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

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!

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.

Speaking Outside – 5 top tips for communicating in the open air

By | August 3rd, 2016|Blog, Building Confidence, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Voice|

Last week we enjoyed running a day’s team-building activity in the open air with the team at Bianca Sainty Personal Training. As well as looking at body language and posture we spent a large percentage of the programme exploring the speaking outside. In particular we worked on making yourself heard above the noises in a busy open air space.

On the day the conditions were perfectly challenging. In the park there was a tree surgeon felling branches with a chainsaw and someone mowing the football pitch. Along came a basketball game accompanied by amplified music. This is fairly typical London park noise and so most days a personal trainer will need to work hard when speaking outside.

Why is it important to be heard? First and most obviously so that the client can hear what you need them to do. Personal training can be quite intense and it would be a shame to break the momentum by stopping to ask for instructions to be repeated. Secondly it is all about trust. If you give directions in a clear, confident and audible way the client is more likely to trust that you are knowledgeable. Clients of personal trainers look for support from someone who can help them build their confidence so it is useful if the personal trainer exudes confidence.

The workshop covered many areas but here are 5 top tips for open air communication:

1. Face the clients

This may seem obvious but when explaining actions it is tempting for example to turn towards where you may want a client to run rather than stay facing them. In the workplace this often happens when a presenter turns their back on an audience to read their own powerpoint slide. First of all most people do not engage well with somebody’s back. Secondly people lip-read more than is realised and make up for gaps in what they have heard with what they can see. So always face your clients especially when speaking outside.

2. Hydration

Like the body needs to stay hydrated for muscles to perform the vocal cords are highly sensitive to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your voice strong and authoritative.

3. Voice from stomach rather than throat

Engaging the core isn’t just useful when performing physical exercises. It can really help increase the sound your body can produce. Standing in a strong neutral position, engaging the core and sounding from the diaphragm rather than the throat is key.

4. Keep the sun in your eyes, not your clients’!

It is natural to keep the sun behind us so that we can see clearly when speaking outside. This can mean clients are looking straight into the sun. As well as being uncomfortable this interferes with the lip-reading we mentioned in point.

5. Don’t stick your chin out towards your client.

We often feel the need to move closer to our clients to make ourselves heard by sticking our chin out. This puts a lot of pressure on the vocal cords which can lead to us losing our voice. Use you voice to reach out, not your chin!

Why doesn’t Shakespeare get tired even after 450 years?

By | April 22nd, 2014|Authenticity, Featured, Performance, Presentation skills, Public speaking, Voice|

The text remains the same, with a few spelling adjustments. People the world over have been performing and reciting Shakespeare’s words year in year out. Year upon year drama students select and perfect the famous monologues for male and female characters as set pieces for auditions.

But the words are the same, so why aren’t we bored of hearing them? The answer lies of course in the fact that it is the delivery of the words that makes them come to life. And every actor brings to the stage their own personal interpretation of the script making each performance a unique and fascinating entity.

Compare for example the St Crispin’s day speech from Henry V. The following links show Mark Rylance, Kenneth Brannagh and Richard Burton delivering this most familiar of speeches in three entirely different ways. The tonality, the rhythm and emphasis chosen by each makes the audience hear different parts of the text and consider the story in significantly different lights.

And so on Shakespeare’s birthday take a little bit of inspiration from this and remember that whatever words you are delivering  – be they a sonnet or a summary of the yearly turnover for your company you bring to it your own interpretation. There is no one “right” way to deliver any message, but you must make it your own.

Inspirational Public Speaking: Caroline Taylor

By | January 10th, 2014|Blog, Building Confidence, Marketing, Networking Skills, Portfolio, Presentation skills, Team Building, Voice|

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

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

Caroline was part of a very lively panel debate called “CMOs and CIOs – heading for a date or divorce” hosted by IBM in their very impressive conference centre on the South Bank. I was impressed by her engaging speaking style and her command of the debate, in which incidentally she was the only female speaker. After the debate ended I asked if I could interview her for the blog and was delighted when she agreed.

Part 1: The Importance of Emotional Engagement with your subject

Q: When do you do public speaking?

A: Most of my public speaking engagements come linked to my day job. A request will either come into IBM or to me directly after other speaking engagements. The third category would be when IBM have sponsored an event and are offered a speaker slot in return. My public speaking subjects are Marketing which is my day job, Diversity which I am very passionate about as I am the Executive sponsor for gender diversity at IBM, and Sustainability, another of my passions.

Q: How do you prepare after getting the request?

A: Firstly I work with my colleagues to assess if the speaking engagement is a good fit for IBM if the request has come from outside the business. I need to see if the time is worth prioritising.  We look to see if it speaks to our target audience or if there is a benefit to IBM by being involved. If it is an externally ran conference on Diversity or Sustainability I check to ensure the conference is open (and therefore welcoming to multiple points of view) or that the theme is in tune with my views. For example if it is a sustainability event with a solus environmental point of view I would decline. I believe sustainability is about finding a true balance between the concerns of all the parties involved.

If I am invited to be on a panel I vet the other speakers. One thing I have learned from years of public speaking is that panels work well if everyone on them is open-minded and up for a good debate. I’m not interested in being part of a slanging match and don’t think it is enjoyable for the audience either. So if I see other panel members that are more interested in generating headlines than a useful and informative talk I decline. Of course if the person asking me to speak is someone I trust then that really helps.

After the assessment stage I get stuck into preparation. For certain topics I have my point of view very well honed through previous appearances so preparation on these occasions is very much a case of reviewing what I have, bringing it up to date, and refreshing it for the audience. If I am new to a topic then I’ll normally get together with a colleague and pick their brains as I find that different experiences and examples really help. And based on the point of view I am taking I’ll look for examples to illustrate the points I am making. Stories and examples really make public speaking interesting for the audience. I’m always looking for new ones, jotting them down when I’m at a talk or event. I do try and reference the source but sometimes the person I heard it from has been borrowing as well! I do enjoy a funny or emotionally engaging anecdote so I collect these as well. This collection of quotes and stories is a really good reference bank for any speaker to compile.

Q: How do you feel just before you speak ? During and After? How does your body react?

I am nervous just before I speak which manifests itself in shaky hands which is something I’ve done since I was a child. I’m probably more nervous before a straight speech as I am prone to forget my script, I much prefer a Q&A session or panel as I’m good at thinking on my feet and confident about my subject matter. Years ago, when I was starting a new role, my predecessor and I shared a presentation to our sales colleagues.  He handed over to me half way through the talk which was in front of 4k people. Afterwards he said he could feel my anxiety as I was twitchy and pale sitting beside him before we were on stage. He then said he couldn’t believe it when I strode on stage to takeover from him that it just seemed to dissolve away. I think this is because I really enjoy public speaking. Life is too short to do things you hate so my advice would be try it a few times but if after that you still hate doing it then find other ways to communicate, write an article or go on radio.  Because the world still needs to hear your views.

I recommend drinking lots of water (with toilet visit factored in!) because it makes your voice clearer. And make sure your blood sugar levels are right, skipping breakfast or lunch is not sensible because your brain needs the fuel. Especially when you talk on a panel your brain needs to think quickly. And only agree to talk if you care about the subject. Audiences love a speaker who sounds like they care. This works even on serious topics. I am Chair of the Trustee board of Stop The Traffik and the CEO Ruth Dearnley conveys her shock and outrage about human trafficking to deliver impactful and engaging speeches. Your own emotional engagement with your subject gives you confidence and in turn inspires the audience. Find a subject (it may be outside of work) you care deeply about and wax lyrical about that. People often find this makes public speaking easier. Once you have experienced enjoying talking about your pet subject moving on to talking about your work can be less daunting.

 

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