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  • Writer's pictureLin Sagovsky

Link Outside the Box


Since lockdown, even the technophobes amongst us have realised that ‘a meeting’ doesn’t have to mean everyone’s in the same physical space.  Calls on Teams, Zoom and other videolinks have become the norm for many businesses.


But - aside from needing the technical knowhow to un-mute, screenshare, or post in the Chat - how successful are your meetings when you’re staring at little boxes?  Are you truly connecting with the others in their little boxes from your own little box?


The paradox is that, even when everyone is somewhere else, coming across well is still mostly about your presence.


So here are some important ways of helping you to make that link feel real - when in fact, you’re merely virtual.



EYE CONTACT


Eye contact?  How does that work when I’m communicating virtually?


Easy.  Look into your camera.  Try it right now for a moment, instead of reading this text.


It may feel weird, but it’s important to practise this. I’d suggest you video record yourself for a few seconds while you look right into the camera and say your name with a smile.  Then repeat, but look at a different part of your screen.  Play back - and see which one gives a better impression of connecting with your viewer.


I’m not advocating a rabbit’s stare into headlights for the entire time: video meetings are tiring, and sustaining focus in one place makes them more so.  It’s fine if you need to look elsewhere sometimes - to see people’s names, for example, or to read the Chat - but my advice is that when you have a point to make, or want someone else to feel you’re really paying attention to them, you look not at their image, but into the camera.



BE ON THE LEVEL


Practising virtual eye contact on a videolink will only help you connect with your viewers if the camera is level with your eyes.  Many people put their laptop on their lap… or their desktop on their desk - which automatically means they’re looking down at the screen.


So start up a selfie recording, and see how that looks.  Play with extremes:- stand, or put the laptop on the floor, so that you look as far down into the camera as you can.  Imagine a colleague or client is on the other end of the call, and tell them (yes, out loud!) what you most look forward to working on with them this week.


Now play back - and admire the lovely double chins and view up your nostrils to which you’ve probably just subjected that person.  Look, too, at the way your eyes are part-hidden by your half-shut eyelids.  Most importantly, notice how you are literally ‘talking down’ to your viewer.


Next, adjust your eye level.  Put your screen on a stack of encyclopaedias; use a tripod; sit on a lower chair - whatever brings your eyes directly into line with the camera.  Record the same thing again, and when you play back, ask yourself which version is more powerful… more present… gives more of a sense of you being ‘on the level’, both for you and for your viewer?



LIGHT UP YOUR EYES!


Looking into the camera; making sure you’re on the level - both literally and metaphorically - will make big differences to the way you come across to your video viewers.


Unless, that is, you can’t be seen.  So please, think about the way your little box frames you.  Check that your full face is in shot, not sinking beneath the bottom of the screen - and then try out some lighting variations as you record yourself.


First, sit with your back to natural daylight and no other lighting in the room, and see the impact: you more or less disappear.


Then face bright sunshine, and see whether that does you any favours - or just  bleaches your features into oblivion.


Try sitting directly underneath a ceiling light.  How do you look?  Like a ghoul, I expect.


So… If your meeting is taking place in daylight, face a window, drawing the curtains if it’s really sunny.  Or else put a couple of ordinary side lights on the far side of the camera, angled inwards slightly so that your face is evenly lit by the crossbeam and your eyes are fully visible.


If you wear glasses, be aware of reflections in the lenses that obscure your eyes, and play around with positioning your head, and/or the lights, to minimise these.  If you can see well enough, take the glasses off - at least for the moments when you really need to look into camera to establish the virtual eye contact we talked about earlier.


Make a habit of spending a couple of minutes, before your videolink meeting begins, to check these things in a preview:


  • Look into the camera

  • Be on the level

  • Make sure your eyes are fully visible.


Three easy ways to use EYE CONTACT in order to come across with more presence, even when you’re virtual.



ENERGY


When you’re meeting virtually, creating an impression of good eye contact is only one aspect of making the conversation go well.  Another vital component is ENERGY.


Earlier on, I recommended looking into the camera - which is different from looking at the camera.  Imagine you are in fact looking through it, in order to see your audience in your mind’s eye, just beyond.


In business meetings, it’s very common for people not to move their mouths much. Result? mumbling, monotony, and a face devoid of any life.  That’s one reason why meetings can quickly get boring.


But if you really want to make an impact, put a little more Energy than may seem normal into what you’re doing.  Think of what you have to say as if you’re talking to a neighbour over the garden wall.  You’re not yelling - far from it - but you’re using more energy than you would if your neighbour was, say, sitting across a café table from you. (People often employ this technique on the phone in public places, usually when it's not necessary.)


Smile more than may be usual for you, too - not a rictus grin, but what I call a ‘smiling demeanour’: a life in your eyes, and an animation in your face that says you really want to communicate with the viewer.


This will involuntarily make you form words more distinctly - so your message will automatically come across with more clarity.


If it helps, think of your Energy as a beam of bright yellow light, travelling from you…  through and beyond the camera… and connecting with your audience.



EMOTIONAL INTENTION


Eye contact… Energy… something else conveniently beginning with ‘E’ that I recommend bringing to your video-based meetings is EMOTIONAL INTENTION.


What does that mean?


It means knowing what you intend your audience to feel.  Not ‘think’, but feel.


I have sat through countless presentations where the presenter assumes that the only point of the presentation is to dump down information on the audience.  What's missing from that is something often called the ‘So What?’ Factor.


The answer to that question has to be an emotional one.  You need to ‘move’  me, via ‘E-motion’, to be changed in some way by what you have to say.  Otherwise why say it?


It’s not the fact that this car does 0-60mph in 2.4 seconds - but what it FEELS  like to be driving that car: exhilarating... powerful... or terrifying...?


The answer will be different, of course, for different people. 


When you speak in a meeting, you can’t control every single potential reaction - but identifying your Emotional Intention from one moment to the next is a great way of putting yourself in your audience’s shoes.  In other words, showing Empathy: ‘What will move them to be changed by my message?’ is likely to create a far stronger impact than ‘What do I assume they should be told?’.   


This is also a great way of taking the attention off yourself.  ‘I’m so nervous, I’m bound to mess this up…’  If you allow your own feelings of anxiety to dictate the way you put your message across, your Energy folds back in on itself and you have lost that all-important connection, through the camera, with your viewers.



Eye Contact… Energy… Emotional Intention.  Three key ways to come across with impact, not just via videolink - but in reality, too.


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