The way we communicate at work has been transformed over the last 18 months. More important, however, than the change itself is its transformative permanence, and how we plan, manage and follow up on meetings, webinars and workshops, conferences and online events, and even job interviews.
Unless you have a background in journalism, the likelihood is that you haven’t been trained on ‘camera communication’: speaking on camera, to camera and with and to an audience you either don’t know or can’t see. And because humans are so adaptable, we’re getting on with it the best we can, with varying degrees of success. The following tips will provide you with a basic toolkit to use in most circumstances that you’ll encounter.
Writing is key
The first point is that online speaking begins with writing. Yes, that’s what I meant to write: online speaking begins with writing. To build rapport, create some level of familiarity, take away the strangeness and the ‘coolness’ of digital communication, it’s a good idea to contact your interlocutors-to-be at least 24 hours before your ‘call’ takes place.
This ‘written first contact’ will allow you to introduce yourself, provide background and context to the call and outline your objectives (if you are not chairing the meeting). Plus, you can ask questions about the technology, the attendees, the duration and the mechanics of the video meeting. This is considered best practice in face-to-face meetings, but somehow, with digital, we think that it’s acceptable to click on a link and ‘turn up’ on the screen with no preparation. Well, it’s not. The more you invest in the pre-meeting phase, the easier and more efficient the live event will become.
Practice makes perfect
The second step is to create a free account with as many video applications as you can and practise in your own time. You can then familiarize yourself with the technology and its features, and also record yourself and get used to looking and speaking at the camera. This is important, because most of us tend to look at the faces on our screen when we speak; looking at those happy souls while you listen is fine, but you should try and treat the laptop’s built-in camera, or your additional camera, as a person.
The camera has behind it the faces and eyes you would normally look at in a face-to-face environment. This will feel odd and gravity will pull your gaze towards the screen. Persevere - discipline yourself to look towards the camera. The impact on, and the perception from, those listening to you and watching you will be more professional, more persuasive, and more in control. This takes time and practice, but it’s worth the effort.
Use your hands
Another key component of your on-camera ‘performance’ is the use of your hands. We have become so used to seeing still heads on video calls that the only environmental aspects we notice are backgrounds in people’s rooms. However, hands are a powerful communication tool, one that will make your video calls more personal, more interesting and bring you closer to other participants. Use them deliberately and regularly, but be mindful of their proximity to the camera as too close an approach may be counterproductive.
The follow-up call
As important as the pre-meeting procedure, if not more, is the follow-up post-video call. Sending a thank-you note, a summary of actions, an acknowledgement of what went particularly well or badly and a request for feedback is good practice for any meeting. It’s especially good for online meetings, as these post-meeting messages will help you to build your relationship with the client, colleague or interviewer, and rapport for future video encounters. It takes effort and discipline; the feedback piece in particular will build your confidence and your technique. You will gather a portfolio of recommendations that you can apply to future calls and share with colleagues and friends alike.
Be yourself, be lively
Finally, be enthusiastic, be energetic and smile. A big weakness of video communication is that it is easy to lose that precious chemistry and heat between humans. You have to make an extra effort to maintain some electricity and interest between the two parties. Be yourself and be lively. You’ll have more fun and other attendees will too.
We live in exciting and testing times. Embrace the opportunity and experiment every day. Video calling is here to stay and you can master it. Start with the recommendations outlined here and you will soon develop a more advanced repertoire of tools and techniques.
Carlos Gimeno is founder of Cg and a freelance trainer. You can follow him on LinkedIn.