People often feel they look washed out on video calls. Using a specialist light can transform how you look. This is a short demo of the difference it makes.
In light of the rush to move communications online, we’ve been asked which video conferencing software we recommend. While we are not technology experts below is our humble opinion based on our experiences and feedback from clients.
Overall preference: Zoom
Pros – Most importantly, it has the most reliable performance. There are lots of additional features – even on the free package. We particularly liked the shared whiteboard feature. On the paid package there is the ability to create break-out groups and do group polls on calls. There is even the option to “Touch up my appearance”!
Cons – You can only do 40 minute sessions on the free package. Also something to be aware of is there is no toll-free dial-in numbers for the US or the UK. Participants need to download the app.
Go to meeting
Pros – you can personalise your meeting room although it’s not of huge benefit. It is easy to use and set up. You can add on additional packages ‘Go to Webinars’ and ‘Go to training’ if that is more what you need the software for.
Cons – we have had some problems with video quality particularly pixelating video images. While it “does what it says on the tin” there are fewer bonus features than you will find with Zoom.
Pros – we really loved the ability to turn on captions. It converts what you are saying directly into text. It wasn’t 100% accurate but is a nice accessibility feature. Very easy to set these calls up too – it embeds easily into Google calendar invites.
Cons – The quality is not always so good unless you have an excellent connection. In some ways it is simpler than other options as you do not have to download the app but given the range of Google products on offer it can be confusing to use.
Pros – great for internal teams sharing documents, messaging together constantly and the group call functionality is fine.
Cons – not so useful for calls outside the team so you wouldn’t use Slack to have calls with clients for example
Pro – similar to Slack it has rich functionality for sharing within teams. We really like the function of being able to blur your background even if it distracted us by playing with it for a good three minutes!
Cons -Quite arduous to get into and set up for the team. Like Slack it is designed for sharing within internal teams rather than external presentations and meetings.
Why we have not covered Facetime/Skype/Whatsapp
These are great tools for personal conversations. They are not our first choice for formal video conferencing because it means that your clients/colleagues/business associates would forever have access to your personal video conferencing and would be at liberty to call you any time. To maintain control and professionalism, one of the above would be our preferred options.
Some online tools are blocked in different jurisdictions (Zoom is blocked in the UAE for example) so make sure in advance your audience can access the tool.
Let us know your experience of these tools. Which is your preferred option or are there any bugbears about any of these that we haven’t covered?
Some practical advice beyond not wearing pyjamas in meetings!
Given recent events many of our clients are asking for our support to handle meetings held online rather than face to face.
Below are some of the questions we have been asked:
• How do we keep our audience’s attention at online meetings?
• Do I look at the camera?
• Do I need to change the content of my presentations?
• My audience keep typing during online meetings. How do I ask them to stop without sounding rude?
Now, there is no exact handbook as one of the mistakes we can make is to assume that “one size fits all” for online meetings. A pitch to clients on Zoom cannot be treated the same as a townhall meeting for a whole department.
However, we plan to answer these questions over the coming days and start today with some basic principles that are helpful for most situations to keep your online audience engaged.
Why you need to work harder to keep people engaged online
There is much more incentive for the audience to listen at face to face meetings. People will notice if you start checking your emails or stare out of the window. Online, people’s attention can drift more easily. Unless we are working hard to keep people’s attention we will lose it.
So how can we keep out audience’s attention?
1. Be clear on everyone’s objectives
It is much harder to “muddle through” and make a meeting productive on the fly at online meetings.
Be clear about what your objective for the meeting is and that of your attendees. Often these are not the same. You might want a general discussion on the pros and cons of something whereas the people on the call think they’re there to make a decision. In general, it is good to be explicit about meeting objectives upfront. For online meetings this gets close to being essential!
2. Be more interactive
We often say that for a formal presentation face to face, we should not talk for more than twenty minutes without breaking the material up. This could be by inviting questions, showing a video or simply changing the pace by throwing in a rhetorical question or two.
For online meetings we need to shorten the monologues. It is impossible to give a failsafe rule about the maximum length of time you should speak for with interruption. A good principle is to be clear that you have to have something really interesting to say to be able to talk for longer than five minutes without a break of some sort. More than ten minutes and your materials needs to have people sitting on the edge of their home office chair.
Asking for comments is one way to break things up. Even better is asking specific people for comments. This means that everyone else suddenly starts paying attention in case they are asked next. When you ask a question to a specific person make sure you do this positively (“Jane, I know you have done lots of great work in this area so I would be delighted to hear your thoughts” ) as opposed to potentially aggressive (“Jane, what do YOU think about that?”).
3. Set up your audience’s energy levels from the get go
Online meetings can easily sag in energy. We will talk more about body language and using the voice effectively in future blogs. For now, one great tip is to make a clear transition from the small talk phase of the meeting to the introduction.
Usually there will be a period of introductions and half-started conversations which are interrupted by new people joining. This is no bad thing as it’s important to focus on connection and being positive at this time, especially as people start to feel the impacts self-isolation. You might want to allow some more time than usual to sharing of stories and experiences to make up for the lack of contact in the office.
When the small talk does come to an end it is important to change gear so you can kick the meeting off properly. Thank everyone for being there and move on to the objectives of the meetings. Do this with energy and positivity and it will make a huge difference to the online meeting.
We will be posting more of these pieces over the coming days. If you have any comments or questions we would be delighted to hear them? Or do you have any tips or ideas for holding your audience’s attention at online meetings?
This blog looks at how Improv can reframe the way you interact with others.
Make your partner look and feel like a genius
People often say to me ‘It must be terrifying to do improv, there’s so much pressure to be funny’. Yet, Improv is really about the collective contribution of the group – not you as an individual. There’s nothing more irritating than someone in an improv scene on their own agenda and taking the attention away from the group. This irritation might be familiar in the office too!
The focus instead lies on how to set your scene partners up for them to be in the best possible light. How you can make it easy for them to add something to whatever you’ve just said.This completely takes the pressure off you so you relax and just focus better on being present in the scene. What’s more, if everyone is trying to make each other look good, there’s a good chance everyone succeeds!
At work, we can so often be worried about our own performance – we tend to have individual appraisals and targets. However, no one ever really achieves anything alone. Our culture applauds the lone genius but Einstein, Edison and Jobs – they all had teams of people helping them! Ideas were honed through collaboration and discussions.
Improv encourages us back towards the creative power of the group. At work we can often feel that should never present an idea until it’s a fully formed and ‘perfect’. It’s a real creativity inhibitor. Instead, sharing and building ideas as a collective allows them to evolve into so much more than one mind could have created on their own.
Be fully present
There is no more important skill in improv than listening! When you’re in a performance, you have to be so fully present because new details are flying around you by the second – everyone suddenly has new names, are in new settings with new scenarios! If you miss the details, the audience is going to notice.
In real life however, we often listen only to respond. When someone is talking, we are busy formulating our reply rather than intently tuning in. We miss so much detail that way. There are many improv games and exercises, which challenges us to listen to every single word our partners say. It’s enlightening.
In business, imagine if everyone listened in an ‘improv’ way to colleagues, clients and stakeholders. It not only reduces the chance of creating products no-one wants or marketing campaigns that miss the point. It’s deeper than that. If you truly listen to someone, they feel heard – one of our basic human needs. It changes the way someone feels about you.
So not only do you give someone the gift of being heard, you also get access to a lot more accurate information to enable better decisions. It’s something you need to actively switch on though. Honing these skills in the improv classroom gives you a better chance of activating this ‘listening mode’ in any meeting or important conversation.
A final word
The real beauty of Improv is not in any one of these principles but in the alchemy when they are all in force together! Imagine – you are not afraid to share an idea because your team-mates have got your back. Ideas grow into something because everyone ‘yes, ands’ what is offered. Solutions develop and evolve. Everyone is fully listening and responding to each other in an attentive way.
I grant you this may still seem like a distant fantasy for the office. Yet, what if you chose to just implement some of these for yourself? What would that do for your performance? How would it change how others viewed you?
What’s more, it’s a more joyful approach to work. Improv advocates permission to ‘play’ again. It’s an extremely fun way to refine the very best of human skills.
For more information on how to bring Improv into your office or team, get in touch with Nicola (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Why is it that companies such as Facebook, Uber, Apple and Pepsico are part of the growing trend in bringing improv into their employee training programmes? What can we learn from an art form that spontaneously creates a whole show out of nothing? Well, it turns out – a lot!
I’ve been a hugely avid student of Improv for years now. I’ve even created my own workshop to introduce the principles of improv into the companies I work with. I believe they might just be the antidote to revitalising creativity and collaboration in large organisations.
Improv is firstly the permission to play. A concept so lacking in our adult lives. When did being an adult become such a serious business? We place huge importance on fun and imagination for children – we see the value in how it builds confidence, learning and experimentation.
Yet, we ignore this need as adults. Not only is it a joy killer but also is inherently detrimental to innovation and originality.
The principles of Improv can not only regarded as sage wisdom for life but also sound rules for business. Let’s delve into two of these principles now (with more to follow in the next blog post).
LET yourself fail
Failing is actually the easy part. We’re human. We naturally learn best through experimenting which means trial and error. However, we’ve become so fearful of the ‘error’ part that we stop ourselves from the ‘trying’ part. What Improv re-invigorates in us is the spirit of giving ourselves permission to get it wrong.
In fact, when learning improv, you start with lots of games and whenever someone messes up – we actually all cheer and celebrate.
It’s easy to spot this fear of failure in the workplace. It’s where you hold yourself back from stating your point in a meeting. Or where you get tongue tied when the CEO asks you a question. Or when you don’t put yourself forward for promotion. That fear of looking stupid or getting it wrong is a real innovation killer in business. So improv starts to create a new mindset – to put the value on trying and learning rather than worrying about being perfect or ‘right’.
This is the real catalyst to making improv viable. ‘Yes and’ means that whatever your team mate offers, you have to accept it (the ‘yes’ part) and build on it (the ‘and’ part). That means – even if you thought this scene was about a ship – if your scene partner speaks first and says you’re on a spaceship – then you’re on a spaceship. To accept that is not enough though – you then have to add a new piece of information about the spaceship situation so your scene partner can build on that.
‘Yes and’ hones the skills of being totally adaptable and relinquishing control. You can’t go in with your own fixed idea and try and shoehorn it in. You can’t control your team or force them to do what you want, nor should you want to – it’s a creativity killer!
How can we bring these principles into the office?
Well firstly, think about how often we hear ‘no, but…’ in meetings. Someone offers an idea and gets ‘no, butted’– ‘it’s too risky’, ‘we’ve done it before and it didn’t work’, ‘it’s too expensive’. However, imagine you change the dynamic to creating a space for people to ‘yes, and…’ each other’s ideas. It is my belief that when leaders and teams create ‘safe spaces’ for bouncing ideas – the creativity of a team is brought to life. I’ve seen this in a bank that creates ‘innovation jams’ for people around the business to just come together and help solve a problem. The FCA sandbox would be another example where, even in the regulatory industry, space to trial new things is possible!
Disney famously had 3 separate rooms for his teams to do their thinking! One of which was the ‘dream’ room where the team were only allowed to think up new ideas. The ultimate ‘yes and’ room!
Whilst you may not be able to create your own ‘yes and’ rooms – I think individually we can all decide to put a ‘yes and’ hat on in meetings. Hold the space for people to share their ideas and ‘yes and’ them to see where they might go.
For more information on how to bring Improv into your office or team, get in touch with Nicola (email@example.com).
Warren Buffett and Public Speaking
When Warren Buffett spoke to a group of business students in 2009 he made them an offer: $100,000 for 10% of their future earnings. “If you’re interested, see me after class,” he said.
He then mentioned the most important skill that will boost their career values: public speaking. If students worked on this it would add 50% to their career value meaning he would offer them $150,000.
This reminded me of an investment manger I worked with. He was one of the smartest people in his team. His appetite for research and his knowledge of statistics were a formidable combination. The problem was, when it came to explaining this to clients, he lost his audience. They were left bemused by the dizzying statistics he would present to them. Sometimes they felt lost as he disappeared into a technical tangent.
It is not enough to be the smartest person in the room
“Teach me what I need to know then I can get this over with,” was just about the first thing he said to me. Now quite a few of our clients have a similar sentiment at first but no one had been so direct about it. Normally I would ask the person to consider where improved communications skills would help the person achieve their career goals. This case called for a more direct approach.
“I could do that,” I replied. “But if so, I hope you really enjoy your job because it is likely you will be doing it for the next 20 years.” I was a little taken aback at how blunt this sounded as I heard myself saying it. The thing is, this is something I feel really strongly about. We see lots of talented people get frustrated at not being promoted because they think being the smartest person in the room is what counts. If you cannot understand your clients and they cannot understand you, then smartness will not help.
I suggested the person go away and have a think about what he wanted to be doing in 10 years time. Then he should ask whether public speaking, communicating clients or pitching would be an important part of this. We would then meet up the following week and decide if it was worth us working together.
If I had know the story about Warren Buffett at the time I would certainly have mentioned it. Hearing the message about the importance of public speaking a communication skills from someone like Buffett is hard to ignore. As it happens the investment manager did come back. He did work on his skills and while this is still a work in progress it has made a huge difference to his career.
So it’s worth the effort but can I really get better at public speaking?
So if we accept that this is worth working on, the next challenge clients raise is whether they can actually get better at it. People think that it is something we are born with, or without.
Well, Buffett can help us there too. He admits then when he started out he was terrified of public speaking sometimes to the point of being physically sick. The impetus to get better at his came from the desire to woo his now wife Susan. It worked.
So the good news is that it is clear how you can increase your career value. But don’t expect to learn a few off-the-shelf techniques and be ready to go. It is something you will be learning and improving over many years. But if you commit to it, as Buffett shows the rewards can go well beyond the financial.
I got my prediction for last night’s election result badly wrong. My wife and I played a game where we guessed the size of the Conservative majority and my guess was in 3 figures. See what I know.
That said, it does not take hindsight to say the Conservative campaign was poor. Theresa May started as the party’s biggest asset. By the end, she was struggling.
Something missing in Theresa May’s speeches
Looking back at her speeches, today and throughout the campaign, there is a sense that something was missing. People have focused on her “cracking” voice in her acceptance speech in her constituency. Her voice wobbles during her interview with Andrew Neill were clear. But I think the problem was more fundamental.
When talking about persuasion or rhetoric it is not long before you get back to Aristotle. He set out Logos, Pathos and Ethos as three modes of persuasion. We often encourage clients to use a balance of these three based on the needs of the people you are trying to persuade.
What Aristotle can teach us about persuasion
To keep things simple, let’s think of Logos, Pathos and Ethos as being Logic, Emotion and Credibility. Looking through Theresa May’s speeches she champions Credibility at every opportunity: strong and stable leadership, safety, security and certainty are her favourite terms.
Logic is light. She tends not to spend a lot of time giving out reasoned arguments but at least it gets some air time.
Emotion is the area that is pretty much completely missing. At no point during her acceptance speech or on the steps of Downing Street does Theresa May acknowledge the disappointment of the night’s results. Whatever your political preferences it is clear it was an awful outcome compared to expectations for her and for her party. By not even mentioning her feelings about this, the speech can seem remote or out of touch.
Sometimes you really do need to show some emotion
Looking back through the campaign, Pathos or emotion was consistently missing. I am not suggesting this is the reason for the result last night. It could be one factor behind the Prime Minister’s falling approval ratings. It is hard to warm to someone who shows no emotion. What I am suggesting is that when people know you must be hurting, failure to acknowledge any emotion makes a speech sound false. This could be what destroys the credibility that has been the basis of so much of her campaign.