Our Head of Voice at MSB Executive; Steven Maddocks shares simple tools and techniques to improve articulation. This is another part of our series to ensure impactful communication at online meetings.
Our Head of Voice at MSB Executive; Steven Maddocks provides tips, techniques and exercises specifically geared to great communication at online meetings. This video covers Intonation.
One of the side effects of having so many online meetings is that we cannot avoid seeing ourselves on screen. Some people find it distracting and others even say it makes them feel anxious.
This short blog is written to assure you that you are not alone. Many actors refuse to watch their performances and go to great lengths to avoid it. Recently Adam Driver walked out of an interview to avoid seeing himself on screen.
This may seem particularly strange for an actor. It feels a bit like a chef refusing to eat their own food!
Whenever we use video in our sessions with clients we always give a health warning. Most of the video we see is on television and film. As the end credits show there is a small army of people ensuring the actors look good (or sometimes bad). This includes a lighting team, sound team and a number of make up artists.
This can mean that even if we are doing a great job at our online meeting it might not look that way. If we judge ourselves by the standards of TV and video then we will always be disappointed.
More tips will follow on this blog to help us look as good as possible but in the meantime, a really good option is to get a desk light like the one we recommended in an earlier blog.
If all else fails, hopefully you can take some comfort from the fact that even the professionals with all their support teams often find it difficult as well.
During these uncertain times where the majority of us are now working from home, it’s so important to keep that sense of connection with our teams and colleagues. We share a quick video on how we can maintain that human contact using online video tools.
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).