Many of us are working remotely at the moment. We may have been thrown into this uncertainty but it has also revealed new skills – and opportunities
By Simon Day
The world has changed considerably in the last few months. And change brings with it two constants: uncertainty and opportunity. It’s easy, even natural, to feel overwhelmed by this, but if we dig deep enough, we can find opportunities we had previously overlooked or develop skills we didn’t know we had, provided we are willing to invest in ourselves and – occasionally – make a leap of faith.
So many of us have been compelled to adopt an online method of running meetings, delivering coaching, mentoring or presentations. In recent weeks, I’ve learned some vital lessons that have improved the way I coach online. My hope is that in sharing these with you, you’ll also improve your own practice and avoid some of the pitfalls that can become barriers to your personal and business growth.
Anxiety about using technology to work, meet and present – which I am sure many of you have encountered in recent months – is almost always surmountable. We learn to use software and devices the same way we learn anything: trial, learn, repeat. I’ve come to appreciate that a reluctance to step outside one’s comfort zone is a little selfish: we’re sacrificing the good we could do for others to maintain our own ‘comfort’. If it takes a short learning curve to have a bigger impact within our business, client base and community (and benefit ourselves by default) then it’s worth a little step out there to learn the skills. This is exactly the stance we might take with our clients, after all.
So assuming you’re ready to step out of your comfort zone, what does it take practically to ensure you communicate effectively via video?
Make it work
There are some basic tips to ensuring your video is of good quality when communicating online:
- Keep windows in front of you, not behind you – facing a source of natural light provides better lighting for your videos – and enhances your appearance!
- Avoid noisy locations that are more likely to distract you or those you are meeting with. The quieter the location, the better people can focus
- Keep the device steady – use a tripod or lean it against something to keep the picture smooth and make yourself easy to follow
- Look at the lens, not your face. Eye contact is vital for effective communication
- Ensure your camera is in focus. Lighting helps with this; tap the screen to refocus if you need to
- Keep your device at eye-level. Nobody wants to see nose hair and chin(s)
- Film in landscape (sideways) view. It produces better video that is easier to share online or on social media
Before you allow yourself to feel overwhelmed by the transition, consider how many skills you have that transfer from in-person presence to your online presence. A couple of strategies are equally vital in both settings and will serve you well in any interaction.
Make it work
Eye contact Maintaining eye contact with the camera around 30% of the time, according to a joint study in 2006 between Wolverhampton and Stirling universities (https://bit.ly/2CmY29R), doubles participants’ retention of presented information, compared to not looking at the camera at all. To create relationships of trust and respect, this needs to rise to between 60% and 70% according to research by Quantified Communications (https://bit.ly/37J4Lqf).
You look great. Trust me. You don’t need to spend the entire online meeting staring at your own face. Real eye contact comes from looking at the camera lens. Nobody wants to watch you looking off-screen, bottom left. If you must, stick something like an arrow next to the camera lens as a reminder, but this is where you must look if you want people to feel like you’re addressing them.
Vocal variety When you’re coaching in person, it’s easier for your clients to read your facial expressions, track body language and observe gesture. Speaking on camera makes these more difficult to discern, so your voice will have to compensate for the nuances that are lost when communicating online. Your voice is the primary vehicle through which your message will carry. Don’t be afraid to speak up, speak slower and pause more; everyone will benefit.
Speaking from the heart Above all, people need to feel we care about them, especially in times like this. Sharing a meaningful personal experience can connect people to your story. It takes courage but try to start each interaction with a meaningful story, expression of gratitude or compliment. It will help your message or your coaching be better received.
Online communication can present barriers to detecting nuances like facial expression, gesture, tone or body language. Poor video and audio are huge contributors to a poor experience; thankfully, with a little investment, this can easily be resolved.
After reading some reviews and shopping around a bit, I invested in an HD webcam, a good pair of over-ear headphones and a studio-quality USB microphone. These have considerably improved my experience and that of those I communicate with. I spent in the region of £150, but I cannot recommend the investment highly enough if you are now doing quite a bit of your work online. It helps to eliminate much of the frustration and misunderstanding caused by having to say things multiple times or frequently experiencing technical hiccups.
Considering the sensitive, personalised service we are providing, being able to discern subtle nuances in your client’s communication becomes more imperative; this equipment will help facilitate a more immersive and rewarding experience for all involved.
Learning to coach more effectively online will develop you, your clients and your business in the times ahead. With a little practice, patience and persistence, you will be empowered to grow yourself, clients’ confidence and your business, in these uniquely challenging times.
- Simon Day is a coach and a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management.
- To find your nearest club, visit:www.toastmasters.org