Published here May 2021


Musings Index

Communication in Times of Lock Downs
It Is More Than Just Turning On Your Camera
Max Wideman with advice from Karin Reed and Joe Allen, Ph.D

The following is shameless repetition of the authors' own quotes from their new book Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work.

MW: In these seemingly endless days of the covid‑19 virus lock-downs, and people persuaded to work from home, communication to get some form of work actually done, becomes a serious problem. Yes, of course a lot can be done by the well-established email platforms, but that takes time and not all of us are good at the art of explaining what we mean using the right words in well-constructed sentences. Even then, the recipients may not all be good at reading sufficiently carefully to understand the precise intentions of the originator.

That is especially true if the recipient is under pressure and in a hurry. Many times I have felt like saying: "For gosh sakes, why don't you read what I have written." But then, while I may be careful to say exactly what I mean, that does not necessarily mean that the reader will understand exactly what I am saying. All of which results in another round of emails. And so the time passes — This is not good for project deadlines.

Within the last few years, computer platforms have been developed for conducting "virtual meetings" on line in real time. This means people can see each other, talk to each other, ask each other questions, possibly get answers right away, and even record the whole proceedings. Incredible! But on the one hand, this requires sophisticated software that is, nevertheless, relatively simple to install, set up and use. While on the other hand, you need to have the necessary software properly installed on personal computers that are capable of handling it.

For the record, in my last four attempts, my success rate has been only 50%.

But, aside from set up time, that is only the beginning — you have to be prepared for the actual meeting. Here is what two co-authors, Karin Reed and Joe Allen, Ph.D. have to say about this, in abstracts from their new book: Suddenly Virtual — Making Remote Meetings Work.

K&J: Turning Your Camera on is Not Enough
Simply looking at your camera is not going to make you an effective virtual communicator. You have to change your mindset. The camera is the conduit to your conversation partner. Focus not just your eyes, but your energy through the lens, in order to truly connect with the person or people on the other side. Otherwise, you will just look like you're being held hostage by the camera lens.

Take Care of Your "Personal Production Value"They are looking more and more for someone with high EQ (Emotional Intelligence)
Ensuring that you look and sound your best on camera isn't just a matter of vanity. It's about showing respect for your audience. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to engage with you. That means making sure you can communicate without distraction. For example, sitting in shadow doesn't impact the way you feel on a call, but it certainly impacts everyone else. They can't receive your message properly if they can't read your facial expressions.

Meetings were Tedious Before — Virtual Meetings Can Make Them Even Worse
Remember all that stuff you've known forever about what makes meetings more effective, that you never bothered to do (e.g. having an agenda, even-handed participation, coming prepared, etc.)? All of that is MORE important online because the flaws in the process are even more obvious online.

We are quicker on our feet in person than we are in a virtual setting, and we can make up for those mistakes or missteps more easily in person. The old best practices for effective meetings are common sense, but uncommonly practiced. Not doing them now, in virtual meetings, leads to virtual drudgery and less productivity.

Don't Overly Rely on Virtual Meetings — They Just Clog Up People's Calendars
There is often an over-reliance on video meetings that up clog calendars and lead to "Zoom fatigue." Zoom fatigue is not due to a problem with Zoom and similar platforms, but user error. Not every human touch-point needs to be a video meeting.

There's a huge need to be more strategic in determining WHEN a video meeting is required. If it's just information transfer, ask yourself if that could be delivered via email, a message in Slack or Teams channel, or a quick phone call. If it's a meeting that requires group collaboration, discussion and decision-making, it absolutely SHOULD be a virtual meeting with video on.

Stop the Back-to-Back Meetings — Recovery Time is Critical
Virtual meeting technology has enabled back-to-back meetings like never before! Ever look at your calendar and think, "When am I going to get lunch?" or, "When will I get to the restroom?" A new study, reported briefly in Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work, and forthcoming in an academic journal, confirms that we need 5 minutes recovery time after a good meeting and 17 minutes recovery after a bad meeting. Neuroscience confirms that humans need time to cognitively switch gears.

Put More Humanity Into Meetings or Team Culture Will Suffer
Start your meetings with the question "How are you?" and actually listen to people. That social lubrication where we catch up in the hall or the break-room has been lost, and must be re-introduced. Remember to connect, beyond running down a checklist of updates, projects, or tasks. This is particularly true and important when human touch and social interaction is reduced due to a pandemic OR after we remain in our homes and work remotely.

Stop Letting Your Slides Dominate the Screen: YOU Bring the Value — Not Your Visual Aids
The typical virtual presentation looks like this: you introduce yourself, you introduce the topic, you share your screen and present way too many slides. Then you ask at the end if there are any questions. By that time, you are lucky if anyone is still listening and awake! The in-person equivalent would be introducing yourself and then turning your back on the audience while reading off your slides for the entire slide deck.

Don't do it! Deliver your presentation in digestible chunks, sharing only a few slides at a time before toggling back to gallery view. It changes everyone's virtual environment and forces them to re-engage with you. Plus, it allows you to actually drive dialogue by putting PEOPLE front and center … not your visual aids, which too often become visual crutches.

MW: About the authors

Karin Reed is an Emmy Award winning former anchorwoman who transitioned into coaching C-Suite level executives in the art of communicating on camera over the last decade and a half. Suddenly Virtual is her second book published by Wiley & Sons Publishing.

Joe Allen, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah, and the world's leading scientific expert on workplace meetings and organizational community engagement, with more than 100 published articles in academic journals. Joe Allen is also Director for The Center for Meeting Effectiveness. Suddenly Virtual is his first book.

Contact both authors via Jenifer Gulley

Here's wishing you happy and productive virtual meetings.

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