2020 will be remembered for many things – not least the vast disruption to our working lives. Almost overnight, it seemed, business people and office workers collectively entered the realm of that previously relatively niche group: the home worker. Cue (initially at least) a collective hurrah! to the joys of the home office. The best part of a year on however, it’s fair to say we have a more ‘rounded’ overall view. It’s our prediction that the many positives afforded by virtual working will mean that, in some form, it’s here to stay. What better time, then, to take a clear-eyed look at what we’ve learnt and what we can improve. Here are a few BeSpoke observations and communication tips for online meetings to make them more effective for all of us in the months ahead.
‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real phenomenon
It’s official. Researchers have discovered prolonged eye contact causes a subtle fight or flight response in us that is hugely draining over a full day of meetings. We simply don’t spend that much time looking into one another’s eyes in ‘real’ life.
In large group settings, there is a huge mental effort in trying to monitor dozens of little boxes for body language cues that demonstrate whether people are engaged – or, more importantly, disengaged – when we’re speaking. We’re having to be hyper-vigilant to receive the few cues we do get and this is, quite simply, exhausting.
Add to this the new trend for socialising online as well and it’s a wonder everyone isn’t passing out on their keyboards.
Many of my clients are attempting to manage this by scheduling meetings to give themselves five minutes downtime to recover in between. Similarly, turning the camera off occasionally can help manage the issues associated with video calls.
What’s really needed, however, is fewer online meetings – and one of the easiest ways to do that is by arranging a good old-fashioned phone call instead. They not only allow you to move about more freely, research shows that by having only the spoken word to concentrate on, they’re less taxing on the brain.
Being concise isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity
At BeSpoke, we’ve always advocated of the power of concise, targeted messaging in meetings and presentations. What’s become clear more recently, however, is that this important aspect of in-person communication is an absolute necessity online.
Video meetings are shown to reduce the attention spans and sense of immediate accountability of their audiences – particularly in larger groups when individuals tend to think they’re more ‘hidden’. That makes it more important than ever to get your message across as quickly and effectively as possible.
Writing down your argument or the points you want to make in clear, concise bullets before you go into a meeting or presentation is a good, effective, easy-to-instigate start – it will help you formulate your ideas beforehand and stay on topic and focus your attention.
The effective use of micro-pauses between thoughts when you’re speaking, meanwhile, will help you think ahead and avoid excessive filler. It will also help your audience to digest your content.
The larger the meeting, the more inclusive we need to be
Group meetings can feel lonely. Yes, really. For all the benefits of being able to meet with clients and colleagues virtually, much of the energy that comes from having everyone in the same room together is lost.
Fewer people speak up in a big online group. It’s partly because they’re unable to pick up on one another’s physical cues as they would in a shared physical space (and therefore feel less confident in doing so). It’s also because the technology itself is designed to allow only one individual to be heard by the group at a time.
Inevitably, it’s all too easy for such meetings to become a two-way conversation. Try to interject or ask a question and any silence that follows while others consider how to respond, can feel awkward. (And that’s before we even get to technological glitches that can lead to such lags)
Yes, it can seem harder to stimulate the debates and discourse that are such a huge part of a group experience, but it’s not impossible. I’ve learnt this myself while conducting group workshops online over the past year. There are, in fact, many ways of stimulating conversation in a group.
- Having more frequent breaks for discussion;
- By encouraging questions in the chat box as you go;
- Using a ‘plant’ in the audience to get the ball rolling on a Q&A;
- Collecting questions via email before a meeting and addressing them on the day.
We need to power up our PowerPoint
If you’ve ever had cause to dread the sight of the first flash of a long and winding slide presentation in real-life (and frankly, who hasn’t?), the bad news is that poor presentation skills are amplified online where a poorly planned presentation – without even a presenter ‘there’ to offer visual distraction – is practically an invitation for your audience to switch off.
Many of us could have used a presentation skills refresher even before audiences could so readily pick up their phones, start answering emails or, worse, complain to other meeting participants via Slack about the terrible presenter. So if online meetings are likely to remain part of the working landscape, it’s worth getting better at online presenting. Here are our top presentation communication tips for online meetings:
- Before simply going down the oh-so-obvious PowerPoint route, why not consider a different approach entirely? Collaborative tools such as shared documents or virtual whiteboards help engage your audience and work better for some meetings.
- If you have to present slides, think about incorporating builds into them – the visual stimulation alone will help manage attention. Or use the occasional image to create some visual variety.
- Work at polishing your delivery skills to enable you hold your audience’s attention for longer. Your narration needs variety as much as your slide show.
- Finally, as mentioned above, factor in more breaks for discussions, which will engage your audience more actively.
And the best bit? Get it right and the benefits will apply to any presentation, online or off.
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