Natural, Virtual or Blurred Backgrounds?

By | July 27th, 2021|Online meetings, Online video, Personal Profile|

Our Head of Voice, Steven Maddocks, explores the various ‘background’ options at online meetings.

 

‘We can’t decide what to do about our backgrounds. What do you recommend?’

This question arose recently during an online communication workshop I was running for the senior team at a law firm.

I cast my eye across the framed faces on my screen. Most people were evidently sitting in a home office. Some, had blurred their background, so I couldn’t tell where they were. A few had opted for a virtual background: there were some tasteful interiors and a hip-looking coffee house. One person was apparently dialling in from space.

‘Well,’ I replied, ‘there are three options, and we can see all three on this call. Let’s look at each in turn.’

1. NATURAL

PROS

(i) Visually, the least discordant. You are where you appear to be, in a real space.

(ii) The personal touch sets a relaxed tone and puts others at their ease.

(iii) Objects and decor stimulate small talk.

CONS

(i) Not everyone has a ‘professional’ working space at home.

(ii) If you are interrupted, you cannot cover up.

(iii) There is a lack of uniformity across a team.

2. BLURRED

PROS

(i) You can work from a convenient spot at home without doing a major makeover.

(ii) There is a degree of connection between you and your surroundings.

(iii) Others at the meeting can focus on you, not on your room.

CONS

(i) People might wonder what you are hiding.

(ii) It is rather artificial: you can appear somewhat floaty.

(iii) When you move, the blur effect ‘leaks’, so that bits of your room come in and out of focus.

3. VIRTUAL

PROS

(i) There is an opportunity to communicate a strong corporate identity.

(ii) A relevant background might stimulate conversation about the company.

(iii) A fun background could lighten the mood.

CONS

(i) Requires a green screen to work well; frequent glitches can be distracting.

(i) The artifice is usually evident, and you appear disconnected.

(iii) Can be somewhat clinical and impersonal.

 

As we weighed up the various options, the discussion opened out.

‘Clients love our old building with its traditional decor,’ one person pointed out. ‘Couldn’t we use different photos of our offices as virtual backgrounds?’

The senior partner thought for a moment. ‘I lean towards natural backgrounds, warts and all – or pets and all,’ she laughed as her cat jumped onto her lap. ‘It seems more honest.’

Another colleague joined in. ‘Yes, but consistency is important. Sorry, guys, but we are a bit of a jumble.’ Someone else agreed. ‘If we all have blurred backgrounds, the focus is on us.’

Another attendee had switched across to a virtual background, and now sat in front of the striking company logo. ‘We have such great branding. Let’s make use of it.’

At MSB Executive, we don’t believe that one size fits all. In this case, I offered a fourth option – and for this team, it seemed the best fit. I called it “Branded Natural”. Everyone on the team was to place an object carrying the company logo somewhere in their webcam view. That could be a picture hung on a wall or placed in a photo holder on the desk. It could be a standing banner somewhere in the room. They might all have exactly the same object, or all have different ones. It might not even be a logo – was there a company motto? An animal or object that represented their core values?

I’ll find out what they chose at our follow-up workshop in a few weeks. But the discussion was a reminder of how vital the visual message is. Online meetings present unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to saying who we are before we’ve said a word.

Empathetic Communication From Leaders In The Time Of Covid

By | May 28th, 2020|Authenticity, Leadership, Personal Profile, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Uncategorized|

We often look at how our leaders communicate to see what we can learn. Sometimes we share examples of outstanding communication as well as times they get it wrong.

 At the moment, what our leaders are doing and saying is affecting our lives in an extraordinary way. This means we all have strong opinions about the actions that are being taken and how they are explained to us.

 From the many briefings and Q&A sessions going on around the globe, we have been repeatedly struck by one lesson. That is the importance of empathy.

 This is often an underrated quality in speakers. Unfortunately, some leaders confuse it with showing weakness and vulnerability in a way that will undermine respect. We do not believe this is true in ‘ordinary’ times and it is certainly not true in a crisis.

 For anyone who underestimates empathy as something ‘fluffy’ or untrustworthy, they are on shaky ground. From Aristotle’s Rhetoric onwards it has been an essential part of persuasion.

 Two politicians who have unquestionably shown the power of empathy are Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Andrew Cuomo Mayor of New York.

 For Ardern, there are the memorable moments of empathy on a small-scale level including warning children the Easter bunny might not make it to every house . When empathy is combined with simple, powerful messages it hits home. Particularly effective was her comment: “We only have 102 cases – but so did Italy once.”

 For Andrew Cuomo, he wasn’t afraid to share his personal pain:

 “I haven’t seen my daughter in over two weeks. It breaks my heart. It breaks my heart. And this concept of maybe I can’t get next to her because of this virus. There’s a distance between me and my daughter because of this virus. It saddens me to the core. And it frightens me to the core.”

 This gives him the right to talk about shared struggles and his belief about the ability of the people of New York to come through it.

 “Understand what we’re dealing with. Understand the pressures that we’re feeling, but we will get through this time. Be a little bit more sensitive. Understand the stress. Understand the fear. Be a little bit more loving, a little bit more compassionate, little bit more comforting, a little bit more cooperative and we will get through this time.”

 Empathy is something we can all embrace and become stronger leaders.

Hate watching yourself on video? Don’t worry, you are in good company.

By | March 25th, 2020|Blog, Body Language, Building Confidence, Online meetings, Online video, Personal Profile, Uncategorized, Video|

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.

Inspirational Public Speaking: Caroline Taylor

By | January 29th, 2014|Authenticity, Blog, Building Confidence, Leadership, Nerves, Perception, Personal Profile, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

b>Part 2: If you enjoy Public Speaking it can provide a great boost to your profile, plus some top tips for building confidence and overcoming nerves.

Q: What do you look at when you speak?

A: I always look at the audience. In the past at a big conference the lighting often made it look as if you were talking to a vast empty dark space. Luckily these days lighting is better and it allows me to look around at different people in the crowd. As I like to use a bit of humour in my talks I look to see if it has got a response or reaction. One of the hardest gigs I have encountered is hosting our annual “Bring Your daughters to work Day” which is a scheme we introduced at IBM to show young women that technology is a career option open for them. 12-15 year old girls are quite a hard crowd, and an adult trying to make them laugh is probably the last thing they want to hear!. So I made sure I shared eye contact around to encourage them to engage with me and see that I want to communicate with them. So your audience reaction can help you to adapt your style to be as effective as you can with them.  When you are doing a talk it is a great idea to go along to the pre-event dinner, lunch or coffee and mingle with the audience. Share what your topic is and sometimes they will give you a great opinion or example that you can share during your talk. This really makes your topic come to life as you are talking about something that one of their colleagues has shared. You can look for the people you spoke to beforehand during your talk and that gives you a friendly reaction which boosts confidence levels as well.

Q: What do you hear when speaking?

A: I hear myself saying “Slow Down Caroline” ! I’ve always been a fast talker, something which people have commented on for years. In my new European based role slowing down is especially important as many of my new colleagues have English as a second language. I also try and keep an eye on the time. Although I’m therefore conscious of being slower I still speak relatively quickly because that is who I am. At IBM we talk a lot about personal eminence and about being consistently authentic in every method of communication. For example if each of your digital personalities are in conflict with each other or at odds with your public personality you will not gain the trust of your audience. So of course it is important to adapt your style of speaking so that is clear and easy to understand but no-one wants to listen to a public-speaking clone so always remember to stay true to yourself.

Q: Does public speaking help you?

A: Definitely. Thanks to my public speaking appearances I’ve been invited to do extraordinary things. One of these was being invited to be a adjunct professor at a Business school after being spotted by the Dean at a conference where I was a guest speaker. Public speaking boosts your profile and offers another angle on you, which of course must be true to who you are and what your values are. It increases your network and introduces you to others who you can learn things from. It is extremely valuable.

Q: Do you think public speaking is important for women?

A: It is just as important for women as it is for men, perhaps more important as women often struggle to build their profiles to help them achieve success in business. But don’t try and ape the guys. Trying to be something you are not will back-fire as it isn’t authentic. If you are someone who has a quiet squeaky voice then seek out some voice training but only if you really want to improve your voice. If not you can make a name for yourself in other mediums like print or on digital platforms where you can still share your knowledge and expertise. Audiences welcome someone who is knowledgeable and enjoys sharing that knowledge. Find the subject you are passionate about and public speaking can be a really enjoyable and valuable skill.

My thanks to Caroline for explaining her public speaking experiences so openly and for sharing some great tips to help people take to the stage.

About Caroline Taylor : Caroline Taylor is Vice President Marketing, Communications & Citizenship, and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for IBM Europe. Based in London, Caroline leads the teams responsible for all aspects of marketing, communications and citizenship for IBM throughout Europe.With 28 years of professional marketing experience, Caroline is an Adjunct Professor at Imperial College Business School in London and is also a Business to Business Ambassador for the UK’s Marketing Society, to which she was appointed Fellow in September 2012.

Caroline is a passionate advocate for equality and diversity, particularly in the workplace. She is executive sponsor for Gender Diversity for IBM in the UK. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Opportunity Now Champion Award, recognising her contribution to advancing, promoting and embedding a diversity culture within the workplace.

 

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