Zoomed Out? Some Top Tips To Survive The Zoom Era

By | March 31st, 2021|Online meetings, Online video, Presentation skills, Uncategorized, Video, Voice|

Among all the terms future dictionaries will inherit from COVID-19, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is certain to feature. (It applies to all video conferencing software, but ‘Microsoft Teams fatigue’ doesn’t have the same ring.) Citigroup employees are clearly fatigued: on 23 March, chief executive Jane Fraser announced ‘Zoom-free Fridays’.

But are there ways – short of a total switch-off – of making online meetings less exhausting? Considerable brain power has been applied to this question. Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University offered four remedies for Zoom fatigue. How useful are they?

1. Reduce eye contact

Bailenson notes that eye contact on Zoom, with its sea of staring faces, is unnatural. Each face fills its box, so you are seeing colleagues or clients much closer-up than you would in real life. This can put the brain into a state of heightened anxiety. Bailenson suggests reducing the size of the Zoom window to shrink the faces. He also suggests increasing the distance between you and your screen so you are literally further away from everyone.

Our opinion: This is useful advice. We work with our clients on how to ‘frame’ oneself. Giving a good view of yourself to others can be vital to a successful meeting. (We don’t just mean having some ‘clever’ books in the background!) If everyone’s view of you – and yours of them – is approximately what it would be across a boardroom table, you have got it right.

2. Turn off self-view

The constant view of ourselves we have on Zoom (Bailenson likens it to being followed around all day by someone holding a mirror) can cause negativity and stress. Bailenson suggests we ‘hide self-view’. To do this on Zoom just right click on your thumbnail and you will be given this option.

Our opinion: This advice is sound, though we would point out some of the benefits of self-view. Without it, we can only guess at what others are seeing of us. Is the bright light in the background throwing us into silhouette? Are our excellent hand gestures ‘in shot’? We say, by all means turn off self-view, but only once you are confident that you look your best. Appoint a trusted colleague to keep an eye on you and let you know (privately!) if you have spinach in your teeth.

3. Move around

A day working from home is much less mobile than a day at the office. Bailenson recommends putting distance between yourself and the camera to allow room to ‘pace and doodle.’

Our opinion: The problem is correctly identified, but the solution is incomplete. We advise a maximum of fifty minutes before a break to stretch legs. Meetings should not be back to back. Lunch breaks should be long enough for some light exercise. We recommend using a standing desk (it could just be a kitchen worktop or a music stand) for at least part of the day. Why not designate certain meetings as scrums, with everyone standing? We think you’ll notice an uplift in positivity!

4. Have ‘audio only’ breaks

Bailenson identifies a downside of Zoom that we at MSB Executive have been talking about since the beginning: effective communication online is harder work. A virtual meeting strips away the ‘nonverbals’ that flow between us when we meet in real life. These subtle (and subconscious) eye movements, twitches, gestures and electrical signals clear the path along which our words travel. Our brains naturally seek them out, but – on a Zoom call – cannot find them. This futile hunt exhausts us. Bailenson suggests taking breaks from video by switching to audio-only and turning away from the screen.

Our opinion: This advice (avoidance) is somewhat negatively framed. It is true that some meetings would be better as ‘audio only’. So leave the laptop behind altogether, go to a different room and… pick up the phone!

The absence of nonverbals increases pressure on the voice, which has to work harder. That is why we offer voice coaching sessions with plenty of practical advice for keeping the voice bright and confident throughout the day. Our clients report back that sounding good makes them feel good – just the sort of positive outcome we always drive for.

Written by Steven Maddocks, MSB Executive’s Head of Voice Coaching

Top Tips For Setting Up A Webinar

By | February 4th, 2021|Communication, Online meetings, Online video, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

There were a couple of questions at the CFA UK webinar I ran yesterday (03/02/2021) about how I managed my set up for the webinar. In particular people wanted to know about how I kept eye contact with the camera while using notes. Here is a photo of my set up. You will see:

  • The platform on my desk allows me to stand up while presenting. This is useful for longer presentations. It helps the voice sound more authoritative and the body language to be more expressive.
  • Camera above the screen. Most importantly it is at eye level.
  • Notes above the camera. This has some key words or phrases to keep me on track. I don’t need to look far from the camera to check what comes next.
  • Notes at bottom of the screen. If I need to read the notes in more detail looking down for a few moments is better than looking up or to the side.
  • LED ring light: balances the natural light from my window on the right.
  • Split screens: the lap top has the videos and the small number of slides that I used ready so I can make sure everything is correct before sharing the screen.
  • Cup of tea: essential.

Do get in touch of you have any questions about getting the right set up for your online meetings and presentations.

Why not set a communication resolution this year?

By | January 27th, 2021|Communication, Online meetings, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Video|

Feeling disheartened already setting new year’s resolutions? We understand. 2020 was an unbelievably challenging year. There is still so much uncertainty around what options will be available to us in 2021 which can make setting resolutions tricky. We can’t necessarily join that choir or take that trip we wanted to.

At MSB Executive we’ve been thinking about is how we can scale down resolutions to make them more manageable and meaningful. Our team has therefore decided to focus on our communication skills and what are the small things each of us could commit to improving? Having a bit of focus gives purpose and a feeling of achievement.

Here are some of the team’s individual communication resolutions to inspire you to think of your own:

Embracing the pause

Too often we can rush in to talk and fill a silence. It can lead to ‘filler’ sounds such as ‘umms and ahhs’. Practicing pauses and getting comfortable with silence is a great habit to develop.

Prioritising listening over talking

Regularly choosing to pay complete attention to someone without the intention of speaking at all until asked. Our team member has put a post-it note on their screen which says ‘shhhhhh and listen’ to remind themselves.

Remembering to SMILE at the start of calls/presentations

It’s too easy to get into our heads about the content of our presentation rather than remembering that when we smile – not only do we relax but we visually demonstrate to the audience that we are relaxed and happy to be there…so they can relax to.

Speaking directly

Omitting the ‘just’ out of communications e.g. ‘I was just wondering if…’ ‘I’m just getting in touch to see…’. It’s an easy habit to get into but it subtly diminishes your own importance. It’s ok to ‘wonder’ or ‘get in touch’ without tip-toeing.

 

We hope this inspires you to think about your own communication habits and pick something of your own to work on. Let us know what you might work on and we’d love to give you more tips!

3 basic principles to create well designed powerpoints

By | December 15th, 2020|Leadership, Online meetings, Perception, Presentation skills|

Particularly in the corporate world, powerpoint slides crammed with tiny writing, diagrams and complexity are entirely the norm. Many people complain about powerpoint overload but still we are presented with huge decks of barely legible slides.

Following on from our blog the top 3 traps leading to ‘death by powerpoint, this blog serves to give you some helpful design tips to create powerpoints that enhance your presentation.

Firstly, what IS the purpose of powerpoint slides?

Slides play a supporting or adjacent role, not a leading role. Your powerpoint deck is not the presentation. YOU are the presentation. The slides should be a visual enhancement to support what you are saying.  It can be useful to think of slides as though they were providing a musical underscore to the presentation – setting a mood.

Our brains are not cognitively designed to read and listen to two sets of information at the same time. It’s simply an overload. It’s stressful. No wonder we find powerpoint presentations hard work.

So, here are some design principles from our team to help make your slides work:

A slide should do one thing well

So many slides try to do several different things at once. This usually means they do many things badly. Ask yourself, ‘What does this slide tell my audience?’ If you can’t answer the question in one sentence, break up the slide or delete it.

The fewer words the better

Set yourself a high standard on this. See if you can limit the text per slides to 6 words. We know that seems drastic but if you go over this limit make sure every word earns its place on the slide. Make sure to use an easy-to-read, large font. If you are presenting to a sizeable audience, think – will the people at the back be able to read this?

Images rather than words

An image will not only bring to life the point you are making but serves as a visual way to embed the information which helps it to be remembered.

If you are using a chart, make sure you strip it back to the most simplistic part which makes your point. A screen grab might be the easiest option but is likely to contain irrelevant information which will distract an audience. Once we put something on the screen our audience can’t stop reading it!

We particularly like images that provide an emotional response, like a photograph. Especially if the image is slightly surprising – i.e. they trigger questions in our minds or reveal something we weren’t expecting. Images allow you to bring in some creativity and up the engagement of your presentation.

In summary

Choosing to follow these tips is a departure from the ‘norm’. It naturally might involve more work in the short-term. You might have to convert marketing material to display one item from a page at a time. However, the pay-off will be more impactful presentations where you give the audience the opportunity to stay focused on what YOU are saying rather than trying to decipher complex slides.  The paradox is that the more work you put in, the simpler your slides will be and your audience will thank you.

The most frequently asked question about online meetings is….

By | November 5th, 2020|Online meetings, Online video, Perception, Presentation skills, Video, Voice|

It’s fascinating to observe how the questions we get asked at workshops are evolving as a result of this transformative year. Having recently completed a series of presenting with impact and client skills workshops at a leading investment research firm, there was one question that came up time and again:

 

Can you ask a client to turn their video on?

 

The question is completely understandable. It is hugely helpful to be able to see your audience. It’s important for rapport and to gauge how your message is being received. Plus if you yourself have your camera on and are willing to be seen, surely it’s only polite for the other party to be there? You wouldn’t hide yourself if you were at a face to face meeting.

There are also all the assumptions you make when the other party hasn’t turned on their video. Maybe they are not that interested in what you have to say? Or they might have you on in the background whilst they complete a few emails? Or they might still be sat in their pyjamas?

Here’s our best response to the question but we’d equally love to hear others’ views on this.

Whilst you can’t force anyone to turn their cameras on, you can signpost early in the interaction that a ‘videos on’ meeting is what’s expected. Refer to the meeting as a video call for example. You could even include a note on the invite that a video meeting is what’s preferred. E.g. let’s attend with videos turned on where possible as it would be great to meet face to face.

If the attendee turns up with their video off then it’s probably too late to ask them to turn it on. You don’t want to cause anyone to panic if they haven’t really prepared themselves to be visible.

This is of course our take on the matter. Get in touch and let us know your own experience and thoughts!

Is there anything more infuriating than not being heard?

By | October 5th, 2020|Authority, Building Confidence, Difficult conversations, Leadership, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

Some communications lessons from the first US Presidential Debate

We are always keen observers of communications in politics and US politics in particular. Although the first US Presidential debate seems a long time ago given events since then, we wanted to capture some of the lessons we learned last week.

If you stayed up to watch it or watched the highlights the next day what was your reaction? For some it was disbelief, for others fury or hilarity? I personally found myself writhing around in sheer discomfort – especially watching the 7 minute ‘highlights’!

Regardless of your politics, any human being would have had an emotional response in some way to what they witnessed. We’ve been analysing the communication between the two candidates and the lack of respect shown between the two is remarkable. The debate went off the rails, the rules of debate were broken and there was weak moderation to bring it back on track. The result – an unbearable mess to watch.

Here are just a few sins made against the fundamental practice of humane communication:

  • The incessant interrupting and speaking over one another – Trump interrupted Biden 73 times!
  • Personal attacks and shaming –Trump berating Biden’s education and intelligence, Biden calling Trump a liar, a clown and the worst president America has ever seen.
  • The moderator being outright ignored in his interventions.
  • Shutting each other down – ‘will you shut up man?’

These aggressive tactics are a far cry from Michelle Obama’s ‘when they go low, we go high’ doctrine.

One reason that it was so painful to watch is that it tapped into an innate human need to be heard, to be understood, to be acknowledged as a fellow person. It was obvious that Joe Biden in particular was denied that right. It tapped into our inbuilt sense of empathy at injustice. We were able to relate to that feeling from our own experiences when we might have been ignored or berated in public which is what creates that emotional and physical reaction.

It is striking that the communication between two adults pitching to lead the most powerful country in the world could invoke such a primitive response in people. Given President Trump’s illness we don’t know what will happen with future debates. Whatever happens, let’s hope that the human right to be heard is not forgotten.

Online Meetings Can Be Daunting

By | July 21st, 2020|Building Confidence, Online meetings, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

It can be daunting to have to speak up at online meetings when you are confronted with a sea of faces.

At MSB Executive, we recognise the variety in our clients’ communication styles. Most noticeably at online meetings, you can spot the extroverts and introverts. It is said that extroverts ‘speak to think’ and introverts ‘think to speak’. One is not better than the other but at meetings extroverts can be more comfortable speaking up.

Top Tips for an Inclusive and Successful Call

 Be respectful of each other’s communication styles. Notice if someone looks uncomfortable when being forced to speak up. Smile, be encouraging visually and give them space to answer. Hold the space for them so that no-one else jumps in.

Think about using the chat function to encourage questions or comments throughout a call. You could also use functionality such as Zoom polls to quickly gather opinions on calls.

For those who find themselves overwhelmed having to speak up suddenly, a good tip is to switch your screen view if you can. For example, on Zoom you can switch between ‘Gallery’ and ‘Speaker’ view. Speaker is better if you want to see less faces on your screen. You can either talk to yourself on screen or pick one friendly face and imagine you are just talking to them.

If you want more tools and tips on making an impact at online meetings, check out our online Masterclass ‘How to Make a Great Impression at Online Meetings’

 

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.

How to achieve the perfect posture at online meetings

By | April 23rd, 2020|Authority, Body Language, Online meetings, Online video, Presentation skills, Video, Voice|

The correct posture is so important at online meetings to help us not only look calm and relaxed but also to ensure we breathe well. Our Head of Voice at MSB Executive; Steven Maddocks shares his invaluable insights on how to achieve the optimal posture at online meetings.

This video is part of our series to ensure impactful communication at online meetings.

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