to-time, it’s more about how we react to them. But when we’re at home, comfy in our happy place, we often reveal a side of ourselves others have never seen before, and yes, I mean the part with no pants. Or the part that screams (unmuted) at the cat.
Our brand, our executive presence, that we’ve worked so hard to build can be damaged, or knocked down a few pegs, in a single online meeting. Here’s a short list of some things to avoid. Have you seen any of these?
1. Dress for the audience. An employment lawyer told me about being part of an online hearing with a judge (in judicial robe) and watching a young attorney argue his case wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. A memo about appropriate wardrobe was blasted out to the attendees the next day. Think about who will be on your call and how they will likely be dressed. An internal meeting full of people who know your closet contents better than you may not need to be impressed. But meeting with anyone outside of the regular crew means you need to be thoughtful—and respectful—with your attire.
2. Don’t log on with a funny onscreen name left over from last night’s online cocktail party. I was guilty of this one and found myself languishing for a long time in the “waiting room” for an important meeting the next day because the host had no idea who I was. Learn from my mistake—change it back to your real name before you leave the party.
3. Conferencing in from your bedroom is just TMI. No one needs to see that particular room in your home, it’s just too personal. I’m not a fan of virtual backgrounds, but better to use one in this case. Another good option is to buy a foldable screen or something portable to throw up quickly behind you.
4. Many regrettable words have been spoken over a live mic.The best advice I can give is always to keep yourself on mute and only unmute when you want to speak. With Zoom, you can select an option in Settings-Audio to “press and hold Space key to temporarily unmute yourself.” That way, you’ll automatically be muted in meetings and can hold down the space bar when you want to speak and lift your hand up when you’re done. It’s a great insurance policy for filtering yourself and whatever is going on in your surroundings.
5. A banker I know shared that on a group call she had with an association, she watched as the incoming President got up from his chair, walk to the frig, pull out two beers, and walk back to his seat with one in each hand. Better options—turn the camera off any time you leave your seat and pour all beverages into a mug before logging on. Why a mug and not a glass? No one can ever see what’s inside a mug.
6. The best engagement tool we have in online meetings is eye contact. As in live interactions, observing other’s body language and facial expressions can reveal much about how they feel about things. But, most speakers make the mistake of looking at their own image and the other attendees as they speak, when they should be looking directly at the camera lens. I know, it feels awkward to stare at that little light when everyone else’s face is off to the side. But if you’d like to capture everyone’s attention and be considered a dynamic, persuasive speaker, look at the camera! Shoot for 99% camera time, 1% glancing at the others.
Your executive presence can take months, sometimes years, to develop. Don’t ruin it by forgetting you’re still “on” when you’re online!
Skilled presenters understand the importance of Q & A. If they handle it well, they’ll be able to use this time to convey their confidence and expertise, to reinforce some of the ideas they shared, even add in material they may have left out or glossed over. If a speaker stays positive and in control of their content and delivery, they’ll be able to continue to build credibility with those who agree with them, as well as win over the nonbelievers or those on the fence.
Q & A can also be a vulnerable time for speakers, as they could get tripped up, challenged, or attacked. Time spent brainstorming questions that could be asked, then preparing and practicing effective responses can help speaking pros minimize those fears. They’ve also mastered the four types of Q & A.
At the End of the Presentation
This is the typical point questions are entertained, certainly in more formal settings with larger audiences. The problem with ending with Q & A is that the longer it goes, the fewer and farther between the questions become. The back rows have already started to slip out the door and you end with a smattering of applause from the remnant that remains. And remember—there’s always a chance the questions may turn negative. What’s the last thing you want your audience to hear—your final takeaway? Or that audience member’s hostile take-down of you and your ideas? Pros are able to handle questions positively and concisely, sideline the off-topic questions, and navigate the challenging ones with tact and grace.
Before the Conclusion
This is my personal favorite. Why? If you insert your Q & A before the conclusion, a couple of nice things happen. The audience tends to regulate themselves because they know they still haven’t heard your conclusion. And you get to have the last word. You finish to thundering applause and everyone knows it’s done-done. So try, “Before I wrap-up, I have time for a few questions.” Take 3-4 of them, then move right into your final remarks and action step. Everyone will walk out of the room with your thrilling conclusion ringing in their ears.
Most internal work presentations are met with frequent interruptions from the audience, as they usually see this, not as a true presentation, but as more of a discussion. The executives in the room certainly do. So the trick here is to manage the incoming questions, remember where you were when they stopped you, then find a way to bridge back to your prepared content. Try not to let your answers last longer than the presentation itself. Be as concise as you can, then ask if that answered their question. Better to do that than to assume everyone suddenly wants an intense deep-dive into everything you know on the topic.
It’s happened to you, hasn’t it? You ask the crowd if they have questions and they all stare back at you. You literally hear crickets. What should you do? First, don’t panic and, second, give them time! What seems like deafening silence to you isn’t to them. Their brains are processing everything they heard and they’re formulating their questions if you would just give them some time. So wait, then gently ask again for their questions and, if you still don’t hear any, ask and answer the first one yourself. “You might be wondering…,” or “I’m often asked…,” or “Many people ask me…” You could also ask a question of the audience – “Of the 3 plans I’ve talked about today, which would be most cost-effective for you?”
Are you a master of all these Q & A situations? Prepare for all four types and you’ll be able to call yourself a Pro!
We all want our workplaces to be havens from conflict, a refuge from the strife of the outside world where we can work together in harmony toward shared goals and objectives. In an ideal world, workplaces could be the model for the rest of society. But are they?
The reality is that workplaces are a melting pot, probably more diverse than the social groups we interact with and the neighborhoods we return to at days end.
Herein lies the problem:
• Can we all get along at work when the world outside is swirling with controversy?
• Can we hold those hot-button issues at bay and get our work done with people who may think very differently from ourselves?
• Can we find a way to discuss issues in a civil, empathetic and safe way as a way to open minds and build bridges?
What does “being civil” mean? The author of Rude Awakenings, which I had the pleasure of being a contributing author to, defined it this way: “Being mindful of the dignity of the human being in your sphere, taking care not to demean that individual in any way.”
Civility is linked to the Latin word civitas, which meant “city” and “community” and gave us the word “civilization.” The word itself suggests a larger social concern. When we’re civil, we’re members in good standing of a community, we’re good neighbors and good citizens. We have an active interest in the well-being of our communities and a concern for the planet we inhabit. Choosing civility means choosing to do the right thing for others, for the “city”.
The breakdown in civility begins when people start to believe they’re the center of the universe, rather than a cog in a big wheel. The seeds are planted when people start showing up late, blame others, fail to say “thank you”, or demonstrate a lack of sensitivity. Attitudes of “I don’t care what you think” or “That’s just how I am – deal with it” can have a ripple effect on others and turn workplaces into an “every man for himself” mindset instead of “we’re all in this together.” Civility teaches that every word you say and every action you take impacts others and care should be taken to make our “city” a pleasant and productive place to be.
So what can we do to make our workplaces more civil and the world a better place? Take responsibility!
There are three forms of responsibility to consider:
When you’re professionally responsibility, you take responsibility for the work you produce. You arrive on time, meet deadlines, and pull your weight on projects. You listen well and follow through. You send clear and unemotional emails, leave intelligible voice mails, and stay “present” on phone calls. It also means you do what you can to advance the company brand and make your organization successful. You do more than what it simply required.
Personal Responsibility means you take responsibility for yourself and your actions. You don’t blame or bash others and you admit your mistakes. You don’t yell, make derogatory comments, or spread gossip. You clean up after yourself in break rooms and bathrooms. You do the right thing even when no one is watching, like refilling paper trays, starting a new pot of coffee, or throwing away food leftovers. Those who display personal responsibility demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence and personal integrity.
Social Responsibility is the type of responsibility where you help others. Do you mentor, support, inspire, coach, encourage, and show compassion? If you’re a supervisor, supervise. If you’re a manager, manage. Are you a leader? Lead! Jump in and do what you can to help those around you grow and succeed.
Take responsibility – and our workplaces and world will be better because of it.