The reality is virtual meetings are here to stay, and no doubt we will find ourselves during our work week in both physical and virtual meetings moving forward. What is interesting from my experience is that some of the negative behaviours from office meetings seem to be just as prevalent in virtual meetings. I will explore these later. I am also shocked to see how so many professionals seem to have forgotten about their personal brand and their audience and the fact that they are at work! It does not take much to set your home office and yourself up for success.
While I appreciate that there are many articles and posts about setting yourself up on Zoom and the like, it does not seem that many people are taking action from them! The amount of ultra-casual folks who look like they have literally just rolled out of bed, sitting in dimly lit, messy rooms with poor sound quality for meetings confounds me. As such I have done a quick list of how to set yourself up if your concerned about having and keeping your professional personal brand. (There might be financial or physical limitations in implementing the below, but it is important you address which ones you can – it all helps)
Physical Basics of Virtual Set Ups
- Head positioning: have your screen set up at eyeline, use books or a computer or laptop stand to have it set up correctly with your head centered
- Backdrop: a professional backdrop matters, no one wants to see a messy room unless there is a before and after shot! Use a blank screen, virtual backdrop, wall etc. Keep it professional and neat!
- Sound & lighting: invest in a studio selfie light stand (Kmart sells these for under $15), set up your computer with a lamp behind it, and your light stand to create a professional look. Use ear-phones if your laptop / computer has a tinny sound. Watch this short youtube video on lighting to learn more. HOW TO LOOK BETTER ON ZOOM [ How to Light & Angle Your Screen to Look Your Best] – YouTube
- Presentation matters: think about your personal brand, how do you normally dress for work? Make the same effort when presenting from home. People can make the choice to focus on this or not however when it comes to your career think about your audience and personal brand and what makes sense. Dress for your next job, or at least your job when you went into an office!
Once you have a great professional physical set up, the next step is how you show up and present yourself during the meeting. Ideally the boss or the meeting organizer should be agreeing with the team on setting the expectations for the meeting. If done up front the meetings will be far more productive. Encourage the team to do regular debriefs about what is working well and what can be improved in the virtual meetings. It is a learning process for everyone.
Setting the Virtual Meeting Expectations
- Be on time: generally in the west it is disrespectful to be late for meetings in person as much as it is virtually. Everyone is busy and in turns makes the effort to be on time. People who are frequently late for meetings could be using it as a power play or are maybe disorganised, rude or it may be a cultural difference. It is important to understand the why before judging the behaviours. The group can collectively call out the behaviour or the leader of the group once the ground rules have been established. If it is the boss then, you likely have a leadership problem.
- Stick to the schedule: if the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes ensure it stays to this and have an agenda that is shared prior to the meeting. Even have a person monitor the chat, agenda and the time. This can be rotated each meeting. When meetings go over, it can be seen as disrespectful and unprofessional. Move anything that is not relevant to the meeting to another time and carry what needs to be carried over. It puts those who showed up on time and who manage their diary well in an uncomfortable position having to leave at the pre-agreed meeting time, which should not be the case.
- Listen to others: as with offline meetings there tends to be the same voices that dominate the conversations. Which is not a problem so long as the rest of the group has an opportunity to have input. As a group consider using the chat as another ways for people to be included in the meeting and have someone monitor the chat to share the other comments and ideas that are being shared. As the wonderful quote goes – “If you don’t know what an extrovert is thinking you were not listening. If you don’t know what an introvert is thinking you did not ask?” Be sure to facilitate meetings in a way where everyone’s voice can be heard, not just the loudest person in the room! Create a psychologically safe team environment where people feel comfortable sharing. Most of the time everyone will have something of value to contribute if they feel safe to do so. More than ever before with so many people experiencing loneliness and anxiety due to covid we need to be more considered about ensuring our team meetings are places for work and building positive connections.
- Screens on or off: meeting participants need to decide as a group if they are comfortable having screens on or off. In addition, the same applies with the sound. In physical meetings we are expected to show up physically likewise online. If you need to turn your screen off for any reason, notify the meeting participants in the chat (i.e. Will be back in a moment for x,y, z reason). If you are requested to join the meeting you need to be there fully, not having your screen and sound off doing other things. This could indicate any number of things – you should not have accepted the meeting request, you don’t value the other meeting participants time, you should not have been invited to the meeting in the first place, your disengaged and in the wrong job, etc.
If you are called upon to present to a group, deliver a presentation or interview there are a few things you can do to make a more positive impact.
Presenting to the audience
- Look at the camera: you have to work extra hard to engage a virtual audience, one way to do this is to look at the camera when you are speaking. It is hard to hold a groups attention at the best of times, so when you are speaking looking down, out the window, at your dog or children this will ensure you lose them. Consider your eye contact, tone of voice and the energy you project.
- Rehearse your presentation: if you are sharing information, delivering a presentation or interviewing you can rehearse both what you are going to say and show. Including practicing each of the technical steps on the computer – shifting screens, recordings etc. Do a run through so you are not caught out during the real thing. You can even record yourself to see how you come across.
- Mix it up: invite questions comments, experiences. Show videos or clips if relevant. Keep it interactive where you can. Less slides and more engagement. Silence is also ok. Give people time to think. Leverage polls, the chat box and the break-out rooms for people to engage and explore the topic in more detail. Allow people to connect and go deeper. If things are kept too transactional you will lose your audiences attention very quickly.
- Consider your communication & interaction style: when presenting reflect on how you generally walk into a room, set up to present, how you engage with the audience, the early arrivals, ask questions, use your body, your language and your tone of voice. These can translate into virtual presenting sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way. Think about your audience and the best way to engage with them, which may require you to adjust your style somewhat. You need to work harder to engage with a virtual audience and create a safe and dynamic space. For example – if you are at a standing desk and leaning over your desk and taking up the screen with your head and upper body, the impression that the viewer gets is of someone looking down and talking down to them. If you add to this a strong directive tone of voice, the result can be one of dominating or intimidating the audience. If you are trying to create a collaborative team for example this approach would not be advisable. Reflect on how you typically show up – are you looking at the camera front and center, are you looking down at your keyboard or are you looking down to your audience. What tone of voice are you using, can you be heard? Are you asking questions and listening or are you directing and dominating the meetings?
While everyone is adjusting to working remotely and virtual meetings most of the rules from face to face meetings apply, with a few new ones. Be sure to consider your audience and how you are engaging with them and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. We are all on a learning journey with this new way of working.
I would love to any tips, advice or experience of virtual meetings and presentations here that may help others.