We are now well into a world where we are routinely engaging in virtual meetings, and, with a future of virtual communications ahead of us, it is time to ask: are we being as effective as we could be, virtually?
Having delivered close to 100 virtual training sessions in recent months, I feel well positioned to comment on how businesses can do more to help their people. Just because we have been working from home for much of 2020 doesn’t mean we can continue working this way. Sure, we are ‘getting through’, but people are showing signs of virtual meeting fatigue.
Despite articles and research talking about this, I am not yet seeing a distinct change in business practice regarding what is appropriate for virtual engagement. I believe businesses can do more and go further to help their people – chiefly by creating guidelines to provide practical help.
I would highlight two areas where practical guidance and support would help. Here are some suggestions:
Make sure you have the right environment and tech set-up
- Use a clear background. If not possible, then limit the amount of distraction and keep it neutral.
- Take care when using blurred and photo backgrounds (they can be distracting). When you move around in the space you often blend into the fake background, which means we lose connection with you. If these are being used, please be aware of your movement to avoid blending into the background.
- Ideally, use a separate webcam feeding into the computer. This facilitates better quality video image and sound, and avoids the need for headsets. If this is not possible, then use headsets with only one ear covered and a small microphone boom.
- Use appropriate and supportive chairs which allow feet to be grounded, hips balanced and spine up-right.
- Position the computer screen at face height. This helps with posture and enables you to look straight on rather than down into the screen. If the computer is a laptop, then arrange for a separate keyboard to be plugged in, so arms and hands are at desk height while the screen is raised.
If you can’t create the appropriate environment and it’s an external-facing virtual meeting, then the business should ideally approve the hire of a space for the period of the meeting – it can make a difference.
Manage yourself (your time, focus and energy) to ensure virtual engagement
- Make sure there is some time between meetings. Say 45 minutes on screen, then 15 to absorb the first meeting and prepare for the next.
- Avoid back to back meetings.
- Take micro-breaks away from the screen (a minute away from the screen for every 30 minutes in front of it is a good rule of thumb).
- Limit meeting durations. If they exceed two hours then build in a 10 minute break. This should not be overruled, with people agreeing to carry on, but adhered to.
- Videos on when in a meeting. When you don’t show your face it looks like you’re doing other things. Plus, we want the opportunity to see our colleagues, it increases a sense of connection.
- Make sure your other devices do not disturb you during meetings; make sure they are on full silent or ‘do not disturb’. The same applies to letting friends and family know you are unavailable; although cats seem to be somewhat immune to such instruction!
- Focus: if you’re in a meeting, you’re in a meeting, so don’t be doing other things. You may think you are taking everything in but you won’t be, and we can see you doing other things which is a) distracting and b) disrespectful.
- When addressing others, get used to speaking into the camera. It may feel uncomfortable but for others it looks like we’re looking at them while talking. Similarly, if someone’s addressing you directly, try to look into the camera at times so they get a sense of you being fully attentive.
The most important aspect of the meeting, however, are the people involved. Be present, be yourself, be prepared – and enjoy the experience.
Adrian Kirk is a dynamic, insightful educator and coach (and a trained actor). Adrian’s skill lies in helping people become aware of their impact – including their presence, communication style, ability to influence, and how they lead. His approach raises awareness of how mind, emotion, body and voice work in harmony to create a compelling message.
As well as offering communications coaching, Adrian delivers six popular virtual masterclasses for Kourdi Associates: Mastering Virtual Communications, Achieving Peak Performance, Leading From Within: Developing Your Personal Leadership Style, Impact and Gravitas: Developing Personal Presence, Presenting With Impact, and Influencing and Engaging People (Influential Interactions).
Adrian’s approach is interactive, experiential and practical, showing people how to be adaptable leaders, engaging presenters and influential communicators.