The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a seismic shift in how we do business. With face-to-face meetings being replaced by online meetings, calls and conferences, many of us have had to rapidly adapt to new technologies. So how can you communicate more effectively online?
Change brings with it two constants: uncertainty and opportunity. It is easy, even natural, to feel overwhelmed by this, but if we dig deep enough, we can find opportunities we had previously overlooked or develop skills we didn’t even know we had, provided we are willing to invest in ourselves and – occasionally – make a leap of faith.
In recent weeks, many of us have been compelled to adopt an online method of running meetings, delivering coaching, mentoring or presentations.
I have learned some vital lessons that have improved the way I work and interact with colleagues and clients online; my hope is that in sharing these with you, you will also improve your own work and avoid some of the pitfalls that can become barriers to your personal and business growth.
Anxiety about using technology to work, meet and present is almost always surmountable. We learn to use software and devices the same way we learn anything: trial, learn, repeat.
I’ve come to learn that a reluctance to step outside of one’s comfort zone is, in fact, selfish; we are sacrificing the good we could do for others to maintain our own ‘comfort’.
If it takes a short learning curve to have a bigger impact within our business, client base and community (and benefit ourselves by default) then surely it’s worth a little step out there to learn the skills.
Tips for Effective Video
There are some basic tips to ensuring your video is of good quality when communicating online:
- Keep windows in front of you, not behind you – facing a source of natural light provides better lighting for your videos.
- Avoid noisy locations that are more likely to distract you or those you are meeting with. The quieter the location, the better people can focus.
- Keep the device steady – use a tripod or lean it against something to keep the picture smooth and make yourself easy to follow.
- Look at the lens, not your face. Eye contact is vital for effective communication.
- Ensure your camera is in focus. Lighting helps with this; tap the screen to refocus if you need to.
- Keep your device at eye-level. Nobody wants to see nose hair and chin(s).
- Film in landscape (sideways) view. It produces better video that is easier to share online or on social media.
Strategies for effective communication
Before you allow yourself to feel overwhelmed by the transition, consider just how many skills you have that transfer from live presentations to online presentations. Here are a couple of strategies that are equally vital in both settings that will serve you well in any interaction:
Maintaining eye contact with the camera 30% of the time, according to a university study several years ago, doubles participants’ retention of presented information over not looking at the camera at all. To create relationships of trust and respect, this needs to rise to between 60% and 70%.
You look great. Trust me. You don’t need to spend the entire online meeting staring at your own face. Real eye contact comes from looking at the camera lens. Nobody wants to watch an entire presentation of you looking off-screen, bottom left.
If you must, stick something like an arrow next to the camera lens as a reminder, but this is where you must look if you want people to feel like the presentation was made for them.
In a live presentation, it’s easier to read facial expressions, track body language and observe gesture. Speaking on camera makes these more difficult to discern, so your voice will have to compensate for the nuances that are lost when communicating online.
It will require more commitment, but your voice is the primary vehicle through which your message will carry. Don’t be afraid to speak up, speak slower and pause more; everyone will benefit.
Speaking from the heart
Above all, people need to feel we care about them, especially in times like this. Sharing a meaningful personal experience can connect people to your story.
It takes courage but try to start each interaction with a meaningful story, expression of gratitude or compliment to someone; it will help build unity in your team and help your message be better received.
Online communication can present barriers to detecting nuances like facial expression, gesture, tone or body language. Poor video and audio are huge contributors to a poor experience; thankfully, with a little investment, this can easily be resolved.
After reading some reviews and shopping around a bit, I chose to invest in a HD webcam, good pair of over-ear headphones and studio-quality USB microphone.
The combination of these three pieces of equipment has considerably improved my experience and that of those I coach: I can see, hear and speak more clearly. I would estimate that I spent in the region of £150, but I cannot recommend the investment highly enough if you are now doing quite a bit of your work online.
It helps to eliminate much of the frustration and misunderstanding caused by having to say things multiple times or frequently experiencing technical hiccups.
If you are providing sensitive services like coaching, mentoring or counselling where the nuances of communication are vital to helping you understand the individual’s feelings or mindset, then this becomes even more imperative; this improved equipment will help facilitate a more immersive and rewarding experience for all involved.
Learning to communicate more effectively online will develop you, your colleagues and your business in the times ahead. I hope these strategies will prove useful in removing some of the anxiety you may feel about communicating online.
With a little practice, patience and persistence, I am confident you will be empowered to grow yourself, your team and your business, even in these uniquely challenging times. I hope you will find greater joy and meaning in your communications with others.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Simon Day. Simon is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. With more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, find your nearest club at www.toastmasters.org
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