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Effective Presentations works with the movers and shakers in virtually any industry.

By now, most of us are used to carrying on with socializing, going to school, or going to work via video conferencing software. Whether you use Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, or other programs, you probably know a thing or two about how to have a successful virtual meeting.

But are your virtual meetings effective?

Here are 5 things you didn’t know you’ve been doing wrong on while meeting in a remote video platform.

  1. You have a busy or distracting background

    When speaking to someone in person, it can be annoying to watch your listener gazing around at things behind you or next to you. On Zoom, direct eye contact is somewhat taken away from us. As listeners or meeting participants, we often times use this to our advantage; but if you are ever speaking up during your meetings, the lack of eye contact does you no favors. You have no idea if your listeners are watching you, or staring at your pile of laundry on the floor behind you!

    The easiest way to ensure your background is free of distraction is to turn on your camera before you begin your meeting, and check to see if the image is something you would be okay with showing your coworkers in-person. Even though it’s virtual, these webcam meetings are essentially invitations in your home for the entire team. Make sure your environment is presentable!

    The ideal video background is mostly plain, has something pleasing to look at, and does not include a bright window (see #4, Lighting). Try sitting in front of a piece of artwork or a decorated bookshelf. A plain wall will also do just fine.

  2. Your camera is in a poor location

    We have all (unfortunately) opened up our front-facing cameras on our smart phones while holding it far below our face—not a great angle! Your webcam should be in a spot that is at least eye level or higher when on a conferencing call. This will ensure that you are looking upwards toward your colleagues, not down on them.

    Do you have more than one monitor? Is your webcam an internal lens, or an external device? Where you place your camera versus your screen with everyone’s face makes a huge difference in connectivity—and we’re not talking internet service. Think about it—if you are looking at someone’s face on your left monitor, but your webcam is on top of your right monitor, everyone who sees you will just be getting a side profile of your face. To solve this, simply move your Zoom/Teams/Meet window over to the monitor screen that has the webcam at the top. This will give the illusion of eye contact, which can improve even more by looking straight into your webcam when speaking.

    Speaking of cameras, try your best to keep yours on! We know we would all like to stay anonymous and in our pajamas but try dressing for success (from the waist up…) and being present with your cohorts by showing your face. I’m sure you would like to see theirs, too!

  3. Low-quality equipment

    There is quite possibly nothing worse than not being able to hear someone when they are sharing important information. Is that happening to you when it’s your turn to speak? Most video conferencing tools use your laptop of desktop’s default microphone to pick up your voice—a tiny hole in your screen that might not be anywhere near your mouth. Modern technology has made it easier for devices to pick up our voices, but if Zoom is becoming a big part of your work life, you may want to invest in a professional microphone. There are small, inexpensive versions that you can use as a headset, and there are more pricey versions that sit on your desk. It’s up to you to choose what your investment should look like. Bottom line, how you sound is just as important as how you look; it’s even more important if you are not turning your camera on!

  4. Bad lighting in your recording area

    Unless you’re continuously making usable recordings or facilitating important trainings, there’s no need to make your video conferencing session look like a professional photoshoot. However, there is also no need for your face to be so out of contrast that your listeners can’t read your lips when you talk. We may decide that a window is the most non-distracting background we can find, but we would be wrong! The light coming in from a window behind you creates a contrasted outline around your head and face, making it hard to see you on screen. Try closing the shades to block out the extra light or turn your setup around so that you are facing the window, and the light comes in from behind your computer. Imagine the great image when your face lights up with the natural light of the window in front of you!

    Another idea to increase your lighting is to invest in a light-diffusing lamp that you can place, yet again, behind your computer or webcam; the light should always come from behind and above your camera. You may simply turn on two desk lamps that you already own! Turn on your camera to test out your options before your next meeting.

  5. There’s too much background noise

    Finally, let’s talk about what’s going on quite literally behind the scenes. Perhaps the best and the hardest part of working from home is that we can remain close with our families and/or roommates. However, not everyone is used to going to work with you! Their lives must carry on, as does their noise. When you get ready for a web conference, are you in the room alone? Is there a possibility for interruption? Just because a possible distraction in your home office may not show up on screen visually, it could show up audibly very easily (especially if you’ve invested in a microphone). Don’t blame this on the others around you—take it into your own hands and find a private space to work. If that’s not as easily accessible, practice turning your microphone off or muting yourself when you aren’t expected to respond or present.

    These 5 mistakes are tough habits to break, but if you practice each time you log on, you will be the most professional and effective video conference participant there ever was!

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Dear friends and colleagues,

Greetings! I bring you sincere well-wishes during …this. In the absence of better or un-borrowed words to name what we’re in, I’ll just leave it at that. I look forward to connecting on this insight:

Has the way we tell our COVID stories become as much the focus as the story itself?

What is the Story?

The global gravity of our current situation is hard to wrap our minds around and reflect back, and we’re doing both at the same time. We’re telling the story we’re IN. Social media posts multiply mirroring the very virus that spurred them. I find it all hard to track. I’m curious to know your thoughts.

Is this thing on?

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote, “the medium is the message.” Presently, it appears the virtual medium is the message as we take our personal and professional work online. There’s a frustrating, and often comical, learning curve that goes along with this medium and also an inherent orthodox: what we typically try to regulate for ourselves and our kids(too much screen time!) is the very medium we’re relegated to for school, work and connecting! How has this been for you?

How does it look, sound and feel?

As a speech coach, I naturally view my work through the lens of effective communication. One of my primary questions for clients is, ‘how do you look, sound and feel?’ I wonder the same thing now as we unwittingly participate in our own global social experiment, in one mass pivot.

I notice the following:

Trends in language, semantics, and social discourse. Even with a bank of buzzwords to choose from like unprecedented, unchartered, and uncertain, it’s hard to know what to say.

Shifts in vocal tone. For some, it’s a softer, more tender speaking tone; for others, it’s shriller and more anxious.

Changes in body language. At first, on walks around the neighborhood, I noticed more sustained eye contact, nods and pleasantries. Now, with masks, I notice more heads down, eyes averted, and shoulders hunched.

What have you noticed with others’ look, sound and feel and how have these shifts impacted your interactions? Whatever you’ve noticed and wherever you are on the spectrum of expression right now, you get to be there—we all do. We’re in crisis and we’re reacting. We would do well to remember that a little grace goes a long way.

How do I achieve mindful communication?

We also would do well to remember that sensitive times reflect – and call for – sensitive language and behavior. How do we achieve this with intentionality? This question was the impetus behind the Care-ful Communication program I developed, which leads individuals through a series of assessment questions by breaking communication down into the following areas:

Verbal communication – how do you sound?

What is your vocal pitch and rate of speech? What reactions do you notice from people you speak to? On a virtual call, are you shouting or mumbling? Studies show, your voice alone contributes to over 1/3 of the meaning in your message. On a client call do you sound panicked, defeated, despondent, or are you perhaps disproportionately peppy and upbeat? Our senses are heightened right now – how you sound tells us who you are.

Non-verbal communication – how do you look and come across visually?

How’s your posture? Does your outward expression reflect your inside feelings? Likely so, but what is the impact? Studies also find that 55 percent of our overall message comes just from our non-verbals. If people can’t see your mouth or your smile because it’s covered by a mask, they’ll likely feel disconnected. How can you let yourself be seen and heard non-verbally, with a hearty hello, wave or a friendly gesture?

Interpersonal communication – how are you bridging and connecting during this time of separation? When we’re worlds apart, our words and actions bring us together. How are you ‘holding space’ for others by asking how they are? Can you mirror others’ sentiments by reflecting back to them what they express to you without interjecting your own sentiments?

Messaging and structure – the world is reading, what are your words?

What do you have to say and how are you saying it? What’s your written tone? For help with structure, we recommend instituting the three P’s: position, plan and pledge. What is your position in this current situation? Communicate it clearly and directly. Where are you in it all? Put people ‘on the map.’ Next, what is your plan? What steps have you taken to respond to this situation? What decisions need to be made? What direction have you given to that end? Finally, what is your pledge– your lasting promise, your resounding sentiment? What is the learning of this time? And what is your pledge of support – who are you encouraging and holding up?

For more information on this CARE-ful Communication program or our other virtual offerings, please reach out to Effective Presentations. We know this time is difficult and delicate, we’re navigating it ourselves. But our purpose is your process, let us know how we can help.

Yours compassionately and creatively during…. this time, \

Megan Heffernan

Effective Presentations works with the movers and shakers in virtually any industry.
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