When I began my career as an on-camera TV news reporter many years ago, it was shocking to me how much I had to “up my game” in terms of performance. I always thought I had a loud voice (a nicer way of saying I had a big mouth) and lots of energy, but when I saw myself on camera, I looked – and sounded – like I had just come from a funeral. I quickly learned that the camera (and audio equipment) drains energy, so I had to go out of my usual comfort zone to come across as if I cared at all about what I was saying.
Fast forward to 2020, and I see the same problem with the new virtual reality we’re facing because of COVID 19. In his most recent blog, my colleague Jim DiBiasi provided ten valuable tips on logistics, technology, and other tactics to make remote meetings most effective.
THIS blog focuses on your performance – how to use your voice tone and body language to capture your audience’s attention and keep them engaged, when you’re not in the same room.
Here are my top ten tips on how to “bring it” – virtually – whether you are leading or simply participating in the meeting.
- Excellent performance begins with excellent preparation. In other words, you can’t say it well unless you’re saying good stuff! What does this audience need or want from you? Meet expectations by preparing clear, concise messages. Fully script them and read them out loud to ensure that they are written for verbal delivery (i.e. written for the ear and not the eye). If you can be focused, organized, and targeted in your remarks you will perform better. This is especially important for remote meetings, which have the potential to devolve into chaos.
- Require cameras. It’s hard enough to communicate effectively when people can see you, let alone when they are hearing a disembodied amorphous voice. Also, since it’s human nature to multi-task, requiring people to use their cameras puts them on notice that they are expected to pay attention throughout the meeting. There is an art to using a camera for virtual meetings. Put it on a few books or a box; that way it will be at the right height so you’re not shooting up your nose. Bottom line: Use the camera to connect with your audience and improve overall engagement.
- Dress like you mean business. Many people think they can work remotely in their pajamas. Sure, you could. But dressing the part gives you confidence and helps you prepare mentally and emotionally for the level of professionalism you want to project. Unless you normally wear faded t-shirts and shorts to work, leave them for the gym.
- Bring positive facial expressions. Always look directly into the camera (and not your computer screen) and smile whenever appropriate. When someone else is speaking, practice active listening. Tilt your head ever so slightly and keep your expression neutral. Do not nod – it is distracting and connotes agreement, which you may not feel. Don’t scowl or frown or otherwise show disapproval – remember, the camera is always on (or it should be!).
- Bring positive body language. Sit up straight, slightly forward in your chair – or stand up. Do not sway back and forth, fidget, or jiggle your legs or feet because even if they can’t see your feet, you will appear nervous. On the other hand, don’t put your feet up or slouch. This is not a time to get too comfortable. Show up like you mean business.
- Bring your gestures. Even if the camera doesn’t show you gesturing, doing so in a comfortable, appropriate way will help you look and sound more energetic and natural. Put your hands on the table or desk, not under them. Let your hands go and use them naturally, but gestures should be a little more circumspect than what you would do in person.
- Bring your energy. Remember I said at the top that the camera and microphone drains you and makes you sound less energetic? Set up a test meeting with a trusted colleague. Ask them if your energy level seems appropriate. You may have to “push it,” and this may not be comfortable at first, but keep trying. Get feedback. You may find that what feels like it’s “over the top” is actually quite appropriate!
- Bring your best voice. This is probably the most important thing in a virtual meeting, especially if you are unable to use a camera and your audience can’t see you. You want to have a strong, clear, authoritative but warm delivery. Use vocal variety in terms of pacing, pausing, tone, and pitch. You absolutely must be loud enough. If people have told you that you have a soft voice, you will have to raise the volume significantly for a virtual meeting.
- Practice to bring your best of everything. All of what I’ve been discussing takes practice to achieve. Practice using your voice offline by reading things out loud and recording yourself on your phone, playing it back, and hearing how you sound. Do you talk too fast? Too slow? Is there “upspeak” (that annoying singsong characteristic where it sounds like every sentence ends in a question, otherwise known as “Valley Girl Speak”). Work on these issues with a professional voice coach or speaker trainer if you think your voice is not as effective as it should be.
- Bring it! Last but definitely not least, bring that almost indescribable quality that is truly a combination of warmth and strength, calmness, and authority – what we coaches call executive presence. Doing everything we’ve talked about helps, but executive presence truly comes from within. It starts with knowing your value. You were asked to lead or participate for a reason. Believe in yourself. Show up with confidence, it will show.
At least for the near future, virtual meetings will be the norm. They can be challenging, but they’re also an opportunity to showcase your increasingly professional performance. If you can “bring it” virtually, you will “up your game” in any reality. Go for it!