Five tips for communicating well in virtual meetings
Pretend for a minute that you’re an actor. You’ve memorized your lines and you’re ready to bring your character to life. How you go about doing that—how you utilize the tools at your disposal—might change depending on whether you’re acting for the stage or the screen.
If you’re performing in a theater setting, you’ll need to make your gestures, emotions, costuming, makeup, and voice larger than life in order to make sure audiences understand your performance from their seats at a distance. On the other hand, if you’re performing for a camera, you can trust audiences will perceive much smaller, nuanced acting choices. You don’t really need to think about whether people can see and hear you clearly.
Now that we’re communicating more and more via webcam, even for day-to-day meetings with colleagues, rather than in person, we need to recalibrate similar choices. We can’t rely so much on body language and those subtle and innate cues that help us convey our point in in-person contexts. Here are five tips to help us all make the most of our new role as video conference stars, both in how we communicate and how we actively listen.
- Project and inflect
The former might seem obvious, but the latter is truly an artform. We all have a storyteller in our lives whose voice and manner of speaking is just as enjoyable–if not more so–than the story itself. In order to keep listeners engaged, consider turning up the dial on the modulation of your voice. Playing with your rhythm and cadence is a great tool to help compensate for some of the emotional distance that can come with video calls. And you don’t have to be a pro with an audiobook deal lined up to do this. Start small: make sure that when you’re asking a question, your voice makes it recognizable as one to the folks on the receiving end (i.e. you throw in some upward inflection).
- Lean in
An in-person meeting attendee leaning all the way back in their chair at the conference table might give the impression that they’re not super interested in the discussion happening around them. There’s an easy way to avoid giving off that passive vibe in virtual meetings. Show that you’re an engaged listener by angling yourself toward the webcam. Your shoulders should be square and you should be facing the camera directly. Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m part of a huddle, one that just so happens to be taking place through the internet. That mentality prompts me to make useful physical adjustments.
- Mind your expression (or lack thereof)
Video calls can give everyone RBF–Resting Blank Face. Be aware of what you’re conveying with your expressions. If you like or appreciate what’s being said, and if the inclination so strikes you, smile. A smile on a video call has the capacity to inject a lot of warmth and positivity into the discussion.
Utilize your body when you’re speaking. Even if your fellow meeting attendees don’t see your arms gesturing just off-screen, they’ll pick up on the energy you’re bringing to the topic at hand. And as for on-screen gesturing, if you have a point to add, raise your hand or hold up a finger. If you appreciate what someone said, give them visible and audible snaps or thumbs up. Seize opportunities to make the conversation feel dynamic and interactive.
- Nod along
If nothing else, shoot your colleagues a nod. It can be a lonely world speaking out into the digital abyss! Giving regular affirmation to people as they speak lets them know that you’re following along with them and you’re on their team. And make your nods big. Remember, we’re acting for the folks in the balcony, so to speak.