- Dawn Milne
- May 14, 2020
While virtual meetings are helping us stay employed and connected amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they can also be more uncomfortable than a face-to-face chat.
“Depending on who you are, maybe just the whole idea that there are 10 people in a virtual meeting that literally are staring at the pores on your face and every expression you make can seem uncomfortable,” said Kanina Blanchard, a lecturer in Management Communications and General Management. “It's OK that you're nervous. It's OK that some of these things are discomforting because it means that you care.”
Blanchard shared advice for how to ease the discomfort and master those virtual meetings for a webinar called Bringing your best self forward: How to be a leader in your next virtual meeting presented by Western Alumni and The Ivey Academy. She said the most important thing to remember is it’s not about you, it’s about your audience.
“When you want to bring your best self forward, it's not about what you want to say. It's not about what you want to convey or what you meant to do. It's all about what your audience hears, what they see, and, ultimately, how they feel,” she said. “How you leave people feeling determines how successful your communication was. So keep that in mind – the audience matters.”
She also discussed three things to focus on when preparing for virtual meetings:
Nuances of speech
People won’t always remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. That’s why paying attention to your voice, tone, and use of silence can make all the difference in how you’re perceived. Blanchard recommends you drink water to keep your voice from getting dry. She also stressed the importance of standing up and moving your hands as you talk because that can increase the energy in your voice.
“If you're not physically moving, your voice is likely not undulating and giving a sense of what's important and you're losing people,” she said.
And don’t feel you need to talk non-stop; pausing between points allows people to absorb and reflect on what you’re saying.
“This medium has an incredible way of draining our energy, toning down our voice and body, and depersonalizing us because we are staring at a hole – a sort of black camera – above our computer. So we need to make it real,” she said. “Focus on your energy, your movement, your voice, your tone, and also use silence.”
When we’re at the office, we typically have a pretty good sense of our demeanour and remember to smile at others to appear accessible. The same rules apply with virtual meetings. You have to remember to smile and make eye contact. Blanchard suggests you look at the camera lens instead of your computer screen because this will give you a more direct gaze. If all people see on camera is the top of your head instead of your eyes, it’s going to affect how they feel.
“Take a moment to engage. Because of this distance that's created by the technology, those simple things like turning your back or not paying attention can be accentuated to someone who may already feel distant and far away,” she said.
Everything from the lighting in your room to your distance from the camera can change the way your messages are received. Blanchard recommends you keep your physical space well-lit and that you try not to lean back from the camera so you won’t appear impersonal. And while you might be tempted to show off the personal details of your surroundings, remember that they can be distracting. If you have photographs or artwork displayed on the wall behind you, your audience will look right past you.
“Be mindful of your physical presence and how you're using your space because it's conveying a message,” she said.
How to combat “Zoom fatigue”
If you find endless video calls exhausting, you’re not alone. The phenomenon has become known as “Zoom fatigue” due to the increased use of video chats on platforms such as Zoom. Blanchard recommends, if possible, that you schedule video calls at times of the day when you’re less likely to be tired. And if you’re organizing meetings, consider whether they really need to be done through video or whether a phone call will suffice. Blanchard said video calls are more useful when you need to gather input or see body language.
But when video calls are unavoidable, remember to pay attention to what your body needs.
“Take the time to stretch. Take the time to drink water. These simple things will sustain you. Think about your day, not as a sprint, but as a marathon. And if you're training for a marathon, you stretch and you hydrate,” she said.