Virtual Meetings – Beyond the Camera

Some Zoom habits can make or break careers

by Karin Reed and Dr. Joe Allen

Remote work, virtual Zoom meetings, hybrid meetings — it’s all been so sudden, impactful and, to many, intimidating and overwhelming. Few people would likely ever have thought we would all need to master the art of on-camera performance, lighting, sound and virtual presentation.

The following are a few tips to help succeed in this new virtual world.

Turning the camera on is not enough. Simply looking at the camera is not going to make one an effective virtual communicator. Key is to change one’s mindset. The camera is the conduit to one’s conversation partner. One must focus not just one’s eyes but one’s energy through the lens, in order to truly connect with the person or people on the other side. Otherwise, the “communicator” will simply appear to being held hostage by the camera lens. 

Take care of one’s “personal production value.” Ensuring that one looks and sounds one’s best on camera isn’t just a matter of vanity. It’s about showing respect for one’s audience. It’s important to make it as easy as possible for the audience to engage with the presenter. That means making sure nothing distracts from the communication. For example, sitting in shadow doesn’t impact the way the presenter feels on a call, but it certainly impacts everyone else. They can’t receive the message properly if they can’t read the presenter’s facial expressions.

Meetings were tedious before; virtual meetings can make them even worse. All that stuff we’ve known forever about what makes meetings more effective, that many of us never bothered to do (e.g., having an agenda, even-handed participation, coming prepared, etc.) is more important online because the flaws in the process are even more obvious online. We are quicker on our feet in person than we are in a virtual setting, and we can make up for those mistakes or missteps more easily in person. The old best practices for effective meetings are common sense, but uncommonly practiced. Not doing them now, in virtual meetings, leads to virtual drudgery and less productivity.

Don’t overly rely on virtual meetings — they just clog up people’s calendars. There is often an over-reliance on video meetings that up clog calendars and lead to “Zoom fatigue.” Zoom fatigue is not due to a problem with Zoom and similar platforms, but to user error. Not every human touchpoint needs to be a video meeting. There’s a huge need to be more strategic in determining when a video meeting is required. If it’s just information transfer, consider whether that could be delivered via email, a message in Slack or Teams channel, or a quick phone call. But if it’s a meeting that requires group collaboration, discussion and decision-making, it absolutely should be a virtual meeting with video on.

Stop the back-to-back meetings; recovery time is critical. Virtual meeting technology has enabled back-to-back meetings like never before! How many of us have looked at our calendar and thought, “When am I going to get lunch?” or, “When will I get to the restroom?” A new study, reported briefly in our book, confirms that we need five minutes recovery time after a good meeting and 17 minutes recovery after a bad meeting. Neuroscience confirms that humans need time to cognitively switch gears. 

Put more humanity into meetings or team culture will suffer. It is helpful to start the meetings with the question “How are you?” and actually listen to people. That social lubrication where we catch up in the hall or the breakroom has been lost, and must be re-introduced. And it’s important to connect, beyond running down a checklist of updates, projects, or tasks. This is particularly true and important when human touch and social interaction is reduced due to a pandemic or after we remain in our homes and work remotely. 

Stop letting the slides dominate the screen; the presenter brings the value, not the visual aids. The typical virtual presentation looks like this: The presenter introduces him- or herself, then introduces the topic, shares the screen with the audience and presents way too many slides. The presenter then concludes by asking if there are any questions. By that time, it’s questionable if anyone is still listening and awake. The in-person equivalent would be someone introducing oneself and then turning one’s back on the audience while reading off the slides for the entire slide deck. Don’t do it! It’s more effective to deliver the presentation in digestible chunks, sharing only a few slides at a time before toggling back to gallery view. It changes everyone’s virtual environment and forces them to re-engage with the presenter. Plus, it allows the presenter to actually drive dialogue by putting people front and center — not the visual aids, which too often become visual crutches.   

Karin Reed is an Emmy Award-winning former anchorwoman who transitioned over the last decade and a half into coaching C-Suite executives in the art of communicating on camera. Suddenly Virtual is her second book published by Wiley & Sons Publishing.

Joe Allen, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the University of Utah and director for The Center for Meeting Effectiveness. He is the world’s leading scientific expert on workplace meetings and organizational community engagement, with more than 100 published articles in academic journals. Suddenly Virtual is his first book.

 

Written by two masters in the field, Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work(released in March)serves readers as an on-camera coach; remote and hybrid meeting etiquette expert; and a guided, detailed roadmap (backed by science) to thriving professionally in a virtual world.

Having quickly become a gold standard for preparing professionals to navigate our virtual on-camera world, Stanford University’s School of Business incorporated Suddenly Virtual into its curriculum for its Essentials of Strategic Communication course for the current Spring 2021 semester.

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