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

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!

How video affected Prime Minister’s Questions

By | November 19th, 2020|Authority, Online meetings, Online video, Public speaking, Q&As, Video|

History was made at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday when Boris Johnson took part by video link. We were interested in how this would affect the dynamic of the exchanges, particularly with the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer.  We noticed an interesting change in status between the two speakers.  As audience members, we felt additional gravitas was afforded to Boris thanks to appearing on video call.

Why was this the case? Firstly, PMQs is usually a circus of whoops and jeers when a politician is speaking. This was still true whilst Keir Starmer was talking as he was physically in parliament and the background heckling was alive and well albeit with fewer MPs to do the shouting. This was contrasted when the camera shot switched to Boris on video where he was bathed in silence. Subconsciously, his communication carried more weight because of this.

Similarly, Boris was talking right into the camera lens, making good eye contact. It creates the impression that he is talking directly to you and comes across as more sincere. This contrasted with Starmer who was being filmed in parliament, often from above, so he rarely looked into the camera. He looked down and read his notes often which created a disconnect with the audience. This departure from the level playing field of all politicians being filmed in the same location does create a different impact on authority.

It is likely that we will enter a period where business meetings are often a hybrid of in person and video participants. The dynamics will be different to PMQs but we need to be aware of how the medium of our communications affects meetings and this will be a topic we return to over the coming months.

For more information on looking and sounding confident and authoritative at online meetings, have a look at our Online Masterclass: How to make a great impression at online meetings!

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!

Your Questions Answered On Making A Great Impression At Online Meetings

By | May 21st, 2020|Asset Management, Body Language, Building Confidence, Client skills, Online meetings, Online video, Video|

We were delighted to run a webinar for the CFA Society yesterday on how to make a great impression at online meetings. With nearly 100 people in attendance, it is clearly a hot topic.

There were some great questions and we thought if might be useful to share a couple for everyone.

If you have any more questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch! Or check out our comprehensive masterclass ‘How To Make A Great Impression At Online Meetings’ which covers all the techniques you will need to make a positive impact!

Is it good to lean forwards towards the screen at online meetings?

There are some who advise leaning forwards throughout online meetings to make a good impression. While we agree there are benefits to leaning into the screen, our advice is to start in a ‘neutral position’. This is where you sit up tall in the centre of your chair and imagine that there is a helium balloon attached to the top of your head pulling your spine and neck long.

Leaning in is useful if you want to show enthusiasm when you are talking. Or if you want to make it clear you would like to say something. However, we would recommend you use this position sparingly. The risk is that it can be misinterpreted as though you are ‘pleading’ in some cases or ‘overbearing’ in others.

What is the best way to take notes during a meeting?

There is nothing worse than hearing ‘thunder typing’ when you are at an online meeting – someone noisily thwacking away at the keyboard. Even if that person is making notes and concentrating on the call, it can be very distracting. So at the very least, mute your screen when you are typing.

The other danger is that people can jump to conclusions that you are not concentrating on the call.  Old fashioned pen and paper works well. It is easier for others on the call to see you are taking notes if they can see a pen in your hand.

The key point is to make it clear that you are present on the call and are not working on anything else. Even if that means slipping it into the conversation that you’ve been taking notes!

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.

A simple guide to improving your articulation

By | April 14th, 2020|Blog, Building Confidence, Client skills, Online meetings, Online video, Presentation skills, Uncategorized, Video, Voice|

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.

How to use intonation to keep people engaged at online meetings

By | April 8th, 2020|Blog, Building Confidence, Client skills, Online video, Video, Voice|

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.

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.

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